US to send warship, fighter jets to UAE after missile attacks by Iran-backed Houthis

US embassy says deployment sends a ‘clear signal’ that Abu Dhabi is a strategic partner; USS Cole, aircraft will provide early warning intelligence

Undated photo of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) (US Navy/AP)
Undated photo of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) (US Navy/AP)

DUBAI — The United States will deploy a guided-missile destroyer and state-of-the-art fighter jets to help defend the United Arab Emirates after a series of missile attacks by Yemeni rebels, a US statement said Wednesday.

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, part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, suffered its third missile attack in consecutive weeks on Monday.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Cole will partner with the UAE Navy and make a port call in Abu Dhabi, the statement said, while the US will also deploy fifth-generation fighter planes.

Other actions include “continuing to provide early warning intelligence,” it added.

The US, a supporter of the Saudi-led coalition, intends the deployment to be “a clear signal that the United States stands with the UAE as a long-standing strategic partner,” the statement said.

The rebel attacks have opened a new front in Yemen’s seven-year war, which has killed hundreds of thousands 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 airstrikes in retaliation.

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

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

Israel is also reportedly moving to assist the UAE by advancing the sale of missile defense systems to the Emirates, including Iron Dome, with a view to cooperating against the threat from Iran.

The Iron dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile at rockets shot from the Gaza Strip toward Ashkelon, on May 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Channel 13 News reported Monday that talks were underway for the sale of a number of weapons systems to the UAE, which would both warn of incoming fire and intercept it. Abu Dhabi is currently operating a South Korean missile defense system.

The report said the sale of the Iron Dome missile defense system to the UAE could mark the beginnings of a regional defense system that would help give Israel advance warning of any potential attack by Tehran.

While Israeli analysts are not said to believe the attack, using a relatively inaccurate missile, was directly targeting Herzog, a spokesman for the Houthis said it was meant to send a message from the Iran-backed group about ties between the UAE and Israel.

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

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

Forces loyal to Yemen’s Houthis take part in a mass funeral for fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops, in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on April 8, 2021. (Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP)

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.

The grinding conflict has left millions on the brink of famine, according to the UN, which has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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