Houthi missiles target Saudi Arabia and UAE as escalation grows

UAE defence ministry says it is ready to deal with threats and will take all necessary measures to protect the country from attack.

Aftermath of an attack claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels on an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot in Abu Dhabi
The UAE intercepted two ballistic missiles targeting Abu Dhabi in a new attack [Planet Labs PBC via AP]

The United Arab Emirates says it intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles over Abu Dhabi that were fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the latest escalation in Yemen’s long-running war.

Monday’s attack came a week after another Houthi drone-and-missile attack on Abu Dhabi killed three civilians.

“The remnants of the intercepted ballistic missiles fell in separate areas around Abu Dhabi,” the UAE defence ministry said in a statement in state-run WAM news agency on Monday, adding that it “is ready to deal with any threats and … takes all necessary measures to protect the state”.

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, state media said late on Sunday that a Houthi ballistic missile had fallen in the kingdom’s south, injuring two residents – a Bangladeshi and a Sudanese citizen – and damaging workshops and vehicles in an industrial area. Another missile was intercepted and destroyed over Dhahram al-Janub, according to a coalition statement.

The Houthis said they targeted Abu Dhabi’s Dhafra airbase as well as “vital and important” locations in the Dubai area, with military spokesperson Yahya Saree saying in a televised statement that the attack had “achieved its objectives with high accuracy”. UAE authorities did not report an attack on Dubai.

“We are ready to expand the operation during the next phase and confront escalation with escalation,” Saree added.

On Monday, the United States’ Central Command (CENTCOM) said the US military “engaged” two missiles aimed at Al Dhafra airbase, which hosts around 2,000 American servicemembers, “with multiple Patriot interceptors”.

“The combined efforts successfully prevented both missiles from impacting the base. There were no US casualties,” CENTCOM spokesperson Bill Urban said in a statement.

“US forces did set a heightened alert posture at the time of the attack, the second in the span of a week, which did involve Airmen using available bunkers. US forces at Al Dhafra remain vigilant and ready to respond in case of any follow-on attacks.”

Principal MENA analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, Torbjorn Soltvedt, said there’s a “difficult dilemma facing the Emirati authorities now”.

“They are increasingly under threat from the Houthis, but at the same time … we’ve had a pretty extensive military campaign in Yemen and rather than reduce the missile threats to the GCC states, what we’ve seen instead is an increase in that threat,” Soltvedt told Al Jazeera.

If the UAE decides to target the Houthis more aggressively, that would be “stoking tensions further and triggering a downwards spiral”, he said.

“It’s going to have to be something that goes beyond just purely defensive military posture … It will have to involve diplomacy, efforts to increase the resilience of critical civilian and energy infrastructure in the country,”  Soltvedt added.

Videos on social media had shown the sky over Abu Dhabi lit up before dawn on Monday, with points of light looking like interceptor missiles, The Associated Press news agency reported. The videos corresponded to known features of Abu Dhabi.

The missile fire disrupted traffic into Abu Dhabi International Airport, home to the long-haul carrier Etihad, for about an hour.

Later on Monday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and called for a “diplomatic solution” to the conflict in Yemen.

“We reaffirm our commitment to help strengthen the defence of our Saudi and Emirati partners,” Price said. “These attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia as well as recent airstrikes in Yemen that killed civilians represent a troubling escalation that only exacerbates the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

The coalition

The UAE is a member of a Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen’s government in its seven-year fight against the Houthis, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions and has spawned what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The coalition had announced earlier that it was pursuing hostile activity from Yemen’s Houthi rebels using drones while taking measures in accordance with international humanitarian law to protect civilians.

At least 60 people were killed when a temporary detention centre in the northern province of Saada was bombed on Friday, and about 20 were killed in the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa in an attack on Tuesday.

The escalation has raised concerns of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen where the World Food Programme has warned that more than five million people are on the brink of famine, and 50,000 others were living in famine-like conditions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies