Video Of Saudi Frigate Attack Released As Ballistic Missile Hits Near Riyadh

In recent days, Houthi rebels in western Yemen have taken the fight to Saudi Arabia on an unprecedented level. Now The Kingdom’s seat of power may be at risk of ballistic missile attack.

byTyler Rogoway|
Saudi Arabia photo


As the US Navy destroyer USS Cole patrols the Mandeb Strait, more imagery is emerging of last week's boat-borne suicide attack on the Saudi frigate al MadinahIt was that attack by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that resulted in the Cole taking up station in what has become the most dangerous major shipping artery on the planet. 

The Saudi ship was patrolling off the western coast of Yemen, an area largely controlled by Houthi rebels. It is also the same region that last October saw multiple failed anti-ship missile attacks on US Navy surface combatants and one successful missile strike on a UAE flagged high-speed logistics vessel that once belonged to the US Navy.

This weekend, the damaged frigate pulled into the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah. Its crew, who were manning the rails as the ship maneuvered to dock, were given boisterous welcome. Tarps covered the ship's flight deck, and the port side of the stern—where the explosion occurred—could not be seen in video and photos, but overall the ship seemed intact. 

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Regardless of the visible damage, the fact that two sailors died and the three others were injured when the explosive-laden small boat slammed into the warship last week has added new focus on the bloody conflict. 

For two years now, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states that backs the Yemeni government have been fighting a ruthless war against one another. Although there have been limited ceasefires, fighting has exploded once again, and there is increasing risk of regional instability and the civil war spreading to a wider conflict.

Here is new video of the attack shot from the flight deck of the frigate:

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Meanwhile, reports state that Houthi rebel forces fired a ballistic missile—a modified Scud—from Houthi-controlled territory in western Yemen to just outside the Saudi capital. Some of the reports state that the missile struck a military base 25 miles southwest of the Riyadh, near Mazahimiyah. A statement from the Houthi rebels claimed "a successful experiment in which the army forces launched a ballistic missile targeting a military target in Riyadh... Riyadh is now within reach of Yemeni missiles... More is yet to come!”

If the ballistic missile landed that close to Riyadh, it would be the farthest known strike into Saudi territory yet by Houthi missiliers. It is not the first time that one of their Scud variants made it much farther than many thought possible. On October 10th, as American ships were under attack in the Red Sea by Iranian-supplied, Houthi rebel-fired anti-ship missiles, the group fired a ballistic missile toward Mecca that landed in King Fahad Air Base, some 325 miles from the Yemeni border. Another missile, also said to have been headed toward Mecca, was supposedly shot down weeks later by a Saudi surface-to-air missile battery, likely a PAC-3 Patriot.

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If last night's strike near Riyadh did indeed occur, the missile would have flown nearly 500 miles from Houthi-controlled territory along Yemen's northern border. This profile is at the very edge of—if not slightly beyond—known Scud range (Scud-D), although evolved knock-offs of the Scud system, like the North Korean Hwasong Seven, have seen improvements that take it beyond that range, especially with lighter payloads. 

The long-range Scud derivative being used by Houthi forces has been named "Borkan" locally. Yemen had hundreds of Scuds of Russian and North Korean origin in their arsenal when civil war broke out, and Houthi rebels seized a large portion of that stockpile. It is nearly a foregone conclusion that some of these Scuds are being modified with the help of Iranian operatives—including those from Hezbollah—and that key missile components also are coming from Iran as the blockade of military material entering Yemen was and still remains porous. There is also the possibility that, on some level, North Korea is helping Houthi missile troops. North Korea has had deep military ties in Yemen for decades, and has worked clandestinely with Iran to co-develop ballistic missile technologies. There has even been reports that North Korea has sold entire missiles to Houthi rebels. Also, it is well known that Pyongyang will sell weapons to literally anyone with hard cash.

Although Houthi ballistic missiles do not pose a traditional strategic threat to Saudi Arabia, they do pose major threat to the stability of The Kingdom. If Saudi Arabia's costly war to the south is "brought home" by putting large population and power centers under the threat of ballistic missile barrage, support for the war, especially among Saudi Arabia's massive royal hierarchy, may begin to evaporate. Not just that, but sending wealthy Saudis running for cover in their own capital cuts deeply into The Kingdom's perception of control, both on an internal and external level. 

These missile strikes can also have massive propaganda benefits for the far less well-armed Shiite rebels who are facing down a coalition of the most powerful Sunni kingdoms in the world. In essence, like the Vengeance weapons of WWII, Houthi ballistic missiles are a psychological weapon above all else. 

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