Houthi rebel drones could strike Dubai, says UAE

Riyadh: The UAE has warned that Houthi rebels in Yemen are capable of striking Dubai or Abu Dhabi, as spiralling tensions from the Saudi Arabia oil crisis risk spilling over into the Emirates.

Officials in the UAE said that if the Houthis, a militia aligned with Iran, were to strike at tourist and global business hubs, they would be "attacking not only the UAE, but the world".

The Houthis made threats against the UAE last week in retaliation for its involvement in the civil war in Yemen. The threats came after the Houthis claimed responsibility for the missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabia's largest oil processing plants.

Thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia.Credit:AP

While intelligence points to Iran as having been behind the assault, the UAE fears the Houthis could be looking to escalate conflict around the Gulf as Iran's shadow war with Saudi Arabia and its allies bubbles to the surface.

Abdulmalik Ejri, a member of the Houthi political bureau, intensified the threats on Friday, citing the UAE's continued military involvement in the war in Yemen.

"We can choose times and targets to avoid civilian casualties," he said, referring to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

While they are still sceptical of Houthi capability to strike the UAE, officials in Abu Dhabi privately conceded that the Emirates' status as a hub for business and tourism could be shattered in the event of any successful attack.

Dubai airport is one of the world's busiest airports, with more traffic than both London's Heathrow and New York's JFK.

The city also serves as a regional base for international business and has become a growing tourist destination, with more than 1.5 million Britons visiting the UAE each year.

"There is a reason everyone comes to Dubai for business and holiday – it is safe," the UAE official said. "We have never, ever had an attack. [If there was] nobody would escape the effects."

Wary of escalation, UAE officials distanced themselves from US and Saudi rhetoric in May in the wake of a suspected Iranian attack on four commercial ships off the coast of Fujairah, a major UAE shipping port.

Since seizing the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in 2014, the Houthis, who are alleged to be backed by Iran, have fired scores of missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia, killing more than 100 civilians.

Any strike on the UAE's twin cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai would be likely to have far-reaching consequences.

"The UAE has built its image on stability, and any disruption to this would run counter to their narrative and role they seek to play in the region," said Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at the Rand Corporation.

Yet while the stakes are potentially far higher, Alex Mello, a regional security analyst at Horizon Access, said the UAE was in a far better position to deal with the threat.

"[UAE] air defence capability is significantly better than the Saudis; their crews are a lot better trained; they've got better, more modern equipment," he said.

An image provided by the US government showing damage to a Saudi oil site.

"Now everyone in the region is going to be alert to this sort of threat."

Saudi Arabia is still reeling from this month's strikes on two of the state-owned oil company Aramco's main plants, which caused severe damage and sent global oil prices rocketing.

Journalists were this week given a tour of the facilities, arranged by Aramco in an attempt to reassure markets that the situation was under control and that it aimed to return to full output by the end of the month.

However, some engineers who assessed photographs of the sites suggested this was an ambitious schedule considering the significant damage.

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi's minister of state for foreign affairs, said yesterday that the kingdom was in discussion with allies to decide their "next steps" against Iran.

"Being complacent with Iran encourages them," he told a press conference in Riyadh. "We've been saying this for 10 years. The more engagement with Iran, the more it believes its aggressive actions are tolerated."

US President Donald Trump on Friday approved sending American troops to bolster Saudi Arabia's air and missile defences.

It was also announced that the US was planning to expedite delivery of military equipment to both Saudi and the UAE.

Telegraph, London

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