UAE intercepts Houthi missile as Israeli president visits

Iran-backed Houthis say they plan new military operation inside UAE as seven-year-long conflict in Yemen deepens.

A general view of the Abu Dhabi skyline .
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, in a seven-year-old conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead [File: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) says it has intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired from Yemen as the Gulf state hosted Isaac Herzog on the first-ever visit to the country by an Israeli president.

The UAE’s defence ministry said on Monday the debris of the missile fell on an uninhabited area. It did not say whether the missile was targeting the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

The country’s civil aviation authority said air traffic was continuing as usual, and all flight operations were operating normally despite the attack, the state news agency (WAM) reported.

The Emirati ministry of defense said in a post on Twitter that it had destructed a launch site for one of the missiles that landed on the UAE. It did not give further information about the exact location of the site.

Within hours, Yemen’s Houthi group confirmed it had fired a number of ballistic missiles at Abu Dhabi, and had also fired several drones at Dubai, the regional business hub.

The headquarters of international companies in the UAE will be targets of attacks in the coming period, a military spokesman of the Iran-aligned group, Yahya Saria, said in a television address, reiterating previous warnings.

“We hit specific and important targets in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi with a number of ballistic missiles, as well as sensitive targets in the Emirate of Dubai with a number of Samad-3 drones.”

“The Yemeni armed forces confirm that the UAE enemy state will remain unsafe as long as the tools of the Israeli enemy remain in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, launching aggression against our dear country,” said Saria.

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, in a seven-year-old conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead, displaced millions and spawned what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

A Houthi military spokesman said late on Sunday on Twitter the group would disclose within hours details of a new military operation deep inside the UAE. He gave no further details.

The Houthis launched an attack on Abu Dhabi on January 17 in which three people died, and a second missile assault a week later, after UAE-backed Yemeni armed groups intervened on front lines where the Houthis had made inroads last year.

The UAE’s defence ministry said fighter jets of the Saudi coalition had destroyed missile launchers that were located in Yemen.

Last week, the Gulf state’s public prosecutor said it had summoned several people for sharing videos showing defence systems intercepting a previous missile attack by the Houthis. There were no social media posts on this interception.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 30, 2022.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. [Handout via Reuters]

Monday’s attack came as Herzog discussed security and bilateral relations with the UAE’s de facto ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi.

Herzog reportedly spent the night in Abu Dhabi. He will continue his UAE visit despite the Houthi attack, his office said.

The United States, which warned of the risk of continued missile or drone attacks in a travel advisory last week, condemned the attack.

“While Israel’s president is visiting the UAE to build bridges and promote stability across the region, the Houthis continue to launch attacks that threaten civilians,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet.

The UAE, along with Bahrain, signed US-brokered normalisation agreements with Israel, dubbed the “Abraham Accords”, in 2020.

The UAE has reduced significantly its military presence in Yemen since 2019, but it still holds sway via large local forces that it has built and armed.

Commenting on the escalation, James Farwell, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said Yemen’s conflict has reached a stalemate because neither has been able to prevail militarily.

“The situation is becoming more dangerous because the nature of weapons being used in the attacks is becoming more deadly,” said Farwell.

“The Houthis are trying to bring pressure to the Saudi-UAE coalition to bring things to a favorable close. The only way this [conflict] is going to be resolved is if the Saudi, the Emirates and Houthis sit directly to together and work things out.

“There isn’t any alternative because neither side has been able to gain an advantage over the other,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies