Yemen’s Houthi movement [Ansarallah] fired ballistic missiles and drones at the United Arab Emirates on Monday, January 17, killing three and targeting sensitive military sites as well as an oil refinery and the Abu Dhabi airport. Shortly after, the United States then showed its true colors by green-lighting offensive action on Yemen, as Saudi warplanes bombarded Sana’a.
Over 20 Yemenis were killed were in Saudi-coalition airstrikes on Yemen’s Capital Sana’a on late Monday night, the most intense night of strikes since 2019. Fourteen were killed in one strike alone, after Saudi fighter jets targeted the home of former Houthi military official, Abdullah Qassim al-Junaid. This came following the deadly large-scale attacks on the UAE, which have been condemned by the UN’s Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, as well as countless Western officials.
The chaos of January 17 was horrific for the victims of such violence and their families, however, the dramatic escalation as usual had other implications. The most widely noted point that has been made is the potential impact that the strikes on the UAE have had on the 8th round of indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran, aimed at restoring the Iran nuclear deal.
This has signaled perhaps a new chapter in the Yemen war. Meaning that the UAE and its allies may now seek wider cooperation in their military operations inside Yemen against the Ansarallah government based in Sana’a. This could even include UAE cooperation with Israel. Although the UAE had attempted to present itself as drawing down from Yemen, this could quickly see them making an attempt to further solidify their role publicly, at the very least.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was quick to condemn the Houthi strikes on the UAE, calling it “terrorism” and standing in solidarity with Abu Dhabi. There has also been much talk from the Israeli side about the potential dangers posed by Ansarallah to Tel Aviv’s shipping through the Red Sea and even speculation that the Houthis may attempt to strike Eilat, the southern-most Israeli city. Israel has also been reported to have considered getting involved in the war in Yemen itself, which it has only provably done through training fighters in the UAE so far.
The Iran element of this is also interesting to say the least. Whilst it is impossible to prove whether Iran had any prior knowledge of the strikes, as many Western media pundits have suggested, the attack clearly works in their favor. It then becomes clear that increased pressure from the Houthis against the UAE and Saudi Arabia may work as a means of pressuring the US government to adopt a less hardline stance towards re-entering the Iran Nuclear Deal. If it is the case that Iran had some hand in the attack, or at least pre-knowledge, then this would suggest that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are working hard to pressure Washington into a peaceful solution to current tensions and sending a message that escalation is likely if the talks fall through.
In Iraq the attacks on US convoys, military bases, and the Baghdad Embassy Green-Zone have escalated over the course of the new year and it seems that the UAE, being an anti-Iran Nuclear Deal regional US Ally, is perhaps the best target that Iran could have seen hit right now. It sends a message that the UAE is open to attack, as is Saudi Arabia, and that for both of them to continue their anti-Iran policy, as part of the reactionary pro-Washington camp, will cost them dearly.
The other key point to take away from the reaction to the strikes on the UAE, and the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on Yemen that then ensued, was the reaction of Washington. Last February the US Biden administration pledged to pursue a policy of de-escalation, ending support for “offensive action” and “freezing relevant arms sales”. Late last year the Biden administration approved a new weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, breaking his promise on that issue. Now that the White House seems to be openly endorsing the right of the UAE to respond and make their opposition “pay dearly”, it seems that the pledge to no longer back offensive action has also been forgotten by the US President.
When Biden said he had made it a top US priority to end the war in Yemen, we can now safely say that this is clearly not the case and that the position of the Biden administration doesn’t seem to have changed much from that of the Trump administration.