Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, has issued a dire warning to the international community regarding his strategy going forward in the conflict over the embattled Gulf state.
The Houthi rebellion has become a key proxy for the Iranian regime as it seeks to destabilise the entire region in pursuit of its malevolent ambitions. In Yemen alone, Iran has provided funding, military training and advanced munitions to the rebel group that overthrew the internationally-recognised government in a bloody coup a little over three years ago.
It is possible that military arms provided by Iran were used by Houthi militants in the missile strikes launched against civilian hubs in Saudi Arabia last month, killing an Egyptian ex-patriot on the streets of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Just prior to the attacks on Sunday 25th March, al-Houthi made a lengthy public statement to his supporters and enemies alike in which he vowed to use long-range ballistic missiles developed by Iran against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and committed to inducting more Yemeni children to his rebellion’s military ranks.
He said in the televised speech that “in the fourth year of the war, we will use more developed and more diverse missile systems which will overcome all American and non-American air defence systems to target Saudi Arabia”.
He went on to say that “we’ll use our Badr and Burkan missiles, long-range drones which have excellent military capabilities. We will activate military institutions in an unprecedented way and open up more opportunities to recruit the children and men of our people to fight”.
This announcement will be met with dismay from organisations tasked with tracking and eliminating the problem of Yemeni child fighters. The Houthi leadership has faced near universal condemnation from the international community for recruiting children into their ranks and deploying them to the frontlines of the conflict in Yemen, a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
Early this year, a CNN exposé reported the story of one 13-year-old Bedouin boy who was taken from his home and forced to take up arms in the conflict by the Houthis. The boy told the American news outlet that he witnessed his fellow child soldiers die by his side and suffered a serious shelling injury to his leg.
“I saw the people beside me get killed. They would get a bullet (in the head) or in the chest. I was very scared. When the projectile hit me, I thought I was dying. I was overcome by fear and anxiety. Even now, I still feel the same way,” he recounted.
UN officials have reported that they have verified 2,369 cases of “child recruitment and use of children in combat” in Yemen. However, they have also stated that they face great difficulties in monitoring the situation and that figure could, in reality, be a lot higher. Some estimates put the number of child soldiers active across the country at over 6,000.
Additionally, the announcement from al-Houthi that his forces will specifically be using the Burkan ballistic missile systems against Saudi Arabia will likely be met with anxiety from Tehran. The Iranian regime has remained naturally tight-lipped about their support for the Houthi insurgency, but this statement constitutes clear evidence that Iran is at least part-involved in arming the group.
Burkan missiles are based on the Scud missile system developed by the Cold War-era Soviet Union. However, the Middle Eastern cousin of the Scud is said to have been developed in Iran then supplied to the Houthi militants in Yemen. The first Burkan launch took place in July 2017 when Houthi fighters targeted the King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia, a key travel hub for tourists, officials and businesspeople from around the world.
Analysis of the downed missile, stopped from reaching its target by an American Patriot missile defence system, by US experts led American military officials to the conclusion that it had been supplied to the rebels by Iran.
Al-Houthi’s statement, and the subsequent attacks launched by his forces, deserve the world’s attention. This is not a man, but a puppet with its strings being pulled by calculating elements of a regime across the Gulf in Tehran. At this time, there is no one more deserving of condemnation, more necessary to stop, than Abdul Malik al-Houthi.