Houthi military parade in Sanaa passes over the US flag, August 11, 2022 (Houthi media)

The Houthi Military Parades: Covering Weakness or Threatening Messages


Sat, 10-09-2022 08:20 PM, Aden

"A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet. It is simply an affirmation of naked power. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is: Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me.” according to Famous British novelist and journalist George Orwell.

Waddah Al-Oubali (South24) 

In typical circumstances for a state, the aim behind holding military parades is to brag before other countries and raise the people's morale. In case of cold wars, military parades are considered a political message to rivals through using a showy way. 

Over the past weeks, the Houthis organized some military parades in Sanaa that included manpower, medium and heavy weapons as well as various military equipment. The Iran-backed Houthis claim that they are able to produce weapons locally to show their industry power. They allege that this is one of their achievements. They exploit the UN-mediated truce which was declared last April.

However, the reality is that the Houthis had actually seized a huge military arsenal belonging to the army of the Yemeni Republic including infrastructure and strategic stock. Such a cumulative military stock basically consists of weapons owned by the armies of the two states, the Yemen Arab Republic and People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. After the 1994 War, these weapons were moved and stored in strategic military depots, most of which centered around Sanaa. Additionally, there were big deals to import qualitative Eastern weapons for Yemen’s army and security forces from a number of states, top of which were Russia and China.

Some are not probably aware that the Houthis still have a big strategic stock of weapons although they lost a large part of it during the war that began in 2015, especially by the raids launched by the Saudi-led Coalition. However, this does not mean that the Houthi military stock was depleted to its lowest level. Smuggling weapons by Iran to the group is still going on. These smuggled shipments are not limited to automatic guns and medium weapons but they include ballistic missile engines, precision and lethal thermal Kornet missiles and drones. These weapons were not part of the previous Yemeni army. They entered the country through smuggling after the Houthi coup on September 21st 2014. On July 7th, Britain seized an Iranian military arms shipment on its way to the Houthis after being intercepted by a ship affiliated with the British Royal Navy. This is considered an irrefutable proof that Tehran supports its agents in Yemen. The shipment included surface-to-air missiles and engines for "land-attack cruise missiles". [2]

However, it should be noted that the Houthis controlled an integrated infrastructure belonging to the army which is not limited to weapons and equipment but goes beyond to include laboratories and special workshops for military industry. They were basically focused on the technician security circle within the so-called “Maintenance Camp”, the nearby “Islah Base Central Camp” and the “22 May Compound for Military Industry”. These compounds include a number of workshops and military laboratorie. Moreover, the Houthis seized an advanced Chinese-made "digital" automatic munition factory. This factory was a result of a contract with China at the end of the era of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Its components were imported during the era of President Hadi. The factory’s installation process was delayed as a result of the a tacit conflict at that time between President Hadi who wanted to establish the company on the ruins of the “October 10 Factory” which was bombed and destroyed during the war againt AQAP in Abyan in 2011. On the other hand, powerful Northern forces around Hadi wanted to build the factory in the same area of the so-called “Sabra and Shatila Camp” south of Sanaa. Such a tacit conflict delayed the installation of the factory and obstructed launching its munition production activities. Later, the Houthis seized the factory after their coup against the legitimate authorities. They moved it to one of their hideouts in the Saada mountains. They began the production process to cover their ammunition needs. [2] This project was surrounded by secrecy and was not disclosed in the media as no one knew about it except a limited number of army officers who were in Sanaa before 2014. 

To make the picture clearer about the size of the Yemeni army’s arsenal seized by the Houthis, we must go back to the scenes of the military parades carried out before 2014 in a number of national events to look at the size of the weapon arsenal. This is despite the military parades then being limited to symbolic samples and models of a large strategic military stock The Houthis seized all of these weapons after taking over the state in Sanaa.

The impact of the war on the power of the Houthis

The war actually and largely affected the Houthi manpower. However, this does not mean they reached the level of severe depletion. This is due to some reasons, top of which is that the Houthis control areas of high population density. Although these regions just represent 30% of Yemen’s total area, they are governorates with high population density and hold tribal features which are positively or negatively affected by the nature of interests related to Sanaa. This allowed the Houthis to substitute the big manpower loss by using the structure of this big population bloc which was transformed to be a war fuel. Furthermore, the legitimate parties were very sluggish in liberation tasks and incurred consecutive failures. Some of them even joined the Houthi ranks. 

Analyzing the latest Houthi parades

Over the past 6 weeks, the Houthis carried out 6 military parades. The first among them was under the name of “Military Batch Graduation” held on July 28th 2022 before the end of the second UN truce. This was followed by 5 other Houthi military parades between 1-15 August. The same period came in conjunction with intensified UN negotiations to renew the truce for additional 6 months or the so-called “the Enlarged Truce Deal”. The Houthis realize the importance of these military parades to pressure the negotiators and extract more concessions. 

The following axes make a deeper analysis about these military parades:

First: Manpower

The parade's units belonging to military academies affiliated with the Houthis apparently had an acceptable military appearance from their uniforms to the unification of military moves during the parade. This is because the infrastructure of military education academies including institutions and military faculties with all their equipment, curricula, cadres and laboratories are concentrated in Sanaa. This helped the Houthis to summon the remaining cadre of officers working there. They employed them to qualify the registered Houthi supporters in the military academies in a way that overrides the previous conditions of accepting new students. These official military facilities are employed as an attractive factor for the high school graduates In the name of affiliation with military academies. The period of the study there was reduced from 3 years to 6 months as shown often through the graduation timing of these batches. However, there is nothing which shows that these units reached the level of an organized army. The Houthis only broadcast limited edited scenes to conceal the deficiencies that accompanied them. It seems that the manpower didn’t make the necessary rehearsals. 

Through the intensified manpower mobilization, the Houthis wanted to convey a message that they still have enough manpower, and that there is a massive desire to be recruited in their ranks. They think that this will make their rivals believe they still enjoy big popularity in the areas under their control. Thus, the Houthis believe they aborted their foes’ bets whether within the Arab Coalition or other parties who were betting on the depletion of the Houthi manpower or the exhaustion of their forces and capabilities during the seven years of war.

Contrary to the Houthi narratives, military sources based in Sanaa who spoke on condition of anonymity said that “the actual doctrinal Houthi power are currently deployed in the fronts, and that some participants in these parades are retired soldiers, and others participated in return for a daily wage and promises to register their names on the lists of those entitled to the salaries that the Houthis say the UN promised to pay”.

The parade, named by the Houthis as the “6th Military District” which was held in Amran governorate on Aug 15th 2022 included about 19 units while there were variable numbers of units in other regiments. 

On the 1st of September this year, the Houthis held a big military parade, with the participation of the prominent leader in the group Mahdi Al-Mashat. The parade witnessed the participation of 120 human units each of which included 144 persons, with a total of 17,000 persons. This was under the name of “the Brigades of the 5th Military District and the Maritime Forces” or what the Houthis called “the Victory Brigades” led by Aqeel Al-Shami who is close to the Houthis Leader. 

The Houthis held this parade in the city of Hodeida which is subject to the Stockholm Agreement and hosts the UN monitoring mission "UNMHA". The mission denounced Houthi military mobilization in Hodeida three days before the military parade [3]. In a statement, the mission expressed its concern towards such military mobilization that contradicts with the obligations contained in the Stockholm Agreement, which require the removal of any military manifestations by all parties from the city of Hodeida. However, the Houthis didn’t comment on the statement and moved forward to hold the parade. 

Secondly: Armament

As for the type of weapons shown by the Houthis, the 1st of September parade was different from the previous ones including the human density or the type of weapons which included missiles and naval mines. The most important presented missile were as follow:
1- Al-Mandab1 missiles: They were developed from the Chinese C-801 missiles that were part of the Navy. They are surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles.

2- Al-Mandab2 missiles: They are developed from the Chinese anti-ship C-802 missiles.

3- The Russian "RUBIG" missiles, which were also part of the Yemeni navy before 2014. It seems that they have all undergone modifications or development by Iranian experts.

It is remarkable that the Houthis didn’t present the platforms or the vehicles attached with these systems or the launchers of those missiles. They just presented them on board heavy transport locomotives. Thus, the maritime mines emerged on these locomotives. These mines caused big security threats for international navigation. 

It is clear that the “Hodeida parade” came in conjunction with new Iranian escalation in the Red Sea and the Strait of Bab Al-Mandab as well as the clash between one Iranian military ship and US drone boats. [4] This can be read as part of Iran’s messages to brag about their power in the region and the attempt to establish a foothold for Tehran in the Red Sea. This constitutes direct and real threats against the security of the maritime navigation in the region. 

It can be said that during their parades which were held in Dhamar, Sanaa and Amran, the Houthis didn’t present the most prominent weapons they claim they have such as winged missiles and long-range ballistic missiles. They only presented the Rajoum 5-propeller drone upon which the Houthis heavily relied on the internal fronts. Likewise, many types of weapons which were used by the Houthis in their military operations were absent from their latest military parades. This includes Rassed, Qassef, and Samad3 drones. This enhances the hypothesis that their parades aimed at showing their manpower more than their armament capabilities. 

Affecting the balance of power

From a military perspective, it does not seem that what the Houthis presented could affect the balance of power with the other parties which also launched an actual and wide recruitment stage in a number of newly-formed brigades under the so-called “Happy Yemen Forces”. Consequently, There are no apparent indicators that the military forces affiliated with the parties belonging to the Presidential Leadership Council suffer from manpower shortages. Moreover, It does not seem that these forces presented by the Houthis attracted any space of attention among the opponents of the group. 

Colonel Waddah Al-Oubali

Non-resident Fellow at South24 Center for News and Studies. Expert and Military Analyst for a number of Yemeni and Arabic media outlets


1- Associated Press, a British ship seized Iranian missiles on their way to Yemen (Russia Today)

2- Information from exclusive military sources

3- The UN monitoring mission "UNMHA" in Al-Hodeida, September 1st 2022 (Twitter)

4- US Navy comments on Iran's seizure of two UAVs in the Red Sea, 02 September 2022 (BBC)

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