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Yemen’s Houthi rebels threaten to expand operations against UAE, Saudi Arabia

Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeted Abu Dhabi again on Monday and threatened to expand their operations against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, a major escalation in hostilities with the two countries that are home to nearly six million Indians.

The UAE defence ministry said it intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles over Abu Dhabi that were fired by the “Houthi terrorist militia”. There were no reports of loss of life or property, though fragments of the missiles fell in different areas around the UAE capital.

The Houthi attack marked the latest escalation in the long-running war in Yemen and came exactly a week after another drone-and-missile attack by the Houthis on Abu Dhabi killed two Indian nationals and a Pakistani. Two more Indians were also injured in that attack.

‘Ready for attack’: UAE intercepts Houthi attack; destroys 2 missiles

The UAE defence ministry said it destroyed missile launchers in Yemen’s northern Al Jawf region, more than 1,200km from Abu Dhabi, immediately after the projectiles were fired. The ministry said it was fully prepared to deal with any threats and that it will “take all necessary measures to protect the UAE from any attacks”.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sare’e warned in a statement in Arabic that the group is prepared to expand its operations against Saudi Arabia and the UAE and “confront escalation with escalation”. The Houthis also “advised” foreign investors and firms in the UAE to leave the “unsafe country”.

There was no immediate response from the Indian side to the latest attack by the Houthis or the threat of expanding operations against the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which the Indian government describes as part of the country’s extended neighbourhood. The two West Asian countries are home to almost six million Indians, including professionals and blue collar workers.

The Houthis are also holding the 11 crew members, including seven Indians, of the merchant vessel Rwabee after seizing it in the Red Sea earlier this month. Both India and the UAE have demanded the release of crew members, though little headway appears to have been made in efforts to get them freed.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar on January 18 condemned the drone attack by the Houthis in Abu Dhabi that killed two Indian nationals as a “terror attack”, and conveyed India’s strong solidarity to his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the face of such assaults.

The Indian government has expressed concern at the recent intensification of fighting in Yemen and reiterated its position that a peaceful solution should be found through dialogue. It has called on all parties in the conflict to come to the negotiating table to find a “peaceful resolution to the Yemen issue”.

Experts believe the Houthi attacks on the UAE using drones and missiles represents a major escalation of the nearly seven-year-old conflict. The Houthis earlier used drones and missiles to target oil facility in Saudi Arabia. The UAE reduced its participation in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen, but the Houthis have retaliated in response to reports that the UAE backed a recent ground offensive in southern Yemen.

The UN Security Council last week condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks in Abu Dhabi” and at other sites in Saudi Arabia, and “underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice”.

India is caught in a delicate position because of the long-standing support provided by Iran to the Houthis. Some reports have suggested the drones and missiles used by the Houthis are being supplied by Iran. India enjoys good relations with both the UAE and Iran, which is seen as a key player in tackling the emerging situation in Afghanistan.


Desk Team