“a new page is opening in the conflict in Yemen”

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A week after their first attack on UAE territory, the Houthi rebels fired new ballistic missiles towards Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Monday, marking a new milestone in the conflict in Yemen. Decoding with Marc Goutalier, Geostrategy Consultant, Middle East specialist.

The United Arab Emirates intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis on Monday (January 24), a week after the first deadly attack by Yemeni rebels on the capital Abu Dhabi. The target was about 1,500 kilometers from Sanaa, the Yemeni capital controlled by Shia rebels.

In response, the Saudi-led coalition said it had destroyed a “ballistic missile launch platform in the Al Jawf region” in northern Yemen.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sare’e claimed responsibility for the attack and said the missiles hit Dubai, believed to be the economic heart of the Middle East, and Al-Dhafra Air Force Base in Abu Dhabi, home to American and French soldiers sight taken. A few hours earlier, southern Saudi Arabia was also shot at night: two people were injured in the city of Jazane, while a rocket fired at Dhahran Al-Janoub was intercepted.

After attacks on Saudi Arabia, at the head of the military coalition that has intervened in Yemen to support government forces since 2015, the Houthis, backed by Iran, appear determined to expand the conflict inside the Emirates’ borders.

This escalation is a response by the rebels to Abu Dhabi’s military support for forces hostile to the Houthis that have recently taken territory from them, particularly in central Yemen’s Shabwa province, explains Marc Goutalier, geostrategic adviser and Middle East specialist , and author of When Spring Blurs the Maps: A Strategic History of the Arab Frontiers (ed. Félin). An escalation made easier by improving the Houthis’ arsenal.

France 24: How do you analyze the spread of the Yemen conflict, which now also affects the United Arab Emirates? ?

Marc Goutalier: A new page is being turned in the war in Yemen. After the first attack last week against Abu Dhabi, the Houthis now want to have the capital of the Emirates in their sights again in addition to Dubai. It has to do with the context on the ground in Yemen, where recently escalating fighting between Emirati-backed militias and Houthis in the country’s central Shabwa province has swung in favor of Israel’s ally, Abu Dhabi. In response, the Houthis, who have lost territory in the region, are directly attacking the Emirates, which they threatened to attack in the early years of the conflict. They didn’t because they likely lacked capacity, although the Houthis struck right on the Emirati border in Saudi’s Shaybah oil zone in 2019. And then the message had been perfectly understood, since the Emiratis had declared their desire to withdraw from the conflict almost overnight.

Since that time, the Emirates had withdrawn from the war a priori, because they wanted to secure their territory and better organize the Dubai World Fair, which is still going on and on which they have bet a lot to breathe new life into their economy and new ones attract investors. The Houthis know they cannot militarily defeat the Emirates, one of the few credible military powers in the Gulf. By attacking their territory, they are targeting that country’s development ambitions and symbols of its economic power. Because in terms of image and possible economic consequences, these attacks can ultimately be devastating. But the risk for the Houthis, who want Abu Dhabi to pull out of the conflict, is that the Emirates become more involved on the ground because logic would dictate that they react.

How do you explain the sophistication of the arsenal at the disposal of the Houthis, which allows them to directly threaten Emirati territory? ?

Whatever the coalition does and whatever their strategy, the Houthis keep getting stronger and firing endless missiles. There are several factors that explain how they dramatically increased their hitting power and adjusted the range of their projectiles. We must first remember that they didn’t start from scratch. When they took what was once northern Yemen, the rebels seized the arsenals of former President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s regime, which included a certain number of ballistic missiles in particular. They have also recruited a large number of operators, mostly from the Yemeni army, capable of handling this type of missile. They have also reestablished arms dealers’ networks, while Yemen had been a regional platform for this type of trade for decades. For example, Fares Manaa, one of the country’s most notorious arms dealers and once close to ex-President Ali Abdallah Saleh, is Minister of State in the Houthi government. But above all, they have made an external contribution that has allowed them to surpass a technological milestone, the most obvious of which is that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. A support that turns out to be crucial.

This is exactly how Iranian support for the Houthis is manifesting itself ?

Everything points to Tehran, despite Iranian and Houthi denials. Iranians, accused by the UN of not respecting the arms embargo on Yemen, are supplying their Shia allies with all manner of weapons, not just projectiles that slip through the cracks in the blockade net. But Tehran also supplies a variety of spare parts that are more difficult to track down and don’t necessarily fall under UN sanctions. Once assembled, these spare parts are largely used to craft drones such as those used to attack the Emirates, transforming warfare in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Houthis also benefit from the input of Iranian trainers, most notably the Al-Quds Force, the elite Revolutionary Guards unit, but also Lebanese Hezbollah. It is unknown how many of these trainers and how many weapons and missiles the Houthis have in their possession, but it is known that their arsenal has steadily improved over the years, both qualitatively and quantitatively, as evidenced by their striking ability distant areas. Frequent targeting of Saudi territory allowed them to become increasingly accurate and do damage. UN experts have identified among the seized missile debris and materials that it was either pure Iranian technology or derived from it, or even Chinese military technology of which Iran is a customer. And what is probably most worrying for the Saudis and the Emiratis is that these projectiles are effective and don’t cost much to manufacture, while to stop them Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have to spend fortunes to get the equipment abroad to buy

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