France will help with the United Arab Emirates’ air defence system after a series of ballistic missile and drone attacks launched from Yemen by the Houthi rebels on the Gulf country, its defence minister said on Friday.
Paris has close economic and political ties with Abu Dhabi and has a permanent military base in the Emirati capital. It sealed a deal in December to sell 80 Rafale fighter jets to the UAE, the largest ever overseas sale of the French warplane.
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“The United Arab Emirates was victim of serious attacks on its territory in January,” Defence Minister Florence Parly tweeted. “In order to show our solidarity with this friendly country, France has decided to provide military support, in particular to protect their airspace against any intrusion.”
The UAE has, in the past two weeks, been attacked by the Houthis with drones and missiles, including one targeting a base hosting the US military. That was thwarted by US-built Patriot interceptors.
France’s defence ministry said the agreement with Abu Dhabi would see operations conducted from the Al Dhafra air base offering refuelling and surface-to-air capacities.
“Aircraft operations are planned … in coordination with the Emirati air forces, to detect and intercept drone strikes or cruise missiles targeting the UAE,” the ministry said.
France is also helping the UAE with aerial surveillance using Rafale fighter jets stationed at France’s air base in Abu Dhabi, Parly said.
Refuelling and regular Rafale fighter jet observation missions will take place solely over Emirati territory, French officials said.
Earlier this week, the United States also said it would send fighter jets to assist the UAE following the missile and drone attacks.
A little-known group called the Awliyat al-Waad al-Haq (True Pledge Brigades), which is believed to have ties with pro-Iran armed factions in Iraq, said it launched four drones at dawn on Wednesday targeting the wealthy Gulf state.
The UAE, which does not directly border Yemen, has not been a major target of attacks by the Houthis since 2015 – when it began fighting in Yemen as part of a Saudi-led military coalition backing the country’s internationally recognised government.
But a January 17 attack by the Houthis appeared to signal a strategic shift for the rebel group.