Analysis: Alarm bells ring for UAE in Yemen war

Analysis: Alarm bells ring for UAE in Yemen war

Following Ansarullah's recent stunning advances in Yemen's west coast and tightening the encirclement of Ma'rib, the self-confidence to press ahead with the battle against the Saudi-Emirati coalition and its mercenaries has substantially increased among the Yemeni forces...

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Following Ansarullah's recent stunning advances in Yemen's west coast and tightening the encirclement of Ma'rib, the self-confidence to press ahead with the battle against the Saudi-Emirati coalition and its mercenaries has substantially increased among the Yemeni forces. After Sana'a launched eighth stage of "Operation Deterrence Balance" deep into Saudi Arabia, now it has turned its threats to the UAE as the second most important member of the Arab alliance. 

Anti-Emirati threats were made by General Yahya Saree, the spokesman to the Yemeni armed forces, who outlined the recent operation in response to large-scale airstrikes by the coalition at the cities and also attacks by the UAE-backed militia on the coastal city of Al-Makha to disrupt Ansarullah's operations in Ma'rib outskirts and reverse the recent defeats. With continuation of these attacks, Saree explained, it is possible to bring back the UAE to a "circle of targets" designed by the Yemeni army and popular committees. 

The threat to the UAE by Ansarullah during the war is not a new phenomenon, and similar threats have been made in recent months. 

However, the Ansarullah leadership has indicated that it does not want to expand the scope of the conflict in the region. But a few months ago, the movement sent drones into the skies of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

A few days earlier, Foreign Minister Hisham Sharaf of Sana'a based National Salvation Government, in an address to the UAE opposed the illegal actions of the UAE on Yemeni territories and islands, warning that "if you do not leave our soil and islands, flames of fire will reach you soon." 

Sharaf added that Sana'a would not remain silent about the Emirati measures in Socotra and Perim islands. Mohammad al-Bakhiti, a member of Ansarullah political council, had earlier warned, "The UAE would not be immune [to attacks] because it occupied Yemeni territories. Attacks can strike it any time." 

Behind these threats to the UAE, Ansarullah wants to cut the Emirati territorial ambitions and shift away Abu Dhabi eyes from Yemen's natural resources, and to push Emirates out of the seven-year war. 

Here is a question: What would be the influences of these threats on Abu Dhabi's goals and battleground strategies? 

Since joining the Saudi-led coalition in the invasion of Yemen, the UAE has focused on the southern and coastal regions of Yemen to take control of its strategic and resource-rich ports and islands. To implement these goals, the UAE supports the militants in the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC) to oust the cabinet of the fugitive President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi from Aden and take control of important islands such as Socotra, as one of the bastions of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islah Party in Yemen. 

In mid-2019, the UAE announced a change in its strategy in the war and the end of direct military engagement in Yemen, which was a fatal blow to its close ally, Saudi Arabia. Three reasons were given for the move, including the UAE's reluctance to continue to bear the military and financial costs of the war, Abu Dhabi's efforts to improve its human rights image in the West, and the continuation of the war through proxies to eliminate missile and drone threats to avoid the Saudi fate. 

The UAE disengagement from direct military actions and Ansarullah's fast advances following the division inside the Arab coalition make Abu feel threatened when it comes to its interests. As Ma'rib is close to recapture by Ansarullah, the Emiratis fear a next plan by the Yemeni movement to advance to Al-Mahra province in eastern Yemen. Al-Mahra is the closet Yemeni point to the UAE and its capture puts the UAE within better Yemeni missile fire range. Also, the province, for its coasts on the Sea of Oman, can significantly empower Ansarullah to influence the Emirati communications with Yemeni southerners. 

This situation has led the Emiratis to start covert and even overt negotiations, but it is difficult for the them to negotiate directly with Ansarullah because it will anger Saudi Arabia. Therefore, they first asked the Egyptians to mediate. They also raised the issue with the Syrians, who stressed that they should only go to Sana'a to resolve the Yemeni crisis. Iran is another option that the UAE will probably turn head to for mediation in the weeks to come. 

UAE's shallow strategic depth: Abu Dhabi more susceptible than Riyadh 

It is certain that Ansarullah threats work even more with Abu Dhabi than with Riyadh. In terms of strategic depth, Saudi Arabia has a larger territory and thus its military and sensitive sites are more sporadic than the UAE's. The UAE economy, on the other hand, is purely commercial based on the presence of foreign investors, real estate sector, and port exports. Given these circumstances, firing the first barrage of Ansarullah missiles at cities such as Dubai could very quickly spark catastrophic economic conditions and cause great economic bankruptcy for this Arab sheikhdom. The UAE is currently hosting the Dubai Expo 2020, which is planned with major investment to mitigate the economic crisis impacts and reassure large-scale foreign investment. Even one stage of the "Operation Deterrence Balance" can wreak havoc to all the Emirates arrangements for its international exhibit. 

With Ansarullah stepping up its pressure on the UAE for retreat from Yemen's islands and coasts, Abu Dhabi would find no way but scaling down its military engagement in these areas and leaving the initiative to its proxies. The war prospects are already definitely clear. Adopting patriotic and pro-independence policy and winning popular trust in its pushes for liberation of territories from the occupation, Ansarullah now has the upper hand on the ground.


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