UAE Intercepts 2 Ballistic Missiles Over Abu Dhabi

UAE Intercepts 2 Ballistic Missiles Over Abu Dhabi
Shrapnel fell over scattered areas of Abu Dhabi after military defenses repelled two ballistic missiles.

Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi group targeted the United Arab Emirates on Monday for the second time in a week, raising concerns of an escalation in the oil-exporting region even as the Gulf nation said it had intercepted the strike. 

Shrapnel fell over scattered areas of Abu Dhabi after military defenses repelled two ballistic missiles, but there was no damage or loss of life, the UAE Defense Ministry said in a statement. The UAE said it had destroyed the launchers in Yemen’s northern Al Jawf region, more than 1,270 kilometers (790 miles) from Abu Dhabi, immediately after the missiles were fired and was “taking all necessary procedures to protect the country from attacks.”

The U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi issued a rare alert, urging “U.S. citizens in the United Arab Emirates to maintain a high level of security awareness.” It also offered detailed advice on how to cope with missile strikes, an unusual step in a country that’s known as the Middle East’s business hub and a magnet for expatriates seeking tax-free salaries. 

The strike comes scarcely a week after Abu Dhabi suffered its first deadly attack in Yemen’s seven-year conflict, with the Houthis warning international investors to leave and vowing to expand their range of targets. 

The group’s spokesman Yahya Saree said in a televised speech on its Al-Masirah TV that it had targeted the Al Dhafra military air base in Abu Dhabi as well as attacking several targets in the UAE’s commercial capital of Dubai using drones. There was no confirmation of any attack on Dubai.

Last week’s missile and drone attack on Abu Dhabi killed three people and wounded six, igniting a fire at the airport and setting fuel trucks ablaze. Over the weekend, the UAE grounded all private drones and light sports aircraft for a month following what it termed as “misuse” of permits and “trespassing” into prohibited areas, the Ministry of Interior said Saturday noting that exceptions might be granted for filming. 

Drones have made it possible to conduct small, targeted assaults that slip through multibillion-dollar defense systems designed to deter more advanced weapons. The physical damage -- both on land and at sea -- is usually minimal but the reputational damage could still be huge for the UAE, OPEC’s third biggest oil producer, which has grown into a regional economic powerhouse by selling itself as an oasis of stability in a volatile region.

More than 80% of the UAE’s population is comprised of foreigners, who work across the economy, with the emirate of Dubai establishing itself as a key global trade hub and home to one of the world’s busiest airports for international traffic. 

“Sensitivity to attacks is high in the UAE given their absence historically and the high contribution of tourism to the economy,” Hasnain Malik, the Dubai-based head of research at Tellimer, said putting the tourism industry’s direct contribution to the UAE economy at about 5%. This “usually implies a figure at least double this in terms of indirect contribution, and likely multiples of this in the less oil-rich emirates such as Dubai.” 

The military escalation also risks roiling diplomatic efforts to ease frictions in the oil-exporting Persian Gulf and broader efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. 

Concerned about growing Iranian influence on the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 after the Houthis captured swathes of the country and pushed the internationally-recognized government out of the capital Sanaa. 

While the group regularly fire missiles and drones at neighboring Saudi Arabia, attacks on the UAE are rarer and follow the country’s re-engagement in Yemen that helped expel the Houthis from a key energy-producing province in recent weeks. 

On Friday, more than 100 people were killed or wounded when the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, bombed a Houthi-operated prison in the group’s northern stronghold of Saada, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. 

--With assistance from Vivian Nereim and Farah Elbahrawy.

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