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Why Yemen’s Houthis attacked the UAE

In the early hours of January 18, 2022, a multinational coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE conducted airstrikes on the Yemeni capital Sana’a. Earlier on January 17, Yemeni Houthis used drones to attack the UAE, killing and injuring many people.

  On January 17, 2022, Yemeni Houthis used drones to attack the United Arab Emirates, causing three fuel tankers to catch fire and explode near the country’s capital, Abu Dhabi Airport, killing and injuring many people. The attack was a retaliation by Yemen’s Houthis for recent actions by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in support of Yemeni government forces, and the first Houthi attack on UAE soil since the UAE intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015. in late December 2021, Yemeni government forces pushed the Houthis out of the oil-rich southeastern province of Shabwa and advanced north to the Houthi-controlled region of Marib. The attack will likely set off a new round of conflict between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Houthis and the Yemeni government, affecting the situation in the Gulf region and the Middle East as a whole.
The direct consequences of the attack

  In September 2014, the Houthis attacked the capital Sana’a and went south to besiege Yemeni government forces, but their military equipment was not advanced at that time, lacking air defense and heavy weapons. After Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, Iran, Qatar and Turkey were credited by public opinion with providing various types of support to the Houthis to upgrade their weaponry. In the following years, the Houthis frequently attacked Saudi Arabia, but the distance did not make it difficult to launch direct attacks against the UAE.
  Second, the attacks put the Saudi and UAE security defenses under widespread public pressure. In 2019, the Houthis used missiles and drones to hit Saudi Arabia’s oil industry hard, causing a sharp drop in Saudi oil exports and once causing volatility in international crude oil market prices. In 2021, the Houthis launched a total of 375 attacks on Saudi Arabia, and although Saudi Arabia deployed Patriot air defense missiles to intercept them, it was still difficult to fully guarantee its domestic security. This time, the Houthi drones attacked the UAE after a “long journey”, and the Saudi and UAE air defense systems were all “dumb”, which made the investment environment and security environment of the two countries widely questioned by public opinion, and the UAE This has had a direct impact on the international reputation of the UAE as the “Pearl of the Gulf”.
  Finally, the attack also put Oman in an awkward position. After Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, Oman has been acting as a “lobbyist” between the Houthis, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help the parties to the conflict achieve dialogue and seek a peaceful solution. But the attack forced Oman, which is located in a geographical buffer between Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to make a choice about the future. Oman was the first to express its condemnation after the attack. Considering that the Houthis likely launched the attack on the UAE via Omani airspace and that there is a possibility of a repeat in the future, Oman, as a member of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, must strengthen its control in the border areas of Yemen and share military intelligence on the Houthis with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If Oman’s military interaction with Saudi Arabia and the UAE increases, it could easily be perceived by the Houthis as “falling in line with the enemy camp,” weakening Oman’s position in brokering peace.
Far-reaching Implications of the Attack

  The Houthi attack on the UAE may further complicate the security situation in the Gulf region. First, the attack disrupted the gradual détente between Saudi Arabia and the UAE over Yemen, which may usher in a new round of conflict escalation. Since 2019, although Saudi Arabia and the UAE still continue to launch airstrikes against the Houthis in northern and central Yemen, the intensity and frequency have been greatly reduced compared to previous years. Both the Saudis and the UAE are seeking an opportunity to exit the war in Yemen “with dignity”. According to media reports, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been in secret contact with Iran, hoping to get its assistance in reaching a ceasefire agreement with the Houthis and withdrawing from the Yemeni civil war. On the other hand, the two countries have started a dialogue with the Houthis through Oman and the United Nations to find a path to withdraw from the war in Yemen and start a political reconciliation process in Yemen. But this attack is likely to force the “disgraced” Saudi Arabia and the UAE to “hit back” and increase their support for Hadi’s government and the “Southern Transitional Council” in southern Yemen. This may disrupt the international community’s peace mediation process.
  Second, the relationship between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE may become more sensitive, and the de-escalation process between Iran and the Gulf Arab states may be affected. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are involved in the Yemeni civil war, largely because the Houthis are seen as Iran’s “proxies” in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran have a long history of geopolitical rivalry, from Lebanon to the Gulf region, from Iraq to Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been trying to contain Iran’s influence. But as the war in Yemen continues, Saudi Arabia and the UAE gradually realize the adverse consequences of the war’s long-term continuation, hoping to use Iran’s power to get out of the quagmire of Yemen’s civil war; at the same time, Iranian President Leahy has repeatedly said that he is willing to start a dialogue with the Gulf Arab countries, and in fact has also made a series of contacts with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. However, this attack may make Saudi Arabia and the UAE suspect that the attackers received intelligence support and technical help from Iran, and even consider Iran as the main responsible party for this attack. Therefore, this attack may add new obstacles to the de-escalation of relations between Gulf Arab countries and Iran in the future.
  Third, the factional struggle in southern Yemen may intensify. After the attack, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are likely to increase their support for the Hadi government and the “Southern Transitional Council” in southern Yemen, but the relationship between the Hadi government and the “Southern Transitional Council” is not cordial. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia and the UAE support the Hadi government and the Southern Transitional Council, respectively, due to different interests. Saudi Arabia’s strategic goal in Yemen is to eliminate the Houthis completely, or to integrate them into the new government headed by Yemeni President Hadi. The UAE advocates supporting the “Southern Transitional Council” and even acquiescing to the “Southern Transitional Council’s” demand for “southern autonomy”, abandoning Hadi’s government, and opposing the Houthis. The “North-South confrontation”. On the other hand, the conflict between the Hadi government and the “Southern Transitional Council” has a long history. The conflict between the two sides stems from both the historical political division between “South Yemen” and “North Yemen” and the real-life struggle for political authority in the south. If Saudi Arabia and the UAE step up their efforts against the Houthis in Yemen, it will certainly raise the question of “who will benefit” and may intensify the factional rivalry in southern Yemen.
  Finally, the attack may prompt Saudi Arabia and the UAE to seek support and help from the U.S. After intervening in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have repeatedly asked the U.S. to send troops directly into Yemen to fight, but the U.S. has repeatedly refused to do so. 2018, after the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, the humanitarian crisis caused by Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war has been widely publicized in the U.S. public opinion widely. Under the pressure of public opinion, the United States called off a number of military procurement projects with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. However, the attack on the UAE exposed the lack of air defense capabilities of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Arab states may seek new military procurement agreements from the U.S. and put more pressure on the U.S. to avoid further attacks by the Houthis.

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