UAE intercepts Yemen missile as Israeli president visits

International Desk Published: 31 January 2022, 02:33 PM
UAE intercepts Yemen missile as Israeli president visits
In this photo provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, center, and First Lady Michal Herzog are received by UAE Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. Israel's president arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday in the first official visit by the country's head of state, the latest sign of deepening ties between the two nations as tensions rise in the region. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via AP)

The United Arab Emirates intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels early Monday as the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, was visiting the country, authorities said, the third such attack in recent weeks.

The attack only fuels ongoing tensions affecting the wider Persian Gulf, which has seen a series of attacks as Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers collapsed and Yemen’s yearslong war rages on, reports The Associated Press. 

As negotiators in Vienna now attempt to save the accord and Emirati-backed forces press on the Houthis, the rebels are launching their longest-range attacks yet - a major challenge for the Emirates, which long has advertised itself to international businesses as a safe corner of an otherwise-dangerous neighborhood.

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency reported Monday’s interception, saying “the attack did not result in any losses, as the remnants of the ballistic missile fell outside the populated areas.”

It wasn’t immediately clear where the remnants fell. The country’s civilian air traffic control agency said there was no immediate effect on air travel in the UAE, home to the long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad.

The country’s top prosecutor has threatened that people who film or post images of such an incident would face criminal charges in the UAE, an autocratic federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, making reporting on such incidents even more complicated for journalists.

Instead, the Emirati Defense Ministry released black-and-white footage it described as showing the destruction of a ballistic missile launcher in Yemen’s al-Jawf province some 30 minutes after the attack. Another attack last week saw a similar strike launched on al-Jawf in the minutes after, leading analysts to suggest the Emiratis may be receiving intelligence assistance from the West for its strikes.

Al-Jawf is some 1,350 kilometers (840 miles) southwest of Abu Dhabi.

Houthi military spokesman Yehia Sarei wrote on Twitter, without elaborating, that the rebels would make an announcement about an attack in the coming hours that reached into “the depths of the UAE.” The Houthis’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel later reported that airstrikes had begun targeting Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital.

Herzog, Israel’s ceremonial president who is in the UAE on a state visit, met Sunday with Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“I wish to emphasize that we completely support your security requirements and we condemn in all forms and language any attack on your sovereignty,” Herzog told Sheikh Mohammed, according to his office.

Herzog’s office told The Associated Press the trip was “expected to continue as planned.” He visited Dubai’s Expo 2020 world’s fair on Monday, which the Houthis had previously threatened to target. From the site’s centerpiece dome, he delivered a brief and carefully worded speech extolling Israel’s innovations, its presence at the fair and economic cooperation with the UAE since the nations normalized relations.

He arrived on site surrounded by protection officers in dark suits and watched the Israeli flag rise over the stage as its national anthem was played. He urged more nations to recognize Israel as part of the so-called Abraham Accords before being swiftly shepherded away.

“Israelis and Emiratis are standing together, learning each other’s cultures and languages,” Herzog said, rattling off figures about cooperation since the nations opened ties: $1 billion in trade, the establishment of a $100 million joint research and development fund, and 250,000 Israelis who so far have visited the UAE’s gleaming coastal cities.

“I look forward to the great accomplishments that will undoubtedly emerge from the seeds planted right here, together,” he added.

The Associated Press, along with other international media, were ordered by Dubai’s Expo 2020 not to release images or video of Herzog’s visit until the afternoon. Expo officials say the order came at the request of Israeli officials.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned the Houthi 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,” Price wrote on Twitter.

In the hours after the attack, Syrian state-run media said an Israeli strike hit near Damascus. The Israeli military did not immediately acknowledge it.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in December made his first official visit to the UAE and discussed strengthening relations on a number of fronts with Sheikh Mohammed. The visits came after the UAE and Bahrain recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations in 2020 - a move condemned by Palestinian leaders as a betrayal of their cause for statehood.

Last week, a similar attack saw both Emirati and U.S. forces fire interceptor missiles to bring down a Houthi attack as missiles came near Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, which hosts some 2,000 American troops. The U.S. military did not respond to requests for comment.

The week before, a Houthi drone-and-missile attack struck an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot, killing three people and wounding six. Another attack targeted Abu Dhabi International Airport, though damage wasn’t seen in satellite photos analyzed by the AP. That attack came as South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the UAE.

The attacks have helped propel benchmark Brent crude oil prices above $90 a barrel, further squeezing a global economy grappling with inflation in the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its own forces from Yemen, it is still actively engaged in the conflict. It supports militias fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. A Saudi-led coalition, which the UAE is a part of, entered the conflict in March 2015.

Iran has denied arming the Houthis, though U.N. reports, independent analysts and Western nations point to evidence showing Tehran’s link to the weapons. Experts, however, debate how much direct control Tehran exercises over the Houthis.

Yemen’s war conflict has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi-led airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis, meanwhile, have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.

Attacks after the first round of Houthi missiles in January saw the Saudi coalition strike a prison and kill some 90 people, as well as knock Yemen off the internet for days.

The Houthis have suffered heavy losses on the battlefield recently. Aided by the Emirati-backed Giants Brigades, Yemeni government forces took back the province of Shabwa earlier this month in a blow to Houthi efforts to complete their control of the entire northern half of Yemen.

While Emirati troops have been killed over the course of the conflict, until this month the war had not directly affected daily life in the wider UAE, a country with a vast foreign workforce.