The volatile Gulf region is in ferment again. The United Arab Emirates has pledged reprisals after a drone attack claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels set off a fuel tank blast that killed three people, including two Indians, in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led military coalition that supports Yemen’s government against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted Saudi Arabia with cross-border attacks. Monday’s attack is the first deadly assault on its soil acknowledged by the UAE and claimed by the rebels, who said they had fired ballistic missiles and deployed armed drones.
Two Indians and a Pakistani working for oil giant ADNOC died as three petrol tanks exploded near a storage facility, while a fire also ignited in a construction area at Abu Dhabi airport. Yahya Saree, the military spokesman of the Houthis said the group had “carried out … a successful military operation” against “important and sensitive Emirati sites and installations” using both ballistic missiles and drones. He urged civilians and foreign firms to “stay away from vital installations” in the UAE for “their own security”.
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described the attack as a “heinous criminal escalation”. The UAE had largely scaled down its military presence in Yemen in 2019 but continues to hold sway through the Yemeni forces it armed and trained. Reports suggest that the Houthi attack was carried out as a “show of defiance to the Saudis and the Emiratis”, after seven years of bloody strife. The Houthis have used bomb-laden drones to launch crude and imprecise attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The group has also launched missiles at Saudi airports, oil facilities and pipelines, as well as used booby-trapped boats for attacks on key shipping routes. Yemen’s government-aligned forces, aided by the UAE-backed Giants Brigades and with help from Saudi air raids, reclaimed the entire southern province of Shabwa from the Houthis earlier this month and made advances in nearby Marib province.
The Houthis’ minister of information said that the “attack inside the United Arab Emirates is to teach them a lesson, in order to stop their involvement and participation in the Saudi-led coalition”. The attack was greeted with severe condemnation by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. They were unanimous in stating it was a “terrorist” attack.
The US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said his country will hold the Houthi group accountable and Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attacks in a phone call with his Emirati counterpart. The Houthis’ latest offensive comes two weeks after they seized a UAE-flagged ship off the Yemen coast, and released footage purporting to show military equipment on board. The UAE said the Rwabee, whose 11 crew are now hostages, was a “civilian cargo vessel” and called the hijacking a “dangerous escalation” in the busy Red Sea shipping route. Monday’s deadly raid on Abu Dhabi has exacerbated the situation.