Houthi attack against UAE condemned

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Medlir Mema, PhD
Fellow, Middle East Policy Council


Monday’s targeted attack against three fuel trucks and another one near the Abu Dhabi airport, killing at least 3 people, mark the latest escalation of violence between the Iranian-backed Houthi forces and the Saudi/UAE alliance aiming to drive the former from power in Yemen. The brazen attack deep into UAE territory was swiftly condemned by UAE allies and various international actors, resulting in a strongly worded UN Security Council resolution. While a Houthi attack was not unexpected, some observers commented that some of the responsibility for the attack lies with the United States and the West for engaging in good faith with an organization that in their view has no intention of stopping their efforts to consolidate control of the rest of Yemen, and perhaps destabilize others in the region.

The Houthis for their part have justified the attack as an attempt to ‘avenge nation’s sufferings inflicted due to war, siege’, thus framing their ongoing actions as legitimate on self-defense grounds. According to a statement by Mohammed Abdulsalam, chief negotiator of the Ansarullah movement, posted by Press TV: “’The insistence of the aggression’s coalition on committing brutal massacre does not end the conflict, but rather aggravates it’. He stressed that Yemen has the right to retaliate for the crimes committed by the Saudi-led aggressors. ‘A nation facing aggression and siege for years has the full right to avenge [the sufferings of] the victims by every legitimate means’, he added…. Abdulsalam noted that Yemeni people will “continue to support their armed forces’ operations’.”

Not surprisingly UAE officials have expressed little sympathy for such arguments, urging the UNSC, immediately after the attack, to discuss the attack in their deliberations and take adequate measures against the Houthis: “The United Arab Emirates called on Tuesday the United Nations Security Council to convene in wake of the terrorist attacks carried out by the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen against Abu Dhabi on Monday. In a letter to Norway, the Council President for January, it condemned the Houthis for targeting civilians and civilian locations in in flagrant violation of international law. It called on the Council to unequivocally condemn the Houthi attacks.”

The UNSC followed up on the UAE request by condemning the Houthi attack. But UNSC members were not the only ones to do so, with a number of countries in the region expressing solidarity with the UAE government. For example, according to a statement posted by the Daily Sabah, “Turkey on Monday condemned the drone attacks against Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)….In a written statement the Foreign Ministry said: ‘We wish Allah’s mercy upon those who lost their lives in the attacks and extend our condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and government of the United Arab Emirates’. The UAE, a member of the coalition, has armed and trained local Yemeni forces that recently joined fighting against the Houthis in Yemen’s energy-producing Shabwa and Marib regions.”

Yemen Online also reported on various statements of solidarity for the UAE by Yemen’s internationally recognized government, the Arab League, Russia, Pakistan, and Singapore. During a phone conversation with UAE officials, “Arab League (AL) Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit… expressed the Arab League’s condemnation and denunciation of the terrorist attack by the terrorist Houthi militia on civil areas and facilities in the UAE. He also reiterated the Arab League’s full solidarity with the UAE government against these terrorist attacks, which come as evidence of this terrorist militia’s goals of threating security and destabilizing the region. He further highlighted the UAE’s status as global champion of peace, and his confidence in the UAE’s ability to thwart such cowardly attempts to threaten its security.”

Regional commentators, meanwhile, have begun examining the reasons for why and how the Houthis could feel so confident in undertaking such a brazen attack. For Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, part of the answer lies in the deleterious actions taken by the Biden administration: “The deadly terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi on Monday by the Houthi militia in Yemen, despicable as it was, came as no surprise to those of us in the region — especially here in Saudi Arabia — who are already familiar with how low these terrorists can sink…. What the UAE and Saudi Arabia could not have expected, however, was that the US under the Biden administration would turn its back on them — long-time allies and partners — in the way that it has, by revoking the Trump-era designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group, and withdrawing Patriot air-defense batteries even as the Kingdom was coming under attack from Houthi missiles.”

The National’s editorial seems to agree with that assessment, expressing the hope that, following the attacks, the US and others who had hoped to resolve the conflict by negotiating with what The National considers a terrorist organization: “That the targets in Abu Dhabi were civilian, moreover, highlights the indiscriminate nature of the Houthis’ campaign, and the risks their operations pose to regional stability…. Last year, the US State Department removed the Houthis from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Achieving peace in Yemen will require continued diplomacy, but also a realistic understanding of what the Houthis are, and what they showed themselves once again to be on Monday – an extremist organization reliant on terrorism and, most of all, fear. Their brazen attempts to bring that fear to Abu Dhabi failed as the explosions were swiftly brought under control, but that does not mean the world should ignore the dangers they pose.”

A Gulf News editorial also uses the occasion to unmask the real face of the Houthi militants, while making the argument that the Saudi/UAE coalition will need the continued support of the international community to be able to prop up Yemen’s internationally recognized government: “Those who still believe that a peaceful resolution to the war in Yemen can be negotiated with Al Houthi terror militias got their answer on Monday as the group claimed the terror attacks on civilian sites in Abu Dhabi. The Saudi-led Arab Coalition, supporting the internationally-recognised government in Yemen, have all along warned of any attempt by the United Nations and Western powers to appease the militia, which continues to terrorise the Arab country and hold millions of its citizens hostage to war and famine under instructions of its sponsor, Iran, in order to change the geopolitics of the this region and threaten the strategic security of its countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.”

Finally, Albawaba’s Marwan Asmar makes the argument that, by showing the Houthi’s true intentions and the extent to which they are willing to go to maintain their grip on power, the attacks underscore the indispensability of coming to the aid of the Yemeni people, who are suffering due to the ongoing conflict: “The recent attacks by the Houthis from presumably deep inside Yemen just shows the nefarious nature of the Yemeni conflict…. It must finally be said it is Yemen, the surrounding region and even the Gulf that is suffering. The toll of the Yemeni conflict has been horrendous. Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster with nearly 250,000  people dead and millions starving, displaced or homeless for the seven-year-old conflict. This is not to mention the tens of thousands of civilian casualties caused by the war as well as 5,660 in the first five years of the conflict. In the first nine months of 2020 as well, there was 1,500 civilian casualties including men, women, young and old.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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