Witnessing Increased Aerial Threat by Houthi Rebels, Saudi Arabia and Some Gulf States May Opt for Israeli Air Defence Systems


Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv: Days after the US withdrew all its Patriot air defence systems from Saudi Arabia, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the main Iran proxy in the region, increased the number of aerial attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Alarmed with the new development, it has raised again the option of buying Israel made air defence systems by Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states.

Maj General (Ret.) Amos Yadlin said that the withdrawal of the Patriot batteries is part of a large US move to get out of the middle east. “The Americans think that their interests in the Middle East have dwindled and the withdrawal of the air defence systems is part of a process.” Yadlin served in the Israeli air force and was head of the IDF intelligence directorate. He is one of the top experts on security issues in the middle east.

While China and Russia are rushing in to offer their air defence systems, Riyadh may consider acquiring Israeli made ones. Israeli defence sources said that with no US air defences in Saudi Arabia, the Iranian proxy can hit every target in Saudi Arabia “like shooting at a sitting duck”.

The withdrawal of the US army’s air defence systems has again raised the possibility of a deal in which the Saudis will ask Israeli to supply the kingdom with some Israeli made very advanced air defence systems. The Abraham Accords (normalization agreement between Israel and United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) do not include Saudi Arabia but sources say that even without formal relations, Israel has been “operating” in the Kingdom for some years. The Israeli systems that are a potential for such a deal are – the Iron Dome and the Barak ER. The Israeli defence sources said that such a deal will be realistic just after an approval of Washington.

Brig General (Ret.) Giora Elland said that the Gulf states have shown great interest in those Israeli air defence systems that are capable of intercepting many types of threats. “One is the Barak 8 that is operational and combat proven. I think that Washington will not object the sale of these Israeli systems to friendly Gulf countries.” Giora Eiland was the former director of the National Security Council and former head of the Planning Department of the Israel Defense Forces.

“The withdrawal of the Patriot air defence systems from Saudi Arabia is something that cannot be explained. It’s not only another desertion of a friendly country, but a spit in the face,” an Israeli senior defence source said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged “the redeployment of certain air defence assets”. He said the US maintained a “broad and deep” commitment to its Middle East allies.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen have stepped up attacks since the end of August using drones and ballistic missiles against Saudi targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. On August 29, the Houthis attacked the Al Anad air base north of Aden, where Saudi-led coalition forces are stationed. The attack killed more than 30 people and injured more than 60 people.

On September 4, the Houthis used UAVs and ballistic missiles simultaneously in attacks on several Saudi targets, including the eastern city of Dammam not far from Bahrain. The target was a facility of the Aramco Residential Camp. Saudi air defence forces reported that they had managed to intercept the drones and ballistic missiles fired at the facility. Fragments from the interception hit a civilian neighbourhood and injured two children. At the same time, Saudi targets were also attacked in Jazan, Najran in the south of the kingdom, and Asi.

A Houthi military spokesman, Yahiya Saria, said that in what became known as the “Seventh Operation of the Deterrence Equation”, 10 armed UAVs and six ballistic missiles were launched “at strategic infrastructure and targets, military bases and airports in Saudi Arabia”.

On September 11, the Houthi rebels attacked the newly renovated and inaugurated port of Al-Makha, located on the Red Sea coast, with 5 drones and a ballistic missile. The attack damaged the port’s strategic infrastructure as well as warehouses of international aid agencies, including humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people. No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. The UAE is using the port to transport weapons to Yemen and in the days before the attack vehicles were transferred to the forces fighting the Houthis in the Hadhramaut area of Khartoum.

The attack on the port appears to be intended to signal to the UAE that its continued involvement in the fighting in Yemen, despite the reduction of forces, has a price. At the same time, the Houthi media published the previous actions of the “deterrence equation” and the means they used during them, emphasizing that “there is no safe place in the depths of the kingdom from the power of Yemeni missiles and drones”.

According to Israeli military expert Lt Col (Ret.) Michael Segal, Iran continues to equip and assist the Houthis in building an air arm that combines ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, rockets and attacking drones alongside support for the production of additional weapons. Most of the finished systems in the hands of the Houthis originate in Iran. At the same time, Iran is working hard to help the Houthis establish an independent production system based on Iranian knowledge so that it will not be dependent on finished Iranian systems that Iran manages to smuggle into Yemen.

In March 2021, the Houthis introduced a wide variety of weapons, including drones, missiles and rockets of various types, mortars, sniper rifles, naval mines, and hollow cargo (Shaped charge for mounting unmanned explosive devices.

Segal writes that Iran has turned Yemen through this policy to an effective and deterrent military force against Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabia’s need for efficient air defence systems that can also intercept UAV’s and cruise missiles is urgent. Israeli sources said that there is no doubt that the “Interest in the Israeli systems has reached a very practical phase”.