UAE withdraws from US-led maritime coalition

Abu Dhabi wants more action from Washington to protect shipping lanes and seeks to diversify its security relationships, analysts say.

UAE flags fly as the Burj al-Arab luxury hotel is seen in the background during the UAE''s National Day in Dubai
Analysts say the UAE is frustrated with a perceived US failure to protect Middle East shipping lanes [File: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters]

The United Arab Emirates has withdrawn from a United States-led maritime coalition after an extensive evaluation of its security needs, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs says.

“As a result of our ongoing evaluation of effective security cooperation with all partners, two months ago, the UAE withdrew its participation in the Combined Maritime Forces,” the ministry said on Wednesday in a statement quoted by state news agency WAM.

The UAE also said it was committed to dialogue and diplomatic engagement to advance regional security and stability as well as ensuring navigation safety near its shores in accordance with international law.

The decision marks a pivotal moment in the region’s geopolitical landscape, altering the dynamics of international cooperation in maritime security.

The 34-nation task force headquartered at the US naval base in Bahrain was formed to counter terrorism and piracy in the Red Sea and Gulf areas.

The region contains some of the world’s most important shipping routes, and since 2019, there have been a series of attacks on vessels at times of tension between the US and Iran.

The UAE with its strategic position along vital maritime trade routes had been an active participant in the US-led coalition.

Iranian threat

Earlier in May, the US said it would bolster its “defensive posture” in the Gulf as Washington accused Tehran of carrying out increased attacks on commercial shipping.

Iran seized two international oil tankers in late April and early May in the Strait of Hormuz, including the Niovi, which had been travelling from Dubai towards the UAE port of Fujairah.

Iranian officials said one of the tankers collided with an Iranian vessel and tried to flee while the other was taken into Iranian territorial waters by judicial order following a legal complaint.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Emirati decision to withdraw came in frustration at the perceived US failure to respond to Iranian threats.

Citing US and Gulf officials, the US newspaper reported the UAE was disappointed and had demanded the US take stronger action to deter Iran after these recent incidents.

But the UAE denied in its statement that the newspaper’s report was accurate, saying it was a “mischaracterisation” of conversations between the two countries.

But Kristian Ulrichsen, fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told Al Jazeera that the UAE’s move was a sign of Abu Dhabi’s disappointment with Washington.

“The UAE withdrawal would appear to be consistent with the frustration expressed in Abu Dhabi at the perceived lack of willingness of the US to actively protect its partners and re-establish credible deterrence in the Gulf, however unfair that might be in reality,” he told Al Jazeera.

Andreas Krieg, an associate professor at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, said UAE-US relations were going through “a bit of a rough patch” with Abu Dhabi seeing the US as “consistently” failing to live up to its role as a security guarantor in the region.

Krieg said this perception has pushed regional players to diversify their security partnerships and fill voids themselves where they can, he told Al Jazeera.

“The UAE are using the tanker incidents symbolically for a failing US security partnership,” he said, adding that the UAE’s move was a demonstration to the US that “they are a confident and sovereign nation that can pick and choose, opt in and opt out as they please.”

“The UAE is also pushing back against US demands to sever relations with Russia and China … [because] they need to diversify their partnerships from the US, including with Russia and China, to serve its security interests,” he said.

“The UAE is signalling to Washington in the context of the maritime partnership that the US requires Emirati support as well and that the UAE have leverage in this bilateral relationship as well,” he explained.

Source: Al Jazeera