- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Propaganda Aiming to Prove Iran Supplied Missiles Backfires

On December 12, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, gave a press conference [1] on the grounds of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. The subject of this briefing: the threat posed by Iranian-supplied missiles employed by the Houthi rebels of Yemen in their ongoing fight against a Saudi Arabian-led coalition.

[2]As a backdrop for this dramatic presentation, Haley had assembled various components and debris recovered from two previous missile attacks by the Houthi on Saudi Arabian targets. “If we do nothing about the missiles fired at Saudi Arabia, we will not be able to stop the violence,” Haley warned. “There is clear evidence that the missiles that landed on Saudi Arabia come from Iran,” she said, adding: “The evidence is undeniable. The weapons might as well have had ‘Made in Iran’ stickers all over it.”

The facts of the matter, however, are quite different.

According to Haley, the weapons in question were Iranian-made Qiam-1 missiles [3], possessing a range of up to 800 kilometers. Haley was parroting the claims of the Saudi Arabian government, which had previously released a press statement about the Houthi missile attacks and their links to Iran. The Commanding General of U.S. Central Command, Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, backed up the Saudi claims [4], without providing any new evidence. Haley’s press conference, with its dramatic show and tell, was the first time the Saudi Arabian claims had been backed up by anything remotely resembling proof. Moreover, Haley’s comments were designed to set up a report by a panel of United Nations experts [5], who had travelled to Saudi Arabia to examine the missile parts in question and ascertain their origin. The findings of that report, scheduled to be released two days after Haley’s press conference, were mixed. “Design characteristics and dimensions of the components,” it read “inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile.” However, the panel also noted that “as yet has no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier.” Haley’s press conference was designed to eliminate any uncertainty on the matter.    

A closer look, however, reveals the opposite. Rather than the Iranian-manufactured Qiam-1 missiles Haley and the Saudi Arabian government claimed, the debris presented by Haley were of a modified Soviet-manufactured SCUD-B missile; the airframe and engine are original Soviet-made components, and many of the smaller parts on display bear Cyrillic (i.e., Russian) markings. The transformation to the Burkhan 2-H design required the Houthi engineers to increase the size of the fuel and oxidizer tanks, and lengthen the airframe accordingly. This is done by cutting the airframe, and welding in place the appropriate segments (this also required that the fuel supply pipe, which passes through the oxidizer tank, be similarly lengthened.) The difference in quality between the factory welds and the new welds is readily discernable. The increased fuel supply permits a longer engine burn, which in turn increases the range of the missile. The Burkhan 2-H uses a smaller warhead than the SCUD B; as such, the guidance and control section had been reconfigured to a smaller diameter, and an inter-stage section added to connect the warhead/guidance section with the main airframe.  

The warhead of the Burkhan 2-H, unlike the SCUD-B, is designed to separate from the main body of the missile during the final phase of its descent; this aids in accuracy and survivability, since most anti-missile radars (such as that used by the Patriot system used by Saudi Arabia) cannot readily distinguish between the smaller warhead and the larger mass of the airframe, sending the interceptors to the latter while the former falls unimpeded to its target. The bottle-nose shape produced by this smaller warhead, however, increases the missile’s overall drag coefficient, which reduced its range. To compensate for this, the Burkhan 2-H eliminates the tail fins found on the SCUD-B missile. This, however, creates stability and trajectory control issues at launch, for which the Burkhan-2 adjusts for by incorporating a more sensitive and responsive guidance and control system, which in turn is linked to similarly responsive actuators controlling the SCUD-B style jet vanes that steer the missile via thrust vectoring.

The reality is that the Burkhan 2-H is neither a completely indigenously-produced Houthi missile, nor is it an Iranian-manufactured Qiam-1. Instead, the Burkhan 2-H is a Soviet SCUD-B that has been significantly modified using Iranian design concepts and critical components (the guidance and control and thrust vector actuators stand out.) The ability to carry out the necessary modifications is not beyond the technical capability of the Houthi, who have assimilated most of the Yemeni missile engineers under their control. While the design aspect of this modification program appears to be Iranian, the actual technical modifications are more akin to a similar missile modification effort undertaken by Iraq in the 1980’s to 1990’s, where SCUD-B missiles were modified to become the longer-range Al Hussein missile used during the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War. Iraq and Yemen had a significant program of cooperation before the Gulf War, where Iraqi missile experts collaborated with their Yemeni counterparts to modify Yemen’s SCUD-B missiles to Al Hussein configuration. Iraq’s defeat at the hands of a US-led coalition, followed by the UN-directed dismantling of its long-range missile program, aborted this effort before it could be consummated, but not before a considerable amount of coordination had taken place, including a survey of the specific engineering resources needed to carry out the necessary modifications.

The missile debris in question actually contradicts the finding of the UN panel, which held that the missiles launched against Saudi Arabia had been transferred to Yemen in pieces and assembled there by Houthi missile engineers; it is clear that the missiles in question had been in the possession of Yemen well before the Saudi Arabian-led intervention of 2015, and that their source was either Soviet or North Korean. The modification kits, on the other hand, appear to be of Iranian origin, and were transported to Yemen via Oman. The UN panel claims not to have any evidence of “external missile specialists” working alongside the Houthi; indeed, the simplicity of the Burkhan 2-H modification concept is such that anyone already familiar with the SCUD-B missile system would be able to implement the required processes without outside assistance. The fact that what is being discussed is the modification of existing Yemeni missiles, and not the provision of a new missile system, means that the already tenuous claims made by the Saudi Arabian and American governments that the Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia represented a de facto violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231 (and, by extension, the Iran nuclear agreement) simply does not hold water. The entire Saudi-US effort in this regard was little more than a not-so-sophisticated propaganda exercise designed to bolster the Trump administration’s efforts to cobble together some sort of international consensus on doing away with the Iranian nuclear agreement. To this end, the Saudis and their American co-conspirators seem to have had little success.


As bad as that result may have been, it paled in comparison to what this entire charade could not obviate—that there has been little progress, if any, in the capability of nations armed with modern weaponry and advanced intelligence gathering systems to locate and interdict a mobile, relocatable ballistic missile force. The efforts of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition to neutralize the Houthi ballistic missile capability have been a dismal failure—there is no evidence of a single Houthi-controlled mobile missile launcher having been destroyed by coalition forces, despite hundreds of air sorties having been flown for just that purpose. The Houthi have displayed the capability to launch missiles targeting the most sensitive of Saudi Arabia’s political and economic infrastructure at will. Moreover, the unique characteristics of the Burkhan 2-H missile—a small, separating warhead, combined with a reduced radar cross section (by eliminating the tail fins of the SCUD-B) and a more responsive guidance and control system—have made it virtually impossible to intercept [6] using the US-made Patriot anti-missile system. In many ways, the Saudi-led efforts against the Houthi mirrors the Great SCUD Hunt carried out by the United States during the Gulf War, where the Iraqis were able to continue launching missiles against Israel and Saudi Arabia up until the end of the war, without the loss of a single mobile missile launcher. Moreover, the inability of the Patriot missile to successfully intercept Iraqi-modified SCUD missiles seems to be the case today, with Saudi Patriot batteries impotent in the face of the Burkhan 2-H.

If a relatively unsophisticated foe such as the Houthi, using Iranian-modified Soviet and North Korean missiles derived from 40-year-old technology, can evade an enemy force using the most modern combat aircraft backed up by the most sophisticated intelligence gathering systems available, and successfully launch ballistic missiles that threaten the political and economic infrastructure of the targeted state, what does that say about the prospects of any U.S.-led coalition taking on the far more advanced mobile missile threats that exist in North Korea and Iran today? The fact of the matter is that no military anywhere has shown the ability to successfully interdict in any meaningful way a determined opponent armed with mobile ballistic missile capability. If the Saudi experience in Yemen is to teach us anything, it is that any military plan designed to confront nations such as North Korea, Iran and Russia that are armed with sophisticated mobile ballistic missiles had better count on those capabilities remaining intact throughout any anticipated period of hostility. No amount of chest-thumping and empty rhetoric by American political and/or military leaders can offset this harsh reality. This is the critical lesson of Yemen, and the United States would do well to heed it before it tries to foment a crisis based upon trumped-up charges.  

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. He is the author of Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War (Clarity Press, 2017).

All of us at TAC wish you a Merry Christmas holiday and the best wishes for 2018. Our 501(c)(3) depends on your generosity to make the biggest impact possible. Please consider your tax deductible donation to our magazine, here [7].* Thank you!

*Contribute $250 or more before December 31 and receive an autographed copy of Robert Merry’s brand new book, President McKinley: Architect of a New Century!


25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Propaganda Aiming to Prove Iran Supplied Missiles Backfires"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 25, 2017 @ 11:45 pm


#2 Comment By Procivic On December 26, 2017 @ 5:54 am

There are of course many preedents in America supporting the lies of a regional “ally”. One case comes tk mind: when Saddam Hussein ordered the chemical attack on Halabja in the last days of the Iran-Iraq war the Pentagon immediately issued a statement blaming Iran for the massacre giving as reason that Iraq possessed no chemical agents.

#3 Comment By MEOW On December 26, 2017 @ 6:28 am

My overseas nephew asked why does the UK and the US engage in so many wars? I do not have an answer. This article seems to be saying caveat emptor if you go after a biggie like Iran or N. Korea. If Saudi Arabian and Israel want to duke it out with Iran – let them do it. But not with US blood and treasure. These are Ron Paul’s words. What a paradigm shift it would have been with him as president. Please bring back Phil Giraldo. Truth speakers needed.

#4 Comment By Frankie P On December 26, 2017 @ 7:09 am

Scott Ritter as usual provides realist, logical analysis, relying solely on factual evidence, leading to rational conclusions unblemished by ideology or a belief that unattractive results might have a detrimental effect on the interests or eternal security of that little state in the Levant. It’s no wonder he is persona non grata on ALL US media, hated by the elite US establishment, a slithering mass of bottom feeders sucking up the scraps thrown to them by the oligarchs before disappearing beneath the filthy waters of the swamp, only to reappear and alternate between clamoring loudly for more war and begging for further financial sustenance from their masters.

#5 Comment By Christian Chuba On December 26, 2017 @ 7:54 am

This also shows the tactical, NON-nuclear value of ballistic missiles. If the Houthis were able to fire 500 or 5,000 of these longer range Scud missiles into Saudi Arabia instead of 50 over the course of 2 1/2 yrs, the Saudis would not have the luxury of starving them to death. They would be forced to withdraw and sue for a ceasefire.

In addition to Ritter’s analysis, I would not discount the possibility that the Saudis polluted the evidence with other Iranian missile debris from places like Iraq. The missile debris also included a U.S. made component in the fuel system.

Why not let the Iranians examine the components? They are obviously experts, while they will deny Iranian origin (just as we are guaranteed to verify it), if they are telling the truth, they could point to some technical details overlooked by others.

#6 Comment By Mark Thomason On December 26, 2017 @ 8:24 am

“any military plan designed to confront nations such as North Korea, Iran and Russia that are armed with sophisticated mobile ballistic missiles had better count on those capabilities remaining intact throughout any anticipated period of hostility”

That is especially true in both North Korea and Iran, because both of them have done extensive tunneling specifically to hide things from air detection and attack. Both have a vast warren of mountains and valleys in which to hide such tunneling.

In WW2 despite total air control and extensive activity, we were unable to find just one railway gun hiding in a rather obvious railway tunnel in a known direction from our beach head — the direction from which it fired for a very long time. That did not end until we over ran the tunnel and discovered it.

Things are not any better today, but there are a lot more tunnels and equivalent weapons hidden in them.

I’d also like to thank Scott Ritter for the detail he provides here about the missile and the problems in intercepting it. Such actual fact is sorely lacking in our public debate.

#7 Comment By Kent On December 26, 2017 @ 9:16 am

Of course all of this pales beside the important questions of why we should care about a fight between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni Houthis in the first place.

Mr. President, I don’t care if Iran is aiding Yemeni Houthis or creating a Shia archipelago in the Middle East. I just don’t care. I have absolutely nothing against Iran, their leaders or people. Just bring our troops home!

#8 Comment By Michael Kenny On December 26, 2017 @ 10:02 am

In attempting to divert attention from Iran, Mr Ritter seems to be pointing the finger at Russia!

#9 Comment By JTMcPhee On December 26, 2017 @ 11:00 am

Mr. Kennedy drives by and drops the notion that Mr. Ritter “seems to be pointing the finger at Russia.” Really, sir? I am at a loss how you extract that Narrative-consistent attempt at impugning and impeachment from the text of the article.

But of course in the great flood of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt being generated by the new world order folks, to ‘advance an agenda’ that is amazingly unoriginal and to my mind singularly suicidal, I guess volumes of such faux information will of course be generated. Which is I believe the point of Mr. Ritter’ takedown of the Nikki Haley misrepresentations to the UN, as part of the “conservative consensus” under the Imperial City’s vast bubble…

#10 Comment By Christian Chuba On December 26, 2017 @ 11:51 am

@Michael Kenny, the Scud B’s from Russia would have been legally purchased as that would have been pre-embargo.

Ritter is conceding that Iran most likely provided some components to upgrade those missiles. This is a violation of international law comparable or less to the U.S. and Saudis supplying rebels in Syria with far more weapons.

Is this a violation of 2231 as Nikki Haley claims?
I read 2231 and when it discusses ballistic missile importation, it is clearly referring to ‘nuclear capable’ missiles and clearly to Iranian importing said technology from other countries. There is no mention of Iran giving components to other countries.

The Saudis have committed war crimes on a massive scale in Yemen. They have targeted civilian infrastructure, fishing boats, and prior to the total blockade even slow rolled pre-inspected food shipments into rebel territory. They have caused tens of thousands of malnutrition related deaths. Nikki Haley is diverting attention away from the Saudis, the ones pulling a Warsaw Ghetto move on Yemen.

#11 Comment By b. On December 26, 2017 @ 2:24 pm

How many of these missiles have been fired by Yemeni forces so far, and what – if anything – have they hit and destroyed?

As far as I can tell, the usual reports refer to two missiles, both of which were – reportedly – “intercepted” by Saudi Arabia. The author makes it sound as if there exists a significant “launcher fleet in being” in Yemen, and that Saudi Arabia “intercepted” the incoming by the very ground rising to meet the warheads – whereas our media report a Patriot missile was used.

I agree with the conclusions of the article regarding the proliferation of missile technology and possible DIY vectors (see ISIS “makerspace weaponry), but at the same time, I have to wonder whether the eagerness of supporting his case led to a drastic exaggeration of the impact at present.

#12 Comment By Hrant On December 26, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

Nikki Haley is the person who vehemently insisted that Bashar al Assad gased his own people in Siria.
“How many more children should die before Russia begins to care”.
It took an explanation of a scientist at MIT to prove her wrong. We never herd “I’m sorry” afterwords.
I think she was openly and knowingly telling lies.
Why should I believe her now?

#13 Comment By peter On December 26, 2017 @ 3:24 pm

A really sobering article.
Regarding Mr. Giraldi – please bring him back!

@Mr. Kenny’s comment:
“Mr Ritter seems to be pointing the finger at Russia!”

shows one of the problems of social media:
possible manipulation with fake news, innuendo, rumors, etc.
As a frequent reader of TAC, I noticed that Mr. Kenny never misses an opportunity to somehow involve Russia or Putin in every horrible event.
Just a reflex, or…

#14 Comment By ahzzh On December 26, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

Do such revelations even matter? You can shout it from the roof tops it will be a puny whisper compared to Fox, National Review, Rush, etc. etc.

#15 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 26, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

Oh dear, oh dear. An untruth from GOP adventurists?
Hah – next you will try to tell me that Iraq never possessed WMD. We “know” the truth – MSM just won’t tell us and gives us fake news about Mar-al-Lago, trying to embarrass Dear Leader. Truth is whatever Netanyahu tells Jared it is, and he relays it to his father-in-law.

Pence-Haley in 2020!

#16 Comment By Coco On December 26, 2017 @ 7:20 pm

The notion that there are NOT satellites that can pick up a launch signature within miliseconds, and strike capabilities that can hit that target within minutes, is simply laughable.

#17 Comment By Michael On December 26, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

He talks about the Cyrillic, the details of construction, and all of that, yet provides not one shred of proof. No pictures showing Cyrillic writing. No pictures showing the cut-and-welded tanks. No pictures showing the non-separable warhead. When you are refuting three sets of experts, you must show the proof and show some verification that your pictures are of what you claim they are (the missile in Saudi Arabia rather than pictures of one of Saddam’s missiles).

Extraordinary assertions require extraordinary proof. With no proof, no one’s going to believe you who isn’t already a conspiracy theorist.

Show us the pictures with metadata intact juxtaposed with pictures of similar parts in Qiam and Scud missiles. If you cannot, then why would anyone believe you?

#18 Comment By mortal combat On December 26, 2017 @ 9:32 pm

Lying to the UN seems to have become a rite of passage for American diplomats during the post 9/11 neocon foreign policy dispensation. Nonetheless, Haley takes to it rather too readily.

#19 Comment By thomas Knyst On December 27, 2017 @ 8:03 am

I think to make the USA statements at the UN more believable, they should enlist Colin Powell to show us some maps of Yemen indicating where the missile was launched from

#20 Comment By What’s In A Name? On December 27, 2017 @ 11:31 am

@mortal combat — “Lying to the UN seems to have become a rite of passage for American diplomats “

I object to the use of the word “diplomat” here. Haley makes Sarah Palin and Maxine Waters look like diplomats.

#21 Comment By Richard Steven Hack On December 27, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

“The notion that there are NOT satellites that can pick up a launch signature within miliseconds, and strike capabilities that can hit that target within minutes, is simply laughable.”

What part of “without the loss of a single mobile missile launcher” did he not understand?

As for “Michael” demanding proof from Mr. Ritter, I would believe Ritter over Haley at any time. He IS an expert on such weapons – she is not. And the UN experts explicitly said they could not identify the provenance of the missiles, either.

We need better trolls here. 🙂

The important takeaway here is that anyone who thinks North Korea’s 20,000 rockets and missiles, 5,000 tanks, and million-man army are going to be taken out in a few weeks by South Korea and the US, like the Iraq war, are simply delusional.

#22 Comment By Sanford On December 30, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

There are many, many detailed photos of the debris online and there is no hint or evidence of Russian manufacturing signatures or writing of any kind. The author made this up, and therefore it’s OK to make up any reason you wish as to why he did because they are probably all just as a correct as this pure speculative article.

#23 Comment By grst On December 31, 2017 @ 9:41 am

@MEOW “My overseas nephew asked why does the UK and the US engage in so many wars?”

It’s because of hawks in power. Look at how Truman came to power – and he was the one to start the cold war. Unfortunately, hawks were necessary for most of human history to survive. It’s just recently that we formed the UN and started to think about another way of cooperating globally. That new type of thinking needs to enter the political sphere, and the hawks need to die out.

#24 Comment By Globetrotting Through The Cess Pits On December 31, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

… OK, so maybe the Yemenis are using Iranian missiles. Or maybe they’re not. We care about Yemeni missiles because … ?

For the life of me I don’t understand why Trump keeps us bogged down in these Middle Eastern hellholes. All these things are somebody else’s problem, not ours.

#25 Comment By Scott Ritter On January 3, 2018 @ 6:44 am

I am normally loathe to reply to comments posted in response to articles published online, but a pair of respondents (“Michael”, December 26, and “Sanford”, December 30) have questioned the veracity of my claim that missile components containing Cyrillic markings were among the debris presented by Ambassador Haley during her December 14 2017 appearance at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. A cursory examination of the image containing the three Iranian-manufactured actuator arms reveals a cylindrical object in the background clearly marked with the Cyrillic letter “Sh” followed by the number 37. This, combined with my knowledge of the manufacturing techniques associated with the 9D21engine, give me certainty that the rocket on display was of Russian origin.