Middle East And North Africa: The Current Situation – Analysis


By Can Kasapoğlu 

The Houthis launched missiles from Yemen from an operational range of almost 1,000 miles and downed a US drone. The escalating tensions are presaging a larger threat ahead.

The Arrow defensive strategic weapon system saw its true combat debut against a ballistic missile, likely scoring an exoatmospheric kill. The previous record of the Arrow baseline was in 2017 against a Syrian S-200 interceptor missile. 

The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Gaza campaign has entered its third and main military phase. Subsequently, the question of who will rule Gaza after Hamas will likely shape the core political objectives of the unfolding combat operations.

Hezbollah showed signs of gradually intensifying its combat engagement, though the rhetoric of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, remains restrained thus far.

1. The Houthis’ Emerging Missile Warfare Edge is a Cause for Concern

While the IDF’s large-scale ground incursion in Gaza naturally makes the headlines, the Houthis’ missile warfare campaign targeting Israel from Yemen illuminates a potentially significant security trend in the Middle East. 

Since the outset of the war in Gaza, the Houthis have assumed an increasingly active role, attempting to hit Israeli territory with missile and drone salvos. The preparedness and resolve of the Houthi combat formations, backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, also showcases Tehran’s growing ambitions for its Yemeni proxy. 

The missile portfolio of the launches portends a new era in the region. In a recent attack, Houthi forces launched a medium-range ballistic missile from Yemen toward the Israeli city of Eilat, covering an impressive distance of at least 1,600 kilometers (roughly 990 miles). The range was a milestone for the Houthis, and probably the longest-range ballistic missile strike launched from a ground battery in the Middle East. Moving forward, the Houthis present a threat that bears monitoring. 

2. The Arrow Missile Defense System Debuts in Action

The Houthis’ launch also highlighted the first successful interception by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. While the details on the possible exoatmospheric interception remain unclear, the Arrow 2 Block-4 series was reportedly the defensive strategic weapon employed by the IDF. The state-of-the-art ballistic missile defense system is known for its high-altitude interception capabilities and its ability to target missiles with multiple warheads. 

It is not the Arrow family’s first rodeo. A few years ago, the Arrow 2 family previously intercepted a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile (SAM) attempting to prey on Israeli Air Force jets in Syria. Thus, the recent interception marks the Arrow’s combat debut against ballistic missiles. 

Missile warfare is an offense-dominant segment of military science, as a statistical assessment of Yemeni missile launches reveals. Between March 2015 and April 2020, for example, the Gulf Arab coalition’s strategic defensive weapons systems scored more than 162 intercepts of Houthi ballistic missiles. Still, while the Saudi and Emirati air and missile defenses performed well, they could not prevent every attack—some of which led to high casualty counts—and could not, despite their superior air forces, eliminate all Houthi ground launchers. 

So far, Israel’s missile defenses have prevented the Houthis’ ballistic missiles from scoring a successful hit. But even one unsuccessful interception could result in a completed strike on a major population center. Given the heavy combat payload of ballistic missile warheads and the high velocity of the weapon, this could be a potentially catastrophic outcome.

3. A Tale of Two Parades: Iran Continues to Supply the Houthis’ Long-Range Strike Capabilities 

To develop a thorough understanding of the improvement in the Houthis’ long-range strike capabilities, one must only examine a pair of military parades put on by Iran and its proxy organization in Yemen in 2022 and 2023. 

In September 2022, the Houthi militia and Iran held large-scale military parades showcasing their combined, and quickly improving, missile warfare prowess. A technical assessment of the parades irrefutably shows that the Houthi weapons—some subsequently used against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—were for the most part copies of existing Iranian systems. This suggests how Tehran has used its missile war against its Gulf Arab geopolitical competitors as a laboratory to test-run solutions for future conflicts.

During the September 2022 parade, the Houthis displayed several previously undisclosed missile systems, also likely of Iranian origin. These included the Karar, which resembles the Iranian Fateh-110 solid-fueled ballistic missile; the Aasif, an anti-ship variant of the Fateh-110 that possesses an electro-optical homing seeker and closely resembles the Iranian Khalij Fars; and the Hatem, which features a range of 1,450 kilometers (roughly 900 miles) and mimics the solid-fueled Iranian Kheibar Shekan, introduced in early 2022 and one of the newest systems in Iran’s arsenal. 

During the parade, the Houthis also introduced a new liquid-fueled ballistic missile named the Faleq. Like other assets in its arsenal—including the Burkan-2H, Burkan-3, and Zulfiqar—the Faleq is allegedly an exact copy of the modified Iranian-made liquid-fueled Qiam-2 baseline. The differentiating factor is the Faleq’s detachable, finned reentry vehicle, which enhances precision, aligning it with the latest technology in Iran’s arsenal of liquid-fueled short-range ballistic missiles.

All the hardware in the Houthis’ September 2022 parade showcased a shift in Iran’s military support for its Yemeni proxies in two key ways. First, it indicated Iran’s willingness to share its advanced missile technologies—like the Faleq and Hatem missiles, which have new advancements in homing guidance and maneuverable reentry—with the Houthis. Before the 2022 parade, analysts thought Iran would be more reserved in its technology and capability transfers to its militias. This seems to have changed. 

Second, the missiles displayed in the parade presaged a drastic change in Iran’s approach to supplying weapons to its regional partners. Until then, Iran traditionally supported its proxy network through the production of more rudimentary systems in the proxy’s home country. This strategy was complemented by the smuggling of disassembled Iranian stocks of more complex arms. The appearance of large and advanced ballistic missiles in the September 2022 Houthi showcase suggested that Iran was in business with more serious intentions than ever before. 

A second Houthi military parade, in September 2023, confirmed these trends. Among the showcased missile systems, Aqeel, a precision-guided derivative of Iran’s medium-range Qiam ballistic missile baseline, stood out. Differing from most missiles previously used in Yemen, Aqeel marked a significant boost in the Houthis’ long-range missile capabilities. The parade also showcased the second version of Iran’s Qiam, featuring terminal guidance characteristics. During the group’s 2023 parade, the Houthis introduced another alarming missile: the liquid-propelled Toufan. This missile is centered on Iran’s Ghadir baseline and comes with a modified warhead configuration and a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (roughly 1,240 miles). 

It is not only the ballistic missile that has given a boost to the Houthis’ combat range. Other alarming solutions that the Houthis showcased in their September 2023 parade included various versions of the Quds cruise missile, including the new Quds 4, with potential range enhancements. Remarkably, two other Quds models in the group’s possession also feature advanced targeting: the Sayyad has an 800-kilometer (roughly 500-mile) range with radar guidance for naval strikes, while the Quds Z-0 can effectively destroy both land and naval platforms. 

In February 2023, Tehran broke its long silence on the provenance of the Quds missile, acknowledging its similarity to the Iranian Paveh missile. The Paveh, showcased during a Russian defense minister’s visit to Iran in the summer of 2023, and later at Tehran’s own annual military parade in September of that year, is distinctively designed for canister launches. Open-source intelligence has confirmed that the Quds 4, which was derived from the Iranian Paveh, recently crashed in Jordan after it was intercepted on its way to Israel. 

4. The Houthis Downed a US Unmanned Aircraft 

On November 8, the Houthis downed an American MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) off the Yemeni coast. While the Pentagon claimed that Houthi forces tried to capture the downed drone, its explanation also highlighted that the UAV crashed in the Red Sea, which reduced the chances of its recovery.

The incident escalated regional tensions amidst the United States maritime and aerial reinforcements recently arrived in the Red Sea. At present, the US maintains a robust presence in the strategically pivotal Red Sea corridor, with carrier strike group deterrents involved. A few weeks ago, the Arleigh Burke–class destroyer USS Carney intercepted a barrage of missiles and drones unleashed by the Iran-backed Houthis. It is not clear whether the long-rangesalvo was intended to hit Israeli or American assets. 

5. The Chinese Navy’s Posturing Continues in the Middle East

In October, the Chinese Ministry of Defense announced that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) 44th Escort Task Force had berthed at Abu Dhabi, the strategic hub of the United Arab Emirates. Accompanied by the UAE Navy, the PLAN contingent, including the warships Zibo, a Type 052DL destroyer, and Jingzhou, a 054A Frigate, executed a coordinated entry into Port Zayed alongside the supply ship Qiandaohu. The port visit attracted several high-profile attendees from the UAE. With the recent arrival of the Chinese reliever task force naval group—including the missile destroyer Linyi, the missile frigate Urumqi, and the supply ship Dongpinghu—China’s maritime presence in the Middle East had markedly increased by October.

At first glance, the rotation of the 44th and the 45th naval groups appeared to be just another round in the PLAN’s overseas deployment in the region, which is often ostensibly for counter-piracy and maritime security efforts. At a minimum, the deployment enables Beijing to rotate vessels and show its flag in the Middle East. 

More alarmingly, these Chinese engagements—along with similar naval exercises with Iran, Pakistan, and Russia—hint at grander objectives. China’s promotion of a maritime silk road is not merely a commercial goal, but also a strategic ambition, designed to link naval diplomacy with the geopolitical aims of its Belt and Road Initiative.

The People’s Liberation Army’s 2017 establishment of a military logistics hub in Djibouti illustrates these ambitions in action. After initially downplaying the Djibouti hub as an assistance center for anti-piracy operations, Beijing later openly classified the development as a military outpost. The expansion of this base to accommodate China’s naval assets underscores its pivot away from anti-piracy toward broader military ambitions. Beijing’s clear intent to establish a more permanent stance in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf shows that its Djibouti base is merely an inaugural step, with future facilities underway. 

Beijing’s twofold push, blending commercial ventures with military expansionism, has highlighted the importance of the Red Sea as a potential arena for future great power competition.

6. Gaza War Update: Battlefield Geometry and Assessment

In response to the October 7 attacks, the Israel Defense Forces have launched a wide-ranging and large-scale campaign into Gaza. So far, the available indicators, including the writings of the Israeli policy community, suggest that the incursion is designed to put a decisive end to Hamas rule in Gaza, reversing the status quo of almost two decades there. 

From early to mid-November, the clashes between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas have taken place at a high operational tempo. The IDF has launched a three-axis incursion into Gaza from the northeast, northwest, and east. Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians have fled to the southern part of the strip from the northern sector via a corridor opened by the IDF. The character of the conflict continues to be shaped by the dynamics of urban warfare, the deliberate use of civilian infrastructure by Palestinian Islamic Jihadand Hamas, and overwhelming Israeli airpower. 

Gaza’s largest healthcare facility, Al-Shifa Hospital, also serves as a critical command-and-control node for Hamas, and is currently witnessing heavy combat and casualties. Geospatial intelligence suggests that clashes are taking place a few hundred meters from the hospital area at the time of writing. Israeli intelligence claims that Hamas is using the hospital as a shield to hide command posts and tunnel entry points. 

These latest developments illuminate how the ongoing war in Gaza has evolved in three main stages. In the initial stage of the conflict, the IDF positioned ground forces around Gaza while boosting training and combat readiness. In the meantime, Israeli aerial units flew at a very demanding sortie-per-day ratio, executing near-continuous strikes over the Gaza Strip. Their target setincluded both surface-level and underground hubs. During this phase, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli territory persisted, with over 8,500 rockets fired between October 7 and October 31, some penetrating as far as Tel Aviv, with around 10 percent breaching Israel’s Iron Dome defenses. By November 9, some 9,500 rockets rained down onto Israel. Roughly 3,000 of those were launched on October 7, which is a telling stat that explains the overwhelming character of the terror plot. 

In subterranean warfare, Israel’s primary focus during the conflict’s initial phase was to dismantle Gaza’s extensive tunnel network, utilized by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Saraya al-Quds, for logistics, command and control, and combat operations. The IDF also targeted and neutralized key figures within the Hamas command hierarchy, including high-ranking intelligence officials and tactical commanders. These actions clarify that the IDF’s center of gravity assessment for the Hamas–Palestinian Islamic Jihad coalition revolved around the groups’ tactical- and operational-level command. 

The second phase of Israel’s operations, spanning three nights between October 25 and October 27, witnessed IDF infantry, armor, and engineering incursions into Gaza. These operations, though they led to some Israeli casualties, laid the groundwork for the third, large-scale phase of the campaign to follow. 

This phase began in late October and continues today. It has been characterized by a larger IDF deployment and intensified supporting fire, with Israeli forces maintaining their positions in Gaza. Within six days of the commencement of this third phase, the Israel Defense Forces tactically penetrated Gaza from three vectors, with their initial push observed in the northwestern coastal sector, also known as the Beit Lahia corridor. Subsequently, the northeastern front opened, referred to as the Beit Hanoun approach. Later, an eastern ingress near Gaza City opened—the Johr al-Dik passage, which has effectively bisected Gaza into northern and southern halves.

The initial phase of the IDF’s advance through open terrain bordering dense urban areas was marked by dynamic artillery strikes that neutralized numerous underground explosive devices. This area was underlain by a complex network of tunnels with multiple exit points, from which Hamas triggermen engaged in asymmetric tactics, on occasion enveloping the IDF from rear positions. Throughout the war, tactical teams from the Saraya al-Qudsand Hamas have also launched numerous attacks utilizing tandem-charged rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), mostly of the Yassin type, from elevated positions. After some initial weeks of moderate combat, the conflict intensified sharply, as Israeli forces approached urban settlements. This continued until secondary IDF echelons started meticulously searching the terrain for clandestine access points to the tunnel network, which they have been attempting to destroy in an effort to thwart the operational capabilities of Hamas and the Saraya.

Providing an accurate number of casualties among Hamas and Saraya fighters remains a difficult task, due largely to the unreliable nature of official reports from the organizations themselves, which often inflate military losses by combining them with civilian casualties. Yet indicators suggest that the number is high. Notably, the IDF has killed a substantial number of Hamas combatants in their underground complex using munitions designed to penetrate the surface before detonation. 

As the IDF ground forces press forward, the air component of their attack continues to intensively engage targets across the Gaza Strip, with a particular focus on the northern sector. These operations revolve around targeting Hamas leadership, with over a dozen high-ranking figures confirmed killed to date. By early November, the IDF had shelled 12,000 discrete sites, using a diverse arsenal ranging from bunker-buster munitions and conventional aerial bombs to precision-guided missiles from UAVs and anti-tank missiles from rotary-wing platforms.

Within Israel, although the majority of Israeli Arabs have either expressed opposition to Hamas or remained silent, a minority has exhibited some support for the terror group, leading to the arrests of 27 people for supporting terrorism, while other Hamas sympathizers in Israel have faced lesser consequences like the termination of their employment. And while the situation on the battlefield is still developing, open-source intelligence reports that almost all Israelis who lost their lives within Israel’s borders during the October 7 terror attacks have been found, though some have yet to be identified.

Currently, the confirmed initial death toll on the Israeli side from the attacks of October 7 exceeds 1,400, including hundreds of military personnel, with injuries reported in the thousands. As of the time of writing, over 195,000 Israelis living in the border region between Gaza and Lebanon have also been internally displaced. 

7. Envisioning the Day after Hamas 

Presuming Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza yields an eventual victory, the important consideration of what a post-Hamas Gaza looks like will loom large.

Even if the senior leadership of Hamas—who do not live in Gaza—is eradicated, would the IDF occupy and administer Gaza indefinitely, likely engaging in continuous counterinsurgency efforts? If not, withdrawing without political closure could ignite an internecine struggle for power, leaving a vacuum that could be filled by remnants of Hamas or by its more-radical counterpart, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Moving forward, this will be the main non-military problem Israel will need to solve.

8. Will Hezbollah Maintain Its Surprisingly Low Profile?

Recent days have witnessed a gradual increase in Hezbollah’s military activity. Its drone and rocket attacks are intensifying. Nevertheless, at the time of writing Iran’s largest proxy remains half-committed, at best, to the fight. During his Friday sermon on November 3, Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s secretary-general, stated that the ongoing war has been completely a Palestinian effort, though he did not exclude the possibility of a prolonged conflict with potentially serious regional consequences. Thus far, Nasrallah’s rhetoric has been somewhat restrained. 

Following the evacuation of Israeli civilians from the area along the Israel-Lebanon border, the IDF’s posture there shifted from defensive to offensive operations, as it targeted Hezbollah’s anti-tank missile units with a combination of manned aircraft, drones, tanks, and artillery. Palestinian factions in Lebanon, especially the Saraya al-Quds of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have also engaged in the conflict, leading to fatalities among their ranks.

Simultaneously, Iran-backed groups have been targeting the American military presence deployed in eastern Syria and Iraq. It remains to be seen if these attacks will elicit a more significant deterrent response from the US. 

About the author: Can Kasapoğlu is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

Source: This article was published by the Hudson Institute

Hudson Institute

Hudson Institute is a nonpartisan policy research organization dedicated to innovative research and analysis that promotes global security, prosperity, and freedom.

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