MONDAY’S deadly drone strikes by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting the UAE, and subsequent retaliatory attacks on Sana’a by the Saudi-led coalition, could result in a major escalation in an already fragile region.
The Iran-allied Houthi militia, which controls the capital Sana’a and large chunks of Yemen, claimed responsibility for the UAE strikes and called upon civilians and foreign firms in the Emirates to “stay away from vital installations”. Three people were reportedly killed in the attacks, including a Pakistani, which targeted oil facilities and the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The UAE, meanwhile, responded to the “heinous criminal escalation” by pounding Sana’a under the Saudi coalition’s umbrella on Tuesday. Over a dozen fatalities were reported, including those of non-combatants. Pakistan, meanwhile, has condemned the “wanton act of terrorism” targeting the UAE.
The fact is that unless the Yemen quagmire is addressed in a holistic manner and a peaceful resolution is found, this deadly cycle of attacks and counter-attacks will continue. It is indeed shocking that the Houthi militia has managed to penetrate the defences of the UAE, a state that spends billions of dollars on its defence budget. However, the Yemeni rebel group has shown the capability of staging other low-tech but highly devastating attacks before, such as those targeting Saudi oil facilities in 2019. It is unlikely such capabilities have been developed without Iranian assistance, indicating that Yemen is very much a proxy battlefield in the Riyadh-Tehran struggle for regional power and influence.
However, caught in the middle of this geopolitical battle have been the hapless people of Yemen. Since the Saudi-led intervention in 2015, Yemen’s civilians have had to live under the constant shadow of bombs, with disease and famine further decimating the population. The Arab coalition, supported by the West, has often indiscriminately bombed markets, schools and weddings, causing high civilian casualties. The Houthis, on the other hand, have launched attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, leading to both military and civilian casualties.
Explainer: What is the Yemen war?
The best approach to end this futile war, and ensure the security of the entire region, is for all foreign forces and their Yemeni allies to support a ceasefire and encourage a negotiated settlement. Saudi Arabia and Iran should take the lead in this process, urging the Yemeni government and the Houthis, respectively, to end hostilities. It is also a fact that allies Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been supporting rival factions within Yemen, which has further complicated matters.
Following the UAE attacks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on “all parties to exercise maximum restraint and prevent any escalation”. In the present combustible situation, this is sage advice. De-escalation by all sides must be followed by sincere efforts to end the Yemen war, or else regional peace as well as the global economy will take a major hit should this conflict spiral out of control.
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2022