Middle East-North Africa: An Insight into the Current Scenario

The Houthis, a group of Yemeni militants, have launched missiles from Yemen with an operational range of almost 1,000 miles and downed a US drone. The escalating tensions are indicating a larger threat ahead. The Arrow defensive strategic weapon system has made its combat debut against a ballistic missile, likely scoring an exoatmospheric kill. The Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza campaign has entered its third and main military phase, and the question of who will rule Gaza after Hamas will likely shape the core political objectives of the unfolding combat operations.

Houthi leader Hassan Nasrallah has shown signs of intensifying its combat engagement, though his rhetoric remains restrained. The Houthis’ missile warfare campaign targeting Israel from Yemen is a cause for concern, as they have assumed an increasingly active role in the war in Gaza. The missile portfolio of the launches portends a new era in the region, with a recent medium-range ballistic missile launch from Yemen reaching the Israeli city of Eilat. The Houthis’ launch marked the first successful interception by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system, known for its high-altitude interception capabilities and ability to target missiles with multiple warheads.

The IDF’s Arrow 2 Block-4 series, a defensive strategic weapon, has made its combat debut against ballistic missiles, a segment predominantly used in offense-dominant military science. Between March 2015 and April 2020, the Gulf Arab coalition’s strategic defensive weapons systems scored more than 162 intercepts of Houthi ballistic missiles. However, the Saudi and Emirati air and missile defenses could not prevent every attack, leading to high casualty counts and the inability to eliminate all Houthi ground launchers.

Israel’s missile defenses have prevented the Houthis’ ballistic missiles from scoring a successful hit. However, even one unsuccessful interception could result in a completed strike on a major population center, which could be a potentially catastrophic outcome.

A technical assessment of the Houthi weapons held in September 2022 and 2023 reveals that they were for the most part copies of existing Iranian systems. This suggests that Tehran has used its missile war against its Gulf Arab geopolitical competitors as a laboratory to test-run solutions for future conflicts.

In September 2022, the Houthi military parade showcased several missile systems likely of Iranian origin, including the Karar, Aasif, and Hatem. These missiles resembled the Iranian Fateh-110 solid-fueled ballistic missile, the Khalij Fars, and the Hatem, which has a range of 1,450 kilometers. The Houthis also introduced a new liquid-fueled ballistic missile named the Faleq, which is allegedly an exact copy of the modified Iranian-made Qiam-2 baseline.

The hardware displayed in the parade signified a shift in Iran’s military support for its Yemeni proxies. It indicated Iran’s willingness to share advanced missile technologies with the Houthis, indicating a change in Iran’s approach to supplying weapons to its regional partners. Iran traditionally supported its proxy network through the production of more rudimentary systems in the proxy’s home country, complemented by the smuggling of disassembled Iranian stocks of more complex arms. The appearance of large and advanced ballistic missiles in the September 2022 Houthi showcase suggested that Iran was in business with more serious intentions than ever before.

In September 2023, the Houthi military parade confirmed these trends. The Aqeel missile system, a precision-guided derivative of Iran’s medium-range Qiam ballistic missile baseline, significantly increased the Houthis’ long-range missile capabilities. The second version of Iran’s Qiam featured terminal guidance characteristics. The liquid-propelled Toufan missile, centered on Iran’s Ghadir baseline, had a range of up to 2,000 kilometers.

The Houthis also showcased various versions of the Quds cruise missile, including the new Quds 4, with potential range enhancements. Open-source intelligence has confirmed that the Quds 4, derived from the Iranian Paveh missile, recently crashed in Jordan after being intercepted on its way to Israel. The Houthis successfully downed an American MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle off the Yemeni coast on November 8.

The recent incident in the Red Sea escalated regional tensions, as the US has a robust presence in the strategically pivotal Red Sea corridor. The Arleigh Burke–class destroyer USS Carney intercepted a barrage of missiles and drones unleashed by the Iran-backed Houthis, but it is unclear whether the long-rangesalvo was intended to hit Israeli or American assets.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense announced that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s 44th Escort Task Force had berthed in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The PLAN contingent, including warships Zibo and Jingzhou, entered Port Zayed alongside Qiandaohu. This marked an increase in China’s maritime presence in the Middle East, indicating a grander ambition of promoting a maritime silk road, linking naval diplomacy with geopolitical aims of the Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing’s clear intent to establish a more permanent stance in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf shows that its Djibouti base is an inaugural step, with future facilities underway.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has launched a large-scale campaign into Gaza following the October 7 attacks, resulting in high operational tempo clashes between the IDF and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians have fled to the southern part of the strip via a corridor opened by the IDF. Gaza’s largest healthcare facility, Al-Shifa Hospital, is facing heavy combat and casualties due to Hamas using the hospital as a shield to hide command posts and tunnel entry points. The ongoing war in Gaza has evolved into three main stages, with Israel focusing on dismantling Gaza’s tunnel network and targeting key figures within the Hamas command hierarchy.

The second phase of Israel’s operations, spanning three nights between October 25 and October 27, saw IDF infantry, armor, and engineering incursions into Gaza, laying the groundwork for the third, large-scale phase of the campaign. Within six days of the commencement of this third phase, the Israel Defense Forces tactically penetrated Gaza from three vectors, including the northwestern coastal sector, the northeastern front, and the Johr al-Dik passage, effectively bisecting Gaza into northern and southern halves.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has been advancing through dense urban areas in Gaza, targeting Hamas and Saraya terrorists. The initial phase of the advance was marked by dynamic artillery strikes that neutralized numerous underground explosive devices. The conflict intensified as Israeli forces approached urban settlements, and secondary IDF echelons began searching for clandestine access points to the tunnel network.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have reported a high number of casualties among Hamas and Saraya fighters, with over a dozen high-ranking figures killed. The IDF has killed a significant number of Hamas combatants in their underground complex using munitions designed to penetrate the surface before detonation. The IDF has also targeted Hamas leadership, shelling 12,000 sites using various weapons. Despite majority Israeli Arabs opposing Hamas, a minority has shown support for the group, leading to 27 arrests. Open-source intelligence shows that almost all Israelis who lost their lives within Israel’s borders have been found, though some have not been identified. The initial death toll from the October 7 attacks exceeds 1,400, with injuries reported in the thousands.

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