Saudi Arabia’s missile crisis
2022 could be tough for the kingdom and its war on Yemen
2022 did not begin well for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the first ten days of the year, an Emirati ship carrying Saudi armaments was impounded by the Houthis off the Yemeni coast, and then the country’s military spokesman released footage he claimed was of Yemeni missiles in Hodeida which turned out to have been filmed in Iraq years earlier, generating much mockery on social media.
But Saudi Arabia faces a much more serious ‘missile crisis’ than the fake footage scandal. According to The Financial Times newspaper, citing American sources, the kingdom is running short of Patriot interceptor missiles, and has asked Gulf countries like the UAE and Qatar to urgently replenish its stocks which are set to run out within three months.
The Saudi government contracted to buy $650 million worth of missiles from the US, and obtained Congressional approval. But it will take several months or years for them to be delivered. So it had to turn to Gulf partners to supply it with as many as they can as soon as possible.
The Saudi stockpile was depleted due to intensified attacks by Houthi missiles and drones on targets in the Saudi interior. The US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking said 375 missile attacks were launched against Saudi Arabia from Yemeni territory in 2021, and The Wall Street Journal counted 29 missile strikes and 11 drone attacks in November alone.
According to the same newspaper, a single Patriot missile costs more than one million dollars, not counting the price of the launch systems. A ‘primitive’ home-made Yemeni missile costs less than $10,000 to manufacture, and the same applies to drones. This is one of the major ironies of the Yemen War.
The Saudi air force has stepped up attacks on pro-Houthi forces (Yemeni army and resistance units) in recent weeks to stall their advance on the strategic city of Ma’reb. It has also resumed airstrikes on the capital Sanaa and its airport in a big way. This could well provoke an equally big missile and drone response against targets in Saudi Arabia — just as the country’s Patriot stocks are running out. Strategic infrastructure, such as oil installations and airports, could suffer disastrous damage.
The Saudi leadership’s efforts to reach a ceasefire in Yemen, including in four rounds of negotiations with Iran in Baghdad, have yet to achieve any results. The Biden administration meanwhile withdrew US missile defence systems (Patriots and THAADS) from bases in the kingdom where they provided protection to key oil facilities. The coming few months may prove very difficult for Saudi Arabia.