After the stupor, the risk of escalation. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) promised on January 18 that the attack which targeted them on Monday would not go “unpunished”. In the morning, Yemeni Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the unprecedented strike, which targeted oil installations in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Gulf federation, killing three people, two Indian nationals and a Pakistani.
Three tank trucks exploded “near storage tanks” of the emirate’s oil company, and a “minor fire” happened in “the new construction area of Abu Dhabi International Airport”, according to the official Emirati agency WAM, which specifies that these events have ” probably “ been caused by “drone”, from “flying objects” being ” fallen down “ at the two locations affected.
The exact involvement of the Yemeni rebels remains to be confirmed. During the bombing of Saudi oil sites in September 2019, the attack claimed by the Houthis was ultimately attributed to a pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militia. It is in any case the first deadly attack on Emirati soil since the small Gulf monarchy entered the war in 2015 against insurgents close to Iran, within the Arab coalition led by the Saudi Arabia. During the night, the coalition announced that it had carried out retaliatory aerial bombardments on Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, in the hands of the Houthis.
Decisive role of the “Giants”
Announcing the launch of a military operation dubbed “Yemen’s Hurricane”, the Houthis claimed on their Al-Massira channel to have “targeted important and sensitive Emirati facilities and sites” using ballistic missiles and drones. “We warn foreign companies, citizens and residents of the enemy state of the Emirates that they should stay away from vital sites for their own safety,” added Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree in an address on Al-Massira.
A group official, Abdellilah Hajar, had earlier told AFP in Sanaa that, “If the Emirates continue to attack Yemen, they will not be able to withstand painful strikes in the future”. The Houthis had in the past threatened to strike targets in the UAE and claimed responsibility for attacks that were never confirmed by Emirati authorities.
The attack on Abu Dhabi is part of a new escalation of tensions between the Houthis and the Arab coalition. After having distanced themselves from this conflict for a time, by reducing their military presence in the North, the United Arab Emirates have relaunched their support for pro-government forces. The Houthi operation against Abu Dhabi was undoubtedly carried out in retaliation for the victorious offensive of the loyalists in the oil region of Chabwa, in the south-east of the country. An offensive which, in two weeks, repelled the Houthis and canceled the gains they had made on this strategic front. Involved in the fighting, the so-called “Giants” brigade, a force of more than 10,000 men created in Aden in 2015, armed and trained by the Emiratis, had a decisive role.
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