After The UAE Attacks: Could The Houthis Spread The Conflict Further?

Published January 19th, 2022 - 06:49 GMT
Men stand outside a storage facility of oil giant ADNOC
Men stand outside a storage facility of oil giant ADNOC in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, January 17, 2022. (AFP)

Why should Abu Dhabi be subjected to drone attacks from the Houthis thousands of miles away? Shouldn't the Houthis remain in their Yemeni backyard rather than expand their missiles and drones outside their territories? Wouldn't it be nice to have a peaceful region to concentrate on development rather than mayhem and destruction?

Maybe altruistic questions many would say! The recent attacks by the Houthis from presumably deep inside Yemen just shows the nefarious nature of the Yemeni conflict, a war that started in 2015 to try to shift the power politics in the region and seek to reinstate the legitimate government that was sent packing in 2014 because of the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Since then the war the conflict has continued in a bloody manner that sees no end. The Houthis have long targeted the Saudi depth through its drones that have reached to as far as Riyadh and other major cities. It is now, and in a checkered manner, reaching Abu Dhabi in the UAE with deadly force. One can easily argue the Houthis are exceeding and expanding their horizons. The reported drones and missiles have reached major oil storage facilities inside the Emirates with one reaching a construction site next to the Abu Dhabi International Airport. 

While the impact is being played down despite the fact three storage tankers were struck and blown up with three killed - one Pakistani and two Indians - in addition to six others injured - the new situation and the increasing length range of the Houthi missiles must be carefully considered for the implications of this latest action means the 'local' war in Yemen could just easily be "exported" further deep inside other regional countries.

While many Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and the Arab League as well as the UN, USA, Europe and Israel are condemning what is seen as military onslaught on infrastructure in the UAE and acts not to be tolerated, the issue that needs to be addressed is how to resolve the Yemeni conflict, to end its effective civil war and seek to negotiate a solution out of the deadly war. 

And there have been attempts on that path with the different parties to the conflict including the Saudis, Yemenis, United States, Houthis, Omanis and the United Nations newly-pointed through it special envoy Hans Grundberg. He is seeking to mediate between the warring parties but apparently to no avail. 

However, instead of petering the conflict out, there is apparently, today, an escalation on both sides currently taking place on the oil-rich Shabwa and Marib were much blood is being spelled by both sides, the Houthis and Arab coalition and their different Yemeni partner forces which initially appealed for the Saudis and their Arab coalition to intervene and restore what is seen as the legitimate government.

Many analysts see the latest strikes on the Abu Dhabi oil trucks is related to this internal Yemeni domestic strategy and the escalation presently taking place in the central part of the country. The question that is being asked by many is why target the UAE now especially since the Emirates reduced its role in Yemen since 2019 when it no longer sought an active part in the Saudi-led coalition. 

Its a complex situation. While the Emirates may have reduced their role the Houthis argue they are feeding Yemeni troops working against them which is continuing to increase tensions in the country and the region. Take the case of the UAE-flagged ship, the Rwabee which was seized by the Houthis in the Red Sea a few weeks ago, for instance. 

The UAE government is angry because they say the ship is a "civilian cargo vessel" and that the Houthis have taken its 11-member crew as hostages and see this act as dangerous escalation. The UN Security Council as well, have called for the immediate release of both the crew and vessel. 

In turn, the Houthis are maintaining their ground and say the ship has military equipment on board for fighters the Emirates support. But this represents a vicious circle and shows that neither side is budging from their stands. Hence, the strategic dimension of the conflict is becoming obvious. Sana and Saada, the home-base of the Houthis, is less than 2000 kilometers to the far-west of Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

Yet with developed drone technology and missiles the Houthis are proving capable they can improve their fire-range all the time from the sorrounding Arabian Peninsula till the other side of the Gulf. Fingers have pointed to Iran, which backs the Houthis, but Tehran categorically rejects it had any doing in the latest actions.

It must finally be said it is Yemen, the surrounding region and even the Gulf that is suffering. The toll of the Yemeni conflict has been horrendous. Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian disaster with nearly 250,000  people dead and millions starving, displaced or homeless for the seven-year-old conflict. This is not to mention the tens of thousands of civilian casualties caused by the war as well as 5,660 in the first five years of the conflict. In the first nine months of 2020 as well, there was 1,500 civilian casualties including men, women, young and old.

Over two-thirds of the people of 29 million are dependent on outside aid to survive according to the UN. It further suggests 16 million Yemenis will shortly experience hunger and that about 400,000 children may starve to death.

These are the grim realities Yemen faces. The continuation of the conflict and its potential spread is likely to worsen the situation. And the effect is almost immediate and continual.  Almost immediately after the strikes on the Abu Dhabi oil tankers, the Saudi-lead coalition started bombing different Houthis targets in Sana and elsewhere with the death toll continuing to shoot up. Its a vicious circle that sees no end!

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