What happened: Israel has offered security and intelligence support to the UAE following the deadly drone and cruise missile attack by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Monday.
- Three people were killed and six injured after armed drones and missiles struck three petroleum transport tankers near a storage facility for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company as well as Abu Dhabi’s international airport nearby.
- According to a Houthi military spokesman, the attack included five cruise missiles and several drones. “We attacked the airport in Abu Dhabi, as well as oil storage facilities. We warn foreign companies and those staying in the UAE: We will not hesitate to expand our attacks.”
- The attack received widespread condemnation from Israel, UK, the US and across the Arab world, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, and even Iraq.
- Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote to UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ): “We stand ready to offer you security and intelligence support in order to help you protect your citizens from similar attacks … I have ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance, should you be interested.”
- Bennett added: “Israel is committed to working closely with you in the ongoing battle against extremist forces in the region, and we will continue to partner with you to defeat our common enemies.”
- Foreign Minister Lapid said: “We call on the international community to strongly condemn such attacks and to act immediately so that Iran and its proxies will not have the tools to continue to undermine regional security and harm innocent people.”
- Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi deputy defence minister (and youngest son to King Salman), said: “The Houthi militia chose terrorism and destruction and used the people of Yemen as firewood that serves the Iranian regime’s agenda.”
- He added on twitter that “the terrorist attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis against Saudi Arabia & the UAE represents a threat to our region’s security. The Houthis aren’t interested in peace and remain hostage to their regional backer, which treats our region’s security as a mere negotiating card.”
- Yesterday, the Saudi-led coalition retaliated by killing a senior Houthi commander, Maj.-Gen Abdullah Qassem al-Janid, the commander of the Houthi’s Aviation College.
Context: This was the first successful Houthi attack on the UAE mainland since the beginning of the Emirati involvement in the civil war in Yemen.
- The timing coincided with a recent escalation in fighting in Yemen that saw the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE-sponsored “Giants Brigades militia,” take over the strategically significant Shabwa Governate.
- Although the Houthis took responsibility for the attack, they are largely viewed as an Iranian proxy with advanced weaponry.
- The modus operandi of Iran using regional proxies to attack its enemies but deny any involvement is a familiar pattern in the region.
- At the same time, Tehran has been able to compartmentalise its relationships in the region whilst transferring ballistic and cruise missiles and armed drones to its allies.
- The Houthi strike illustrates the growing ability of the group to use Iran-supplied technology to project power far beyond Yemen. The UAE targets struck are over 1,000 miles northeast of Saada, the Houthis’ stronghold in Yemen. The Houthis have previously sought to strike inside the UAE but failed in the past, including a 2017 purported strike against the UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant.
- Iran-supplied armed drones, which the Houthis are increasingly proficient in using, allow for more precise targeting and increased effectiveness.
- The UAE attack targeted the country’s soft power centre and aimed to weaken its economy and appeal of tourism and foreign investment.
- Israel hopes this experience and their offer of cooperation will further validate the Abraham Accords and lead to expanding Israeli-UAE ties against Iranian activity in the region.
- Until now the UAE has taken a multi-dimensional approach with Iran. While they signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, they continue to hold extensive economic ties with Iran. They recently invited Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to visit the UAE.
- According to an Iranian official, “the attacks would not impact the nuclear talks in Vienna. These are two separate issues. What happened was the result of ongoing crisis in Yemen.”
Looking ahead: The UAE has promised to respond but could wait to carefully calibrate its retaliation, which could also indirectly target Iran.
- Israel is also concerned that Iran could use Yemen and attack drones and missiles to attack Israel. Israeli security officials noted that the distance from Yemen to the UAE is the same as Yemen to Eilat.
- Bennett and MBZ met for the first time in Abu Dhabi in December, and a reciprocal visit is anticipated later in the year.