UAE raid raises stakes in Yemen and prompts closer scrutiny of Iranian allies


A general view of the Abu Dhabi skyline is seen on December 15, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

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  • First direct Houthi hit against US-allied UAE
  • Houthis warn UAE arm will be ‘cut off’
  • No direct implications for Iran nuclear talks
  • The United Arab Emirates is supporting forces fighting Houthis in Yemen
  • More focus likely on Iran’s network of allies

DUBAI, Jan 18 (Reuters) – By attacking the United Arab Emirates, the Houthis wanted to warn the Gulf state to stay out of a fight over valuable energy regions in Yemen, where the Iran-allied group is angered by losses to forces it supports was the powerful US ally.

The UAE is unlikely to secede. Instead, a likely consequence of Monday’s deadly attack is a heightened international scrutiny of Iran’s ties to the Houthis and other paramilitary forces vying with Gulf Arab monarchies for influence in the Middle East, regional analysts said.

The unprecedented raid on Abu Dhabi, a futuristic metropolis with gleaming skyscrapers, has shown the Houthis’ ability to strike a second foreign adversary from long range, undeterred by threats of retaliation that followed them after similar attacks against Saudi Arabia.

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The Houthis promised more such attacks.

The United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, “should stop rigging in Yemen or cutting off the arm of itself and others,” Houthi spokesman and chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam said on Monday.

Regional sources say that while the attack poses no particular threat to the region’s top diplomatic priority — efforts to revive a 2015 Iran nuclear deal — it deepens Gulf Arabs’ doubts about Tehran’s willingness to defuse regional tensions .

Iran issued a carefully worded statement. His foreign ministry commented Tuesday on what it described as “recent developments related to Yemen” that military attacks were not a solution to the crisis in the region.

“The attacks would not affect the nuclear talks in Vienna. Those are two separate issues,” a senior Iranian official said on condition of anonymity. “What happened yesterday was the result of the ongoing crisis in Yemen.”

The attack, which the Houthis said involved missiles and drones, could bolster an argument by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates that the US rapprochement with Yemen, which prioritizes human rights and concerns about the death toll Saudi airstrikes, which Houthis has merely encouraged, analysts and a Gulf source said.


“The Houthis are not interested in peace and remain hostage to their regional backer who sees our region’s security as just a bargaining chip,” Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Salman tweeted Tuesday, referring to Iran.

The Houthis — de facto authorities in northern Yemen after ousting the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014 — say they are fighting foreign aggression in the form of a Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE.

Monday’s attack could complicate regular talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran on ending the war in Yemen and could hurt the Emirates’ engagement with Tehran, the analysts and the Gulf source said.

The UAE opted for de-escalation with Tehran after a 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s energy hub that drew no conventional military response from ally Washington.

Direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which began last year, have focused primarily on the war in Yemen – largely viewed as a proxy conflict between Sunni and Shia power centers.

Biden’s administration made ending the war in Yemen a foreign policy priority. Last year it halted support for offensive operations by a Saudi-led coalition, unsuccessfully urged Riyadh to lift a blockade of Houthi-held areas to secure a ceasefire, and rescinded the Houthi movement’s designation as a terrorist.

But fighting only escalated as the alliance sought to reverse Houthi gains in the energy-producing region of Marib, with Emirati-backed Yemeni forces entering the fray this month.

“Houthi attacks on the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are very likely to continue into 2022 as fighting in Yemen’s Marib … is likely to further intensify,” said Jack A. Kennedy, head of Middle East Country Risk, IHS Markit. and added Abu Dhabi is expected to step up its commitment after Monday’s strike.


The UAE said on Monday it reserved the right to respond to the Houthi strike and called for a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday to condemn the incident. Continue reading

The Gulf source said immediate repercussions would occur in Yemen and against the Houthis while the UAE gathers evidence of where the drones were manufactured and launched.

The Gulf Arab States have stressed the need to address Iran’s missiles and regional behavior along with its nuclear program.

“Saudi and the UAE will continue to talk to Iran, but this sends another negative signal that Iran’s intentions cannot be trusted,” said Abdulaziz Sager of the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh, saying there was “no way.” ‘ that the Houthis would do this without Iranians knowing.

An Iranian security official told Reuters the Houthis “need neither the approval nor the help of Iran or any other country.” Tehran denies allegations of providing financial and military aid to the group.

Analysts and bankers in the region said further strikes in the UAE, a regional trade and tourism hub, could impact sectors including tourism, a key driver of the economy.

“The attacks are reminiscent of conflict risks that investors in the wider region are accustomed to but not closely associated with the UAE,” said Hasnain Malik, head of equity strategy at Tellimer.

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Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Saeed Azhar and Hadeel Al Sayegh, edited by William Maclean

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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