A ballistic missile attack on a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates yesterday, the second attack on Emirati soil in a week carried out by Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, marks a dangerous escalation in regional tensions. It also underscores the difficulty of achieving a diplomatic settlement to bring an end to years of violent conflict between Iran, Saudi Arabia and their many partners and proxies across the Middle East.
According to statements from U.S. and UAE officials, two missiles were intercepted Monday near Abu Dhabi. A spokesman for the Houthis claimed that the attack targeted U.S. airmen stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base, which hosts the U.S. Air Force’s 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. A week earlier, on Jan. 17, the Houthis attacked a fuel depot and the Abu Dhabi airport. The Emirati-Saudi coalition retaliated to the Jan. 17 strike with a large-scale bombing of Yemen, as well as by cutting off the country’s internet and telephone communications.
The Houthi attacks on the United Arab Emirates show how hard it will be to climb down from the web of intertwined regional conflicts involving multiple local and foreign actors, while highlighting regional stakeholders’ tendency to resort to force rather than diplomacy.