Houthi fighter
Houthi fighterReuters

On Sunday, multiple Iranian news outlets claimed that the Yemeni-based Iranian-proxy Houthi rebels destroyed either a Saudi or an Egyptian warship in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits, which lies between Yemen to the east and Djibouti and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa.

The Bab al-Mandab Strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. At its narrowest the el-Mandeb Strait is about 16 miles. 

The el-Mandeb Strait is a geo-strategic choke-point and estimated to transit about 3.3 million barrels of oil a day, or about 8% of the world’s oil shipped daily by tanker.

The Iranian sources claim that the Houthi “forces fired rockets at a Saudi-led coalition warship and destroyed it near al-Mukha coast in the Yemeni province of Ta'iz.” They further alleged that the destroyed warship was named "al-Mahrousa" and belonged to the Egyptian navy.

A search for that Egyptian ship “al Mahrousa” showed the ship to be the current official yacht of the Egyptian President and not an Egyptian warship.

Both of the Iranian sources also claim that on Thursday, October 7, the Houthis forces managed to destroy another Saudi warship in the same general area of the el-Mandeb Strait, with reports saying that the sunken ship had repeatedly fired rockets on residential areas in the southwestern province of Ta'izz.

If the reports are true, as opposed to sheer propaganda, this would represent a dramatic escalation in the war for Yemen that pits the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis against the Saudi Arabian-Sunni coalition. 

The Iranians has developed a highly sophisticated domestically built anti-ship missile system named Noor reverse-engineered off of an original Chinese C-803 design. 

The current Iranian anti-ship missile has a range of about 200 kilometers, so the anti-ship missile could be fired well into the interior of Yemen and still control the el-Mandeb Strait that is only about 30 kilometers. In 2006, Hezbollah successfully hit the INS Hanit, an Israeli warship, with an earlier version of the Iran/Chinese anti-ship missile.

If these anti-ship missiles have been smuggled into Yemen to the Houthis, this would present the Saudi-led coalition naval forces with a catastrophic game-changing threat as they try to maintain their naval blockade of the Houthis on the West Yemen coast.