Houthis had claimed to have launched several strikes on the UAE which does not share borders with Yemen. (Twitter)

By Track Persia

January 24, 2022

The deadly drone attacks against the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi that involved launching a drone and missile attack targeting Abu Dhabi airport and a nearby oil company facility on Jan. 17 have had and will have serious ramifications, especially for the Iranian regime.

The attack resulted in the killing of three civilians after causing multiple explosions. It is the first deadly attack on the UAE in many years. It demonstrated the ability of the Houthis to launch long-range attacks. In the past few years, the Houthis have only conducted relatively short distances and cross-border attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia, despite the vast majority of their attack being missiles and drones that had been intercepted before they hit their targets.

Previously, the Houthis had claimed to have launched several strikes on the UAE which, unlike, Saudi Arabia, does not share borders with Yemen. However, the UAE authorities never acknowledged such attacks and many observers see such claims as fabricated.  Interestingly, despite the wide international statements of condemnations against the Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi, Tehran has yet publicly commented on these attacks.

Iranian responsibility 

Despite the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, there is no indication confirming that the Iranians were not involved in it, especially because the Houthis were not able to conduct such attacks without the near-continuous weapons shipments from Iran’s Quds Force, the external wing of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  Therefore, the Houthis could not have carried out this attack without full blessing and military support from the Iranian regime. It is not unlikely that the Houthis have now the capability of assembling drones locally, a technique that they could easily learn from the Iranians and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

However Iranian regime’s apologetics have raised doubts over possible Iranian involvement in the Houthi attack on the UAE, although the regime has been the Houthis’ principal provider of weapons, including drones, in the latter’s war on the internationally-recognised government of Yemen. They even claim that it is unclear whether the Houthis’ allies in Tehran have ordered the drone strikes or the Houthis acted alone.

The raised such doubts by the Iran apologetics are probably based on the visit of Esmail Qaani the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the military external wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to the Iraqi Prime Minister Mostafa al-Kadhimi shorty after an attempt on the life of the latter. The assassination attempt on al-Kadhimi is widely believed to be carried out by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq. Some observers see this visit as a bid to distance Tehran from the action of its suspected militias in Iraq. Neither al-Kadhimi’s government nor the Iranian regime has given any statements about the purpose of Qaani’s visit to Baghdad. Additionally, there has not been any indications suggesting that Iran did not order its proxies of Shiite militias to assassinate al-Kadhimi.

Another reason why the Iranian regime’s apologetics are not sure that the Iranian regime could be involved in the Houthi attack on the UAE is that the regime has recently expressed its desire to resume relations with its regional enemy the Saudi Kingdom. However, this desire has been presented by Iran’s new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi through Iran’s state media, though Tehran has not presented any tangible action to reflect this desire.

Conversely, there are many solid actions from the Iranian regime that suggest the Iranian regime is responsible for the Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi. For example,  recent revelations made by the Lebanese news network al-Mayadeen confirmed that Iranian President Raisi had met with the head of the Sana’a negotiation team on the day of the Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi. It is worth noting that the Iranian regime was widely accused of being responsible for the Houthi attacks on Saudi ARAMCO oil back in 2019 such as the attacks on the Saudi oil processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. There were indications that the Iranians hit the Saudi targets from inside Iran using drones and missiles.

The latest of the series of suspected Iranian weapon smuggling to Houthi has been revealed by the U.S. Navy on Sunday 23th January. The U.S. Navy announced that it had seized a boat in the Gulf of Oman carrying fertilizer used to make explosives. The same boat was caught last year smuggling weapons to Yemen. The British royal navy said it confiscated 1,041 kilograms of illegal drugs in the same waters. The American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband during the growing conflict in Yemen and ongoing drug trafficking in the region.

The U.S. Navy said a stateless it had stopped a fishing sailboat sailing from Iran on a well-worn maritime arms smuggling route to war-torn Yemen last Tuesday. U.S. forces found 40 tons of urea fertilizer, known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden on board. Authorities said the vessel had been previously seized off the coast of Somalia and found last year to be loaded with thousands of assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other weapons. U.N. experts say weapons with such technical characteristics likely come from Iran to support the Houthi rebels. The Navy turned over the vessel, cargo and Yemeni crew to Yemen’s coast guard earlier this week. As always, Iran says it politically supports the rebels but denies arming them, despite evidence to the contrary.

Why was Tehran involved and what are the consequences of these attacks?

The Iranians are currently busy negotiating the nuclear deal with the Western powers and are using the attacks on the UAE as regional intimidation in their bargaining campaign to gain more concessions from the Americans. The Iranians have used this technique repeatedly in Iraq such as hitting the U.S. interests there, as this is reflected in the rockets launched by the Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last week.

Moreover, having been able to deliver their threats, the Houthis have spurred international condemnation including the United States after they caused a spike in the oil prices. Ironically, President Joe Biden declassified the Houthis as a terrorist organisation, a label that was instituted by his predecessor President Donald Trump in his final days being in office.

Similarly, the Houthi attacks on Abu Dhabi have escalated violence in the already volatile region. The attack could also impact the ongoing negotiations between Iran and Western powers in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal to limit Tehran’s advanced nuclear programme that has recently witnessed slight progress.

The Houthis attacks on Abu Dhabi could also have tremendous negative impacts on the Iranian regime’s endeavours to reach out for Saudi Arabia to resume relations between them because confidence-building could fail and this will, in turn, could derail any future talks between the two parties.

Targeting the UAE might also draw the Americans and Israelis to the region to defend the UAE in the face of the Houthis in Yemen. Tehran will dearly lose because the Houthis are Iran’s only proxies in Yemen and no one else Houthis can make close allies. Possibly, the Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi might have more serious ramifications for Tehran in future.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.