The United States is offering fresh evidence that Houthi attacks on international shipping are being carried out with weaponry designed by Iran, though some analysts and experts warn the findings raise concerns about the effectiveness of the U.S. actions against the Houthis and what it portends of Iran’s weapons development program.
The Defense Intelligence Agency late Tuesday issued an unclassified report with details on the drones and missiles the Houthis have used in their more than 40 attacks since mid-November. The report also sheds light on missiles that the Houthis have in their arsenal but have yet to unleash.
“Analysis confirms that Houthi forces have employed various Iranian-origin missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles against military and civilian targets throughout the region,” the DIA said in a statement, pointing to an ever-tighter relationship between Tehran and Houthi leadership.
“Since 2014, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force [IRGC-QF] has provided the Houthis a growing arsenal of sophisticated weapons and training,” DIA said. “Iran’s aid has enabled the Houthis to conduct a campaign of missile and UAV attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November 2023.”
The findings are based on current information, some gathered as recently as last month, and on a "comparative analysis of publicly available images of Iranian missiles and UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] to those displayed and employed by Houthi forces,” the agency added.
Iran has consistently denied providing the Houthis with sophisticated weaponry.
“They have their own weapons,” said Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani.
“They have been eight years under the war. They have a lot of experiences,” he told NBC News in an interview that aired late Tuesday.
But the DIA’s findings show the Houthis are operating three types of drones, all versions of those used by Iran.
They include the Sammad, a version of Iran’s Sayad drone, which has a range of up to about 1,800 kilometers.
Two other Houthi drones, known as the Waid-1 and the Waid-2, are versions of Iran’s Shahed drones, with the Waid-2 boasting a range of up 2,500 kilometers, allowing it to potentially hit targets as far away as Israel, Egypt and Turkey.
The DIA analysis further finds that the Waid-2’s wing stabilizers are consistent not just with the size and shape of the those on Iran’s Shahed-136, but also bear an uncanny similarity to debris from Russia's Geran-2 attack drone, itself a variant of Tehran’s Shahed.
The analysis alleges the Houthis have also been using three ballistic missiles and one surface-to-air missile, all of Iranian design. They include the Houthi Quds-4, a version of Iran’s Paveh ballistic missile, which has an estimated range of 2,000 kilometers and could potentially be used to strike as far away as Israel.
The U.S. assesses the Houthis have four additional missiles that have not yet been used, including a version of Iran’s Shahab-3, which also has an estimated range that puts Israel within the Houthis’ sights.
Some experts say that while the report’s findings largely confirm previous intelligence assessments, they are worrying, nonetheless.
“The DIA report underscores how the Houthis have been getting Iranian technology for over a decade and modifying it to build their own missiles and drones,” according to Bruce Reidel, a former CIA officer now with the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“The Houthis’ capabilities are not highly sophisticated and can be replaced easily with materials already in Yemen,” Reidel told VOA via email, warning that has significant implications for international shipping.
“None has resumed sailing in the Red Sea despite the American and British bombardment of the Houthis,” he said. “They know the bombing is not going to cripple the Houthis.”
Brian Carter, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, told VOA there are other concerns, as well.
“The Houthis are now testing U.S. ship-based air defenses in the Red Sea,” Carter said in an email.
“Over time, Iran and its partners, allies, and proxies are building a very complete picture of the strengths and weaknesses of U.S.-built air defenses,” he added. “This is something they will be able to use in the future to target U.S. forces and interests.”