Yemen missile fired at Saudis appears to be made in Iran: U.S. military

The ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels that targeted the Saudi capital was from Iran and bore "Iranian markings," the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast said Friday.

Iranian resupply efforts of Houthi rebels would be possible but extremely difficult

A still image, taken from a video distributed by Yemen's pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station on Nov. 5, shows what it says was the launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Saudi Arabia's King Khaled Airport. ( Houthi Military Media Unit via Reuters)

The ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels that targeted the Saudi capital was from Iran and bore "Iranian markings," the top U.S. Air Force official in the Mideast said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Forces Central Command in Qatar, made the comments at a news conference in Dubai.

"There have been Iranian markings on those missiles," Harrigian said. "To me, that connects the dots to Iran."

Harrigian said authorities were investigating how the missile was smuggled into Yemen amid a Saudi-led coalition controlling the country's airspace, ports and borders.

After the Nov. 4 strike near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the country's Foreign Ministry said investigators examining the remains of the rocket found evidence proving "the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing them." It did not elaborate, though it also mentioned it found similar evidence after a July 22 missile launch.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Tuesday that the July launch involved an Iranian Qiam-1, a liquid-fuelled, short-range Scud missile variant. Iran used a Qiam-1 in combat for the first time in June when it targeted Islamic State group militants in Syria over twin militant attacks in Tehran.

French President Emmanuel Macron similarly this week described the most recent missile as "obviously" Iranian. 

Lt.-Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, seen in a 2014 file photo, said the missile had 'Iranian markings.' (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Harrigian declined to offer any specifics on what type of missile the Air Force believed it was.

Despite crushing air power by the Saudi-led coalition seeking to reinstall the country's exiled president, which has reduced much of the north to rubble, Yemen's Shia rebels still hold large swaths of territory, including the capital, Sanaa.

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran, but Hezbollah, the militant group backed by Iran, mocked the accusation that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the firing of the missile in a televised address on Friday.

Nasrallah said the Yemenis were capable of building their own missiles.

Few routes to move weapons

On much of the ground and especially in the north, the battle-hardened Shia rebels known as Houthis hold the upper hand. They control most state institutions and fortifications, are well-armed, and are backed by the remnants of a powerful army built up by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Health care, water and electricity, however, are failing.

Saleh built up an impressive weapons stockpile over the years that included missiles, and those fired into Saudi Arabia earlier in the week may indeed have been locally manufactured, as the Houthis contend, despite U.S. and Saudi allegations to the contrary.

While the Houthis and Iran briefly operated direct flights between their capitals at the beginning of the war, no such route exists today, making any potential Iranian resupply efforts extremely difficult. Tiny sailing vessels known as dhows smuggle small parts like guidance systems via costal routes, however.

The Houthis, a long-neglected Shia offshoot in the north, consider themselves revolutionaries fighting corruption. But their enigmatic leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, appears only rarely, and his appeal has little reach beyond the bounds of sectarianism.

Unlike other regional conflicts in Syria or Libya, no side is winning, and peace talks are nonexistent. With both sides deeply committed to victory, face-saving exits are elusive, especially with the Saudi-Iranian rivalry heating up. The war, which has killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine, appears unlikely to end any time soon.