The UAE’s Yemen Pivot Could Make Differences With Riyadh Unbridgeable

The UAE’s Yemen Pivot Could Make Differences With Riyadh Unbridgeable
An Emirati gunner aboard a Chinook military helicopter, Yemen, Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Schreck).

Earlier this month the minister of state for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, announced that the tiny federation of Persian Gulf emirates had declared an end to combat operations in Yemen, where it is part of a Saudi-led military coalition.

In a June 15 speech, Gargash was quoted as saying that the Yemen war “is over for our troops,” and that the UAE was now focused on monitoring the political situation and “empowering Yemenis in liberated areas.” The speech was valedictory in tone, reiterating the oft-made point that the Emirati military has exceeded expectations in the Yemen campaign, with U.S.-trained special forces troops playing a crucial role in coordinating local militias to push an alliance of northern rebels and renegade military units out of the south of the country in mid-2015.

Gargash’s comments caused a furor among Gulf and Yemen watchers, one that has only slightly died down since the minister, a prominent figure on social media, recanted his position. He claimed he had been misquoted by, among others, his own Twitter feed and that of Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s de facto ruler. But despite the surprise with which Gargash’s remarks were initially greeted, they are plausible. The UAE could be continuing to work on the ground in Yemen, while no longer actually participating in the country’s wider civil war.

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