What Happened: A cruise missile launched by Houthi rebel forces struck Saudi Arabia's Abha International Airport, injuring 26 people in the arrival hall. Both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi media outlets described the projectile as a cruise missile, a departure from the ballistic missiles commonly been used by the Houthis.
Why It Matters: The incident shows a continuation of the development of the Houthi's offensive capabilities. Though Houthi drone and ballistic missile attacks are a familiar threat in southwestern Saudi Arabia, an attack with this many casualties is unusual. Because the Saudis blame Iran for actions perpetrated by the Houthis, increasingly capable Houthi attacks will only intensify already high tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as between the United States and Iran. Cruise missiles add a new type of threat to personnel and assets in Saudi Arabia, given that they have greater accuracy than ballistic missiles, their launching systems are more mobile and they can evade anti-missile systems more effectively.
Background: Iran reportedly began ramping up support for the Houthis in November 2018, including the provision of more advanced drones capable of striking central Saudi Arabia, additional ballistic missiles and now cruise missiles. The Houthis released a video of a supposed cruise missile launch in December 2017, but there was no indication that the projectile struck its target, and no subsequent videos or incidents have emerged since. The Houthis have launched dozens of ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia, which have most heavily impacted the Saudi-Yemen border area, though some have reached as far as Riyadh.
- A Saudi Pipeline Attack Amps Up Suspicions on the Arabian Peninsula (May 14, 2019)
- Saudi Arabia: Missile Strikes on Riyadh Mark Third Anniversary of War on Houthis (March 26, 2018)
- Missiles Remain a Potent Houthi Weapon (July 10, 2017)