UAE intercepts three ‘hostile drones’ as US says it will send warship to Gulf nation

Fourth such incident in three weeks comes hours after Washington promises to deploy fighter jets to help defend the Emirates against Yemeni attacks

Illustrative: This photo released by the US Navy shows the USS Cole in the Gulf of Oman, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (US Navy via AP)
Illustrative: This photo released by the US Navy shows the USS Cole in the Gulf of Oman, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (US Navy via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AFP) — The United Arab Emirates said late Wednesday that it had destroyed three drones with “hostile” intent, the fourth similar incident in three weeks as tensions with Yemeni rebels intensify.

“MOD announces interception and destruction, away from populated areas, of three hostile drones that penetrated UAE airspace at dawn today,” the defense ministry said on its official Twitter account. “MOD confirms it is ready to deal with any threats and is taking all necessary measures to protect the state and its territory.”

Hours earlier, officials said that the US will send a warship and fighter jets to help defend the UAE following the repeated missile attacks that have left three dead in the wealthy Gulf state.

The deployment to “assist the UAE against the current threat” follows a phone call between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the US embassy in the UAE said.

The UAE, a major financial hub and part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels for seven years, suffered its fourth missile attack in consecutive weeks on Wednesday, after a third on Monday.

As part of the new arrangements, the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, currently in port in Bahrain, will partner with the UAE Navy and make a port call in Abu Dhabi, while the US will also deploy “fifth-generation” warplanes, which are the most advanced. Other actions include “continuing to provide early warning intelligence [and] collaborating on air defense,” the embassy said.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, in Washington, Nov. 17, 2021. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Austin and the crown prince “discussed the recent Houthi attacks against the UAE that caused civilian casualties and also threatened US and Emirati armed forces stationed at Al Dhafra air base,” the embassy added.

In the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa, senior Houthi official Sultan al-Samei dismissed the US support.

“These new forces that have arrived or will arrive to the UAE do not frighten us,” he said. “We will not stop what we have started, defending ourselves… and we will not stop until the aggression against our country stops, as well as when the forces supported by the UAE withdraw.”

The rebel attacks on the UAE have added a new dimension to Yemen’s seven-year war, which has killed an estimated 377,000 people directly or indirectly and displaced millions.

Three foreign workers were killed in a drone and missile assault targeting Abu Dhabi’s oil facilities and airport on January 17, triggering a salvo of deadly air strikes in retaliation.

On January 24, US forces stationed at Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra air base fired Patriot interceptors and scrambled to bunkers as two ballistic missiles were shot down over the city.

President Isaac Herzog inspects an honor guard with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, January 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

And on Monday, a third missile attack was thwarted during a visit to the UAE by President Isaac Herzog.

The US, a staunch Saudi and UAE ally, intends the deployment to be “a clear signal that the United States stands with the UAE as a long-standing strategic partner,” the embassy said.

President Joe Biden withdrew US support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen after taking office early last year, reversing his predecessor’s policy of providing logistical assistance.

However, the US State Department announced in November the approval of the sale of $650 million worth of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia to help the country protect itself from Houthi drone attacks.

A $23 billion US arms package to the UAE, including F-35 fighter jets, has yet to be finalized, with the Emiratis threatening to scrap the deal over stringent conditions.

The rebel attacks have increased Gulf tensions at a time when international talks over Iran’s nuclear program are stumbling, and have helped push oil prices to seven-year highs.

Yemeni pro-government fighters from the UAE-trained Giants Brigade drive though Ataq city, east of the Red Sea port of Aden, on their way to the frontline facing pro-Iran Huthi fighters, on January 28, 2022. (Saleh Al-OBEIDI/AFP)

They began after a series of defeats on the ground in Yemen, inflicted by the UAE-trained Giants Brigades militia.

In early January, the rebels seized a UAE-flagged ship in the Red Sea, saying it was carrying weapons — a claim denied by the Emirates.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.

The UAE, one of the world’s biggest arms buyers, announced a redeployment from Yemen in 2019 but remains an influential player.

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