In recent weeks, Abu Dhabi experienced unexpected internal threats, with Yemeni Houthis targeting the UAE capital. Though such attacks are conventional and can be contained, this development might present a serious problem for a country like UAE with an economy based on stability and security.
Last Wednesday, the Iraqi armed group “Awliyat Al-Waad Al-Haq” claimed responsibility for a drone attack on UAE. In an open statement, the group said it was launching “four drones targeting vital facilities in Abu Dhabi” in retaliation for the UAE policies in Iraq and Yemen.
This new development is indeed critical; it widens the confrontation front targeting UAE not only for its direct involvement in the war in Yemen, as claimed by the Houthis, but also for its policies on other countries, i.e., Iraq. Thus, the situation creates the need for a wider interpretation of the war and identification of the countries who perceive the adopted policies of UAE as a serious threat.
According to Iran’s state news agency IRNA, the drone attacks happened at the same time Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was having a telephone conversation with his UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed, tackling issues pertinent to the crisis in Yemen. The key element of this conversation as reported by IRNA is Amirabdollahian stating that “the Zionist regime’s presence is a threat to the regional security,” in reference to the normalization of ties between Israel and some Gulf countries, including the UAE.
It also coincided with the visit of the Israeli president to the UAE.
The Houthis claim that their attack on UAE is linked directly to UAE involvement in the war in Yemen, especially the recent tactics adopted by UAE which cause big losses to the Houthis.
Yet, the policies adopted by UAE in the region at large also represent a serious concern. During the Trump administration, Abu Dhabi adopted policies that were perceived as reshaping a wider regional scene through normalization of relations with Israel at Arab level and the promotion of the Abraham accords at international level. Hence, the current attacks on UAE and the harsh position of Iran-sponsored militias indicate that the UAE role in the Yemeni war is not the only factor triggering such attacks, and that the UAE has replaced Saudi Arabia as the main target of such confrontation.
Amid this heightened tension in the Gulf, the Israeli response emerged through its Defense Minister Benny Gantz who paid an unannounced visit to Bahrain. The visit, which was announced after his arrival in Manama, was crowned by the signing of a security cooperation agreement, along with the neighboring UAE. For Israel, such military cooperation could help counter Iran’s “power projection” in the region. For the Gulf countries, the agreement represents the first example of policies that have direct implications at home.
This kind of proxy war usually cannot be solved by war; not by defense strategy nor by deploying more missiles. It is an escalation of a conflict that cannot be resolved without a clear political strategy to be adopted individually by the Gulf countries, derived from realistic factors, such as the nature of the state, the level of power, demography and, foremost, geography.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh