Yemeni rebel attack on UAE is a challenge for the region

Jonathan Marks
Foreign Affairs Analyst

The sharp rise in the conflict in Yemen this week has raised questions about the direction of the war and what it means for the region.

Saudi airstrikes against Houthi rebels have been devastating. Aid centers have been targeted in the Houthi stronghold of Saada, with dozens killed in the attack, aid agencies say.

The attacks are being seen as a response to Monday’s missile and drone strikes by Houthis in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is part of a Saudi-led military alliance against the Houthis.

If there were any doubts as to whether the attack would provoke a direct response, the Saudi actions have given a clear answer.Even before Saudi Arabia’s latest operation, long-range attacks on the UAE have highlighted broader developments in the region, particularly on the part of the UAE with countries other than Iran. Efforts to forge a new diplomatic path and the response to these attacks reflect the growing rapprochement between the Gulf states and Israel.

The January 17 attacks targeted an industrial site outside Abu Dhabi, setting fuel trucks on fire and killing three foreign workers. An area near the international airport was also targeted. The Houthis claim to have carried out attacks on the UAE in the past, but this is the first time that UAE officials have acknowledged such attacks and the first time people have been killed in such attacks.

The Houthis want the UAE to be willing to give up its support for militias loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government. These militias, particularly the Amalekite brigades and their affiliates, have made some gains in recent days in the ongoing war in Yemen, pushing the Houthis out of key areas of the south of the country and into the oil-rich Marib in the north. Fighting has intensified in Yemen, a key stronghold of the Yemeni government.

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