On Monday, the Houthis renewed their threat to expand their operations after carrying out a “widespread military operation” targeting the “Saudi and Emirati depths”.
Following the new attack, the UAE reiterated its right to respond to “those terrorist attacks and this sinful criminal escalation,” describing these attacks as a heinous crime committed by the terrorist Houthi militia outside international and humanitarian laws.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that this terrorist militia continues its crimes unchecked in an effort to spread terrorism and chaos in the region to achieve its illegal aims and objectives, calling on the international community to condemn and completely reject these terrorist acts that target civilians and civilian facilities.
The escalation and counter-escalation come in an accelerating context of each party’s attempt in the Yemen war to change the balance of power in its favour, considering that this might help impose its conditions in a possible political settlement, according to Arab affairs expert Ahmed Sayed Ahmed, to Al-Hurra website.
The Houthis often target Saudi Arabia with missile attacks, but the UAE was subjected to the first confirmed attack by the Houthis on its lands last Monday, when drones and missiles targeted Abu Dhabi, killing three people.
The UAE participates in a military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that supports government forces in Yemen in the face of the Houthis.
A new escalation in the Yemeni war, staged this time by the UAE, which vowed to respond after a “qualitative operation” by the Houthi group translated on the ground with an attack on Abu Dhabi that resulted in deaths and injuries.
In light of this tension, Ryan Paul, an analyst on Middle East affairs, expects, in his interview with Al-Hurra, that the United States will become more willing to send new equipment to defend the UAE, and more receptive to coalition attacks on the Houthis to deter them.
The UAE had signed an agreement to purchase 50 F-35s and up to 18 American armed drones, but “technical requirements and operational limitations related to sovereignty and cost-benefit analysis” led to the reassessment, an Emirati official told Reuters last December.
Following Monday’s attack, the Emirati ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al-Otaiba, considered, “The close Emirati-American cooperation contributed to repelling another round of terrorist attacks by the Houthi militia this morning in the Emirates.”
And he continued in tweets on Twitter: “The next step is to stop the financial and arms flows to the Houthis from all sides, and the United States must act now to return the Houthis to the list of terrorism.”
The administration of President Joe Biden has made ending the war in Yemen a priority of its foreign policy.
And last year, it stopped supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations, pressured Riyadh to lift the siege on Houthi-controlled areas to reach a truce, and rescinded the designation of the Houthi group as a terrorist organization.
Ahmed expects that the coming period will witness an escalation in light of each party’s attempt to pressure to show its ability to resolve the military.
He explained: “With the progress of the coalition forces on the ground and achieving achievements in Shabwa and Marib, the Houthis are trying to prove their ability to target the Saudi and Emirati depths, and put pressure on the latter, especially to remove them from the Yemeni equation, and stop their support for the giants brigades.”
More than a week ago, Yemeni forces, backed by the UAE, joined the coalition forces fighting the Houthis around the city of Ma’rib in central Yemen, in a new attempt to control the energy-producing region.
The UAE is arming and training local Yemeni forces that have recently joined the fight against the Houthis in the energy-producing areas of Shabwa and Marib in Yemen.
Two weeks ago, the Saudi-led coalition announced a new operation aimed at changing the course of the fighting after the recently deployed forces of the UAE-backed Giants Brigades, backed by air strikes, succeeded in driving the Houthis out of the oil-producing Shabwa governorate and reopening the road to Marib.
The political researcher, Mubarak Al-Ati, says that the Houthis aim from this escalation “to move the battle outside their borders, in light of the focused and targeted strikes of the coalition, which led to the advance of the Giants Brigades forces alongside the joint forces and the liberation of many Yemeni governorates, and significant losses were recorded in The Houthis’ military, political, and field ranks.
Will the Emirates withdraw?
The UAE deployed some ground forces and suffered human losses in the Yemen war, before largely ending its military presence on the ground in 2019.
However, it maintained its influence through the tens of thousands of Yemenis, mostly from the southern governorates, which it had trained and armed.
The expert on Arab affairs says, “If the Houthis are aiming behind this escalation to pressure the UAE to stop its involvement in the Yemeni equation, I think the opposite will happen.”
He added, “Attacks targeting the Emirati depth, especially Abu Dhabi airport and civilian facilities, mean that the Houthis have crossed the red lines, and therefore the UAE will push for more military escalation for several considerations, including restoring Emirati prestige and the ability to defend its territory, and the conviction that appeasing the Houthis will tempt them to carry out more strikes.”
Ahmed believes that the situation heralds more military resolution and escalation that may eventually push all parties, including the Houthis, to the negotiating table and accept a settlement.
After targeting the UAE last week, the coalition intensified its air strikes on areas under the control of the Houthis in Yemen, which led to dozens of casualties, and caused destruction, and caused an internet outage.
And a raid on a prison in Saada, the stronghold of the Houthis, in the north of the country, left at least seventy people dead and more than a hundred wounded. But the coalition denied that it carried out.
The Houthis’ military spokesman, Yahya Saree, said on Monday that they had targeted “vital and important sites in Dubai with a large number of drones,” Al Dhafra Air Base, where US, French and Emirati forces are present, “and other sensitive targets in the capital of the Emirati enemy (Abu Dhabi) with a large number of ballistic missiles.
Saree renewed his call, “for foreign companies and investors in the UAE to leave, as it has become an unsafe country and is constantly exposed to targeting as long as it continues its aggression and siege of the Yemeni people.”
“The war in Yemen will escalate. The coalition will launch air strikes in response,” Paul says, expecting the Emiratis to continue their support for the attacks to loosen the Houthis’ grip on Marib.
On the other hand, the UAE Ministry of Defense announced the “success” of a F-16 fighter jet at 04:10 Yemen time (00110 GMT) in “destroying the ballistic missile launcher” that launched the two missiles at Abu Dhabi.
She indicated that the platform from which the two missiles were launched was in Al-Jawf in northern Yemen.
When the Iran-backed Houthis launched their first attack on Abu Dhabi last week, Reuters quoted regional sources as saying that it did not pose a specific threat to the region’s first diplomatic priority, efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.
However, the expert on Arab affairs, Ahmed Sayed Ahmed, says that this escalation is linked to other interactions in the Middle East, including the nuclear talks in Vienna, the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Emirati communication with Tehran.
After last week’s attack on the UAE, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement commenting on the “latest developments related to Yemen,” arguing that military attacks are not a solution to the crisis in the region.
Reuters quoted a senior Iranian official as saying: “The attacks will not affect the nuclear talks in Vienna. These are two separate issues…what happened yesterday was a result of the ongoing crisis in Yemen.”
With all its realism, Iran today is trying to control the region through its militias deployed in many areas, but through pressure in the Vienna negotiations.
Given the “interconnected” political scene in the region, Al-Ati says, the Vienna negotiations appear to be present in the escalation that the Gulf is currently witnessing, he said.
The political researcher talks about militias allied with Iran in many Arab countries, pointing to “the emergence of demonstrations against the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and pro-Iran in some Arab regions.”
He continued, “Iran has already moved its tools, but it seems that it understands the lines of engagement, and it will not take risks because the international community will not allow it to drag the region into an open war.”
In light of the periodic talks that took place between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the Emirati rapprochement with Tehran, Ahmed says that it was expected to stop the escalation on the Yemeni front, but that did not happen.
“The Houthis targeted the UAE despite its good relations with the Iranian regime,” Al-Ati says.
Ryan Paul, a Middle East analyst, also says that the new attack may lead to an escalation of tension between the UAE and the main supporter of the Houthis (Iran).
As for the talks with Saudi Arabia, Al-Ati added, “It is clear that the exploratory consultations have stopped, and there are no signs that they will resume.”
Paul talks about the difficulty of resuming talks with each attack. Nevertheless, he says, “there is still a possibility of a partial breakthrough because neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE directly hold the Iranians responsible for these attacks.”
“If we see them change their narrative to blaming Tehran, we can comfortably say that this is the end of diplomatic engagement,” he added.
Direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran began last year and have mostly focused on the Yemen war, which is widely seen as a proxy conflict between the two powers, Sunni and Shiite.
Al-Ati says: “Tehran seems determined that the consultations be limited to discussing files related to it and Saudi Arabia only. As for Riyadh, it wants to discuss all the files of the region and conduct real substantive negotiations, not just exploratory consultations.”
And last month, Saudi Arabia’s delegate to the United Nations, Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, told the newspaper Arab News Saudi Arabia said the kingdom would like to have more substantive talks with Iran, but Tehran has so far been procrastinating and not serious about talks.
Regarding these talks, Ahmed says: “They did not result in any penetration or rapprochement in relations. I think that these attacks may increase the complications of coordination between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The dialogues may continue, but they will not be with the same momentum.”
But he added, “The huge economic relations between Iran and the UAE will remain largely untouched by escalation, relations that were not affected by previous tensions in the first place.”
Biden had said that his administration was considering reclassifying the Yemeni Houthi movement as an international terrorist organization after last Monday’s attack.
According to the expert on Arab affairs, this escalation means a double attempt by Iran to advance its vision in the nuclear talks, and the Houthis to pressure the Gulf states to stop their involvement in Yemen.
Just as all these factors may lead to fueling the situation and more conflicts in the Middle East, they may also result in “Arab alignment and an international understanding of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, related to the need to confront Al Houthi and the party that supports it (Iran), which will increase the level of tension and heat in the region,” Ahmed says. .
After the bloody Houthi attack, Israel offered the UAE security and intelligence support.
In a letter sent by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, he wrote: “We are ready to provide you with security and intelligence support in order to help you protect your citizens from similar attacks… I have ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide any assistance to its counterpart in the UAE.” If you so desire.”
In his message, Bennett said: “Israel is committed to working closely with you in the ongoing battle against extremist forces in the region, and we will continue to do so to defeat common enemies.”
The UAE and Bahrain signed agreements to normalize relations with Israel, with US mediation, at the White House in 2020.
Gulf Arab states share Israel’s security concerns over the issue of Iran’s missiles and the behavior of its allied forces in the region, along with its nuclear program.
And whether the continued escalation increases the Gulf countries’ rapprochement with Israel in the face of Iran, Al-Ati says: “Unfortunately, the conditions in the region almost put the Gulf bloc and Israel on equal terms in the case of Iranian hostility.”
Despite the state of Iranian hostility in the region, Al-Ati says that this does not mean a Saudi agreement to normalize relations with Israel, adding, “I think that Saudi Arabia is still sticking to its view of normalization without Israel’s acceptance of the Arab peace initiative and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.”
In the same context, Ahmed says: “I believe that Israel will provide the UAE with defensive missile systems to protect its security against ballistic missiles and Houthi drones.”
And Israel, for its part, may seek to use this Houthi escalation towards the UAE to “show that the real danger is Iran and its support for the Houthis with ballistic missiles, which may push it to pressure America to take tough positions towards Iran, and increase Emirati-Israeli coordination on Iran and the Houthis,” according to what an expert says. Arab affairs.
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