Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by US Navy destroyer USS Nitze early Thursday, Oct. 13, destroyed three Iranian-Yemeni coastal radar stations, after C-802 anti-ship missiles supplied by Iran to Yemeni Houthi rebels were fired at US naval vessels off the Yemeni coast. The stations were built and operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) for their Yemeni proxies to back up a threat to blockade the Red Sea.
From Oct. 9, the new missiles four times targeted the US flotilla shortly after it arrived to patrol the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Neither the US nor Iran has acknowledged their mounting confrontation over control of these strategic waters, which Tehran is waging through its Yemeni proxy.
DEBKAfile was first to disclose this confrontation in a special report Wednesday. (see below)
Iran’s Guards are repeating the mode of operation they employed a decade ago at another Middle East flashpoint. On July 14, 2006, Hizballah used an earlier version of the C-802 to attack and cripple the Israeli Hanit missile ship on the day this Iranian Lebanese proxy launched the Second Lebanese War against Israel. Rev Guards seized control of Lebanese shore radar station to guide their aim.
A highly advanced radar installation is required for the use of the C-802. Two radar stations set up outside Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports, Mokha and Hudaydah earlier this month were operated by Rev. Guards missile and radar teams until they were destroyed Thursday, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. The third station was added for triangulation. The destruction of all three by a US Tomahawk has knocked out the Houthis’ ability to use C-802 missiles and Iran’s threat to blockade the Red Sea.
To drive this lesson home, the US Pentagon issued the following statement:
“Destroying these radar sites will degrade their ability to track and target ships in the future. These radars were active during previous attacks and attempted attacks on ships in the Red Sea, including last week’s attack on the USA-flagged vessel “Swift-2″, and during attempted attacks on USS Mason and other ships as recently as yesterday.”
The official was referring to the United Arab Emirates US-flagged transport ship that was badly damaged last week in the Bab al-Mandeb strait by a Houthi missile..
Contrary to Tehran’s assurance to Washington in August that Iranian arms supplies to Yemeni Houthi rebels had been suspended, the rebels took delivery last week of the largest consignment of Iranian weapons to date.
According to debkafile’s military sources, the shipment included highly sophisticated Scud D surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 800km; and C-802 anti-ship missiles (an upgraded version of the Chinese YJ-8 NATO-named CSS-N-8 and renamed by Iran Saccade).
They came with Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers and radar systems to fine-tune the targeting of these missiles by Iran’s Yemeni proxies.
The Scuds were given to the Houthi forces fighting in northern Yemen on the Saudi border, while the C-802s were delivered to the Houthis’ Ansar Allah faction, which is under direct Iranian Rev Guards command.
The missiles were posted at special launch bases constructed by Iran outside Yemen’s two principal Red Sea ports of Mokha and Hudaydah.
Since no more than 62km of Red Sea water divides the Saudi and African coasts, the Iranian missiles are well able to block shipping and tanker traffic plying to and from the Gulf of Suez and the Persian Gulf. Therefore, the threat of blockade hangs imminently over one-third of Saudi and Gulf Emirate oil exports.
The same threat hangs over Israeli civilian and naval shipping from its southern port of Eilat through the Gulf of Aden and out to the Indian Ocean.
One of the most troubling aspects of this pivotal new menace to an international waterway was that US, Saudi, Egyptian and Israeli intelligence agencies missed the huge consignment of Iranian missiles as it headed towards Yemen. Neither did they pick up on the construction by Iranian military engineers of three ballistic missile bases – one facing Saudi Arabia and two Red Sea traffic.
Tehran’s Yemeni proxies moreover landed large-scale military strength on Perim island in the mouth of the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the chokepoint for ingress and egress from the Red Sea.
Since the strait is just 20km wide, control of this island empowers this force to regulate shipping movements through this strategic strait.Tehran wasted no time after all its assets were in place to begin using them:
1. On Oct. 1, Iran’s Houthi surrogates launched C-8-1 missiles against a United Arab Emirates transport HSV-2 Swift logistics catamaran as it was about to pass through the strait. The ship, on lease from the US Navy, was badly damaged. No information was released about casualties.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources discerned that the aim of this attack was to choke off the movements of UAE warships from the southern Yemeni port of Aden, where large Emirate and Saudi forces are concentrated, to the Eritrean port of Assab, where the UAE has established a large naval base.
This attack did finally evoke a US response. The guided missile destroyers, USS Mason and USS Nitze, were dispatched to the Red Sea, along with the USS Ponce afloat forward staging base, to patrol the strait opposite the Yemeni coast
2. This did not deter Tehran or its Yemeni pawns: On Oct. 9, they fired an additional barrage of C-802 at the American flotilla, which according to a US spokesman, missed aim.
The Mason hit back with two Standard Missile-2s and a single Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile.
There has been no official word about whether these weapons destroyed a Yemeni launching site. But the event itself was a landmark as the first direct Iranian-Houthi attack of its kind on an American naval vessel.
3. That same day, the Houthis fired Scud-D missiles at the Saudi town of Ta’if, 700 km from the Yemeni border and only 70km from the Muslim shrine city Mecca. This was meant as a direct assault on the Saudi royal house and its claim to legitimacy, by virtue of its role as Guardian of the Holy Places of Islam.
In America’s heated presidential campaign, the Democratic contender Hillary Clinton boasts repeatedly that as Secretary of State she helped “put the lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot.”
That is factually true. America did not fire a single shot. Iran did the shooting and still does, constantly upgrading its arsenal with sophisticated ballistic missiles.