Situation update

On Monday, 24 January, the Iran-backed Houthis launched two ballistic missiles towards (1) Al Dhafra Air Base, in Abu Dhabi, UAE where U.S. forces are stationed. U.S. Patriot air defense systems successfully neutralized the missiles with no damage reported and only minor disruptions to air traffic at (2) Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). This week’s attack comes on the heels of another Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi that occurred on 17 January. Using at least five Quds-2 missiles and an unspecified number of Sammad-3 drones, the Houthis targeted an Abu Dhabi National Oil Company fuel depot, in (3) Mussafah, killing three foreign workers and wounding six. The attack also targeted a construction site at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

UAE attack jpeg


  • This was the first Houthi attack on the UAE since 2018 and the first time that Abu Dhabi has even acknowledged that it was attacked.
  • The Houthis claimed they used the same drones and cruise missiles that were used in the 2019 attack on the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia.
  • The attacks coincide with an increase in cross-border attacks from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. In response, the Saudi-led collation has increased the scope and scale of its aerial operations against the Houthis in Yemen in response to these attacks.
  • On 25 January, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Emirati and Saudi officials to discuss the recent uptick in cross-border violence.

CONTEXT

  • In recent weeks, Yemeni pro-government forces with Saudi air support have gained significant momentum in repelling the Houthis back from the geographically central and strategically important areas in Yemen.
  • In December, the Emirati Crown Prince met with the Israeli Prime Minister to discuss coordination on Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
  • On 11 January, the UAE-backed Giants Brigades advanced on Houthi-controlled Harib city, southern Ma’rib governorate.
  • On 12 January, a Houthi spokesperson declared on Al Jazeera that the group would resume targeting the UAE for reentering the war in Yemen (the UAE significantly reduced its forces in Yemen starting in mid-2019).
  • On 13 January, an Iraqi pro-Iranian militia threatened the UAE after accusing the Emirates of interfering in the Iraqi election.

ANALYSIS

The main objective of the Houthi attacks is to reestablish deterrence by highlighting The Emirates’ inherent vulnerability. The attacks are intended as a warning shot, a signal to stop aiding pro-government factions in Yemen and stop growing closer with Israel. With the UAE’s reputation as a place of stability; as a hub for tourism, entertainment, finance, and trade; and with a new nuclear reactor less than 150mi from the impact sites, the attack showcases the costs that the Houthis are capable of exacting on the UAE.

What We’re Watching

Global Guardian is closely monitoring the situation for both tactical changes on the ground in Yemen as well as strategic updates. The UAE will likely continue its policy of diplomatic engagement while continuing its support for the Saudi coalition and the pro-government Giants Brigades in Yemen.

We will be watching to see if the U.S. restores the Houthi’s terrorism designation or provides intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition to help the Saudi and UAE-aligned forces break the Houthi’s grip on the strategic, oil-rich city of Marib.

The upcoming visits to the UAE by the Israeli President on 30 January and the Iranian President on 07 February will be key developments with important ramifications. 

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