South Korean intelligence claims that North Korea sold missiles to Yemeni rebels, which were then used against Saudi Arabia.
An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Yonhap News that 20 scud missiles reportedly fired into Saudi Arabia over the past few months were acquired from North Korea. No further details were given to back up that conclusion, but intelligence services in South Korea and the United States have known about North Korean missile sales for a long time, writes Jess McHugh for The International Business Times.
Arms sales support North Korean economy
North Korea supports its ailing economy by selling weapons systems such as missiles. Pyongyang has allegedly sold missiles to countries including Iran, Syria and Pakistan, as well as militant group Hamas, which the U.S. calls a terrorist organization.
“This is not a surprise,” Joel Wit, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University, told VICE News. “Yemen has been a customer of North Korea for some time.”
Pyongyang has such a reputation for missile sales that it has been christened “Missiles ‘R Us” among intelligence officials, according to Graham T. Allison Jr., a professor specializing in international nuclear politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Back in 2002, Yemen purchased around 20 Scuds from the North Koreans,” Joseph Bermudez, an arms expert with All Source Analysis, told VICE News. “So it’s likely the Scuds being used in the conflict did come from North Korea originally.”
Situation in Yemen continues to deteriorate
The conflict in Yemen has grown worse of late as a Saudi-led coalition attempts to defend the Yemeni government against a group of Shia Muslim rebels known as the Houthi. The group managed to overthrow the Yemeni government in January, and civil war has raged ever since.
A coalition of Arab states stepped into the conflict in March, carrying out airstrikes against rebel targets. The death toll as a result of the fighting reached 3,000 by early July, and the conflict has left 20 million Yemenis in need of aid.
After reportedly buying the missiles from North Korea, the rebels used them against the Saudis but with limited effect. Saudi forces shot down a missile fired from rebel-held territory on June 6, and numerous other missile strikes have been thwarted since.
Despite the fact that the Saudis have so far successfully defended themselves against the missiles, the very fact that the Houthi rebels possess missiles is an important escalation of the conflict.
Geopolitical situation remains complicated
The conflict is widely seen as a battle for dominance between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Tehran is known to be backing the Houthi rebels s part of a struggle for regional dominance with Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia was one of the most vociferous opponents to the recent nuclear deal with Iran, with senior figures decrying the fact that the end of economic sanctions would allow Tehran to finance its proxy armies to an even greater extent than it already does.
Missiles are currently a hot topic when it comes to North Korea, with experts worried that Pyongyang may be planning for a new rocket test in October. Upgrades were recently completed to the country’s main launchpad, and analysts believe that North Korea may be preparing for the test launch of a new, larger rocket.
Although Pyongyang maintains that its space program has no military aims, it is thought that the rocket test could actually be a ballistic missile test in disguise. One significant worry is that North Korea will soon possess intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking U.S. cities, and could pass on other missile technology to rogue states around the world.