How Israel came to the UAE’s aid after the 2022 Houthi missile strikes

Book on Abraham Accords reveals extent of Jerusalem’s security assistance to Abu Dhabi, unlike what Emiratis felt was lackluster support from the US

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

President Isaac Herzog (left) meets with UAE President Mohammed Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on December 5, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog (left) meets with UAE President Mohammed Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on December 5, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

An updated version of a book on the Abraham Accords being released on Thursday reveals the multifaceted assistance Israel provided to the United Arab Emirates when the Gulf nation faced a series of missile strikes from Houthi rebels in Yemen last year.

According to a new chapter of “Trump’s Peace” by Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, Israel was just the second country to send a delegation of intelligence officials to assist with the investigation into the first of the attacks in early 2022. Israel also transferred a shipment of batteries from the SPYDER air defense system to the Gulf country.

In the eyes of the UAE, the Israeli response contrasted starkly with that of the United States, the chapter reveals. The sense of lackluster American support became a significant source of tension between the Emirati government and the Biden administration, it says.

“Trump’s Peace” was published in Hebrew in December 2021, making headlines for its inclusion of an interview Ravid held with Donald Trump in which the former US president went on an expletive-ridden rant against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who until then had been seen as one of the closest allies of the ex-commander-in-chief.

Two years later, the book has been translated into English and the new version contains an additional chapter on the status of the Abraham Accords since US President Joe Biden entered office.

In the new chapter, Ravid reveals how in 2021 then-prime minister Naftali Bennett gradually bought into the importance of personal involvement in strengthening ties with the UAE. During a December 2021 trip to Abu Dhabi, Bennett held a lengthy meeting with then-crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (known as MBZ) in which he proposed developing the Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD) — a network of radars around the region that would operate under the umbrella of the US Central Command.

Cover of Barak Ravid book, “Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East.” (Courtesy)

The idea gained new meaning weeks later when ballistic missiles and kamikaze drones fired by Houthi rebels struck several sites across the UAE.

Hours after the attack, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed (ABZ) to express his solidarity and condolences. Already frustrated by US policy in Yemen, ABZ used the opportunity to ask that the Biden administration re-designate the Houthis as a terror group.

“This was our 9/11,” Abdullah told Ravid in an interview for the book, likening the strikes that killed three people to the 2001 bombings in the US that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The Biden administration refrained from heeding the request amid fears that re-designating the Houthis would make it harder for international aid to reach those in need in Yemen. Israeli officials tried lobbying Washington to reconsider, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel in February 2022.

For his part, Bennett dispatched a delegation of officers from the Mossad spy agency and the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate to offer assistance in the forensic probes of the attacks.

“We really appreciated it,” an Emirati official is quoted as having said in the book.

President Isaac Herzog visited the UAE on January 30, bucking Shin Bet requests to cancel due to a second Houthi missile attack that took place the week before his visit.

In this photo released by the U.S. Air Force, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Feb. 12, 2022. (Tech Sgt. Chelsea E. FitzPatrick/U.S. Air Force via AP)

While Herzog was in Abu Dhabi, a third Houthi attack took place. Herzog’s aides woke him up in the middle of the night and urged him to evacuate to a bomb shelter, but the president refused. The next morning, Herzog spoke on the phone with MBZ, with the Emirati leader inquiring whether the attack had woken him up.

“I don’t know what you are talking about. You know I feel safe here,” the book quotes Herzog as having replied, in an apparent effort to avoid embarrassing the crown prince.

The UAE went on to ask Israel for the Iron Dome missile defense system in order to protect the country from additional Houthi attacks. Israel instead proposed that its security officials conduct a review to ensure that Iron Dome would provide the right benefits for Abu Dhabi’s defense needs.

The assessment led to the conclusion that SPYDER, an air defense system that can detect and intercept drones, cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions, would be a better fit.

The UAE agreed to the SPYDER purchase, but Israel then realized that the only batteries it had in stock were already slated for shipment to the Philippines. Israel reached out to Manila, which agreed to allow Abu Dhabi to take those batteries and wait to receive a shipment at a later date.

In April 2022, eight flights’ worth of SPYDER batteries were ferried to the UAE from the Nevatim military air base in Israel, according to the book.

The shipments were greatly appreciated by the UAE, which had grown increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration in the weeks and months after the Houthi attacks.

Forces loyal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels take part in a military parade marking the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in their country, in the capital Sana’a, on March 31, 2022. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

In the aftermath of the first Houthi strike, the US agreed to an Emirati request that the US refuel Emirati fighter jets deployed to monitor the country’s skies around the clock. After the second attack, the military attaché at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi met with UAE officials and handed them a bill for the refueling, deeply offending the Emiratis, the book reveals.

US CENTCOM Commander Frank McKenzie visited the UAE in early February 2022, but MBZ refused to meet with him. “We couldn’t believe it took the Americans 22 days to send someone to Abu Dhabi to show solidarity for the attacks,” a senior Emirati official is quoted in the book as having said.

The Emirati frustration with the US worried Jerusalem, which sought to convey Abu Dhabi’s concerns to Washington. Upon learning about the incident with the refueling bill, White House National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk flew to Abu Dhabi, where he sat with MBZ for hours in an effort to assure the crown prince that he had the support of the US.

This wasn’t enough to convince the UAE to heed a US request to vote in favor of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Abu Dhabi abstained, greatly disappointing the Biden administration.

When a similar resolution was put forward in the UN General Assembly, the US recruited Israel to lobby the UAE to back the initiative, and Jerusalem came through.

Still, when the White House sought to schedule a call between Biden and MBZ in early March 2022, the still sour crown prince refused.

US President Joe Biden (right) meets with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It took several months before MBZ agreed to put the episode behind him. During that time, Blinken participated in the first-ever Negev Forum ministerial summit and used the opportunity to assure US allies in the Gulf more broadly that the Biden administration would not abandon them.

He then met with MBZ in Morocco and apologized personally for the US response to the Houthi attacks. “We dropped the ball and I am sorry for that,” the book quotes Blinken as having said.

The Biden administration went on to send one of the largest delegations to the funeral of UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed in May 2022 in a gesture appreciated by Abu Dhabi.

Biden finally met with MBZ in Jeddah last July on the sidelines of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit. MBZ shared with Biden his frustration with the US response to the Houthi attacks, expressing feelings of abandonment from Washington.

“Why wasn’t I made aware of this?” Biden asked his team. He assured MBZ that he would work to repair the rift, according to the book.

The US president also directed his team to advance a deal granting the UAE security guarantees from the US, though the agreement has not yet been finalized.

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