The conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels in Yemen has been going on since 2015. It has simmered away with various clashes between 2015-2020 but 2021 saw a dramatic escalation in strikes by the Houthi and strikes/retaliation by the Saudis.
For background, Saudi Arabia and Yemen sharing a land border on the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen holding a highly strategic position facing the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This conflict has serious implications for trade through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait that stretches only 30 kilometres between Yemen and Djibouti in North Africa. At worst, aggressive control of the Strait could prevent all vessels (and notably oil tankers originating in the Persian Gulf) from transiting directly to the Indian Ocean forcing them to exit the region via the Suez Canal and then around the southern tip of Africa. That is an immense journey adding weeks and substantial cost to the shipping lines and global supply.
So, the conflict with the Houthi rebels has significant international implications yet rarely seemed to gain much attention by the media outside the Middle East, until now.
The Houthi rebels are primarily supported by Iran who provide weapons with North Korea also providing some support. Saudi Arabia has its own resources in addition to support from the Yemen government, the UAE, USA and Jordan among others in the region. The UAE was backing the Saudis with Emeriti troops but those forces were withdrawn in 2019 although the UAE still provides financial and other aid. Further, shortly after taking office US President Joe Biden ended US support to Saudi Arabia for offensive operations against the Houthi and reversed former President Donald Trump’s listing of the Houthi as a terrorist organisation. (Apparently, Joe is now having second thoughts and may re-list the Houthi as terrorists).
Since the beginning of January the stakes have ramped up with a UAE flagged cargo ship hijacked off the coast of Yemen and the crew of 11 are still held hostage. Even more recently, two missile/drone attacks on Abu Dhabi have occurred in the space of a week. The first attack killed three people and wounded six with only minor damage to infrastructure. The second attack targeted an oil facility near Al-Dhafra Air Base that hosts the U.S Air Force’s 380th Air Expeditionary Wing and about 2,000 American military and civilian personnel. Those missiles were intercepted in flight by U.S. and Emirati defence systems with no injuries or damage.
The trigger for the Houthi’s renewed vigour is the recent visit to the UAE by Israeli President Isaac Herzog not long after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister to visit the UAE following the normalising of relations with Israel in September 2020. A spokesman for the Houthis said the most recent attacks were meant to send a message from the Iran-backed group about ties between the UAE and Israel. “Our attack proves that the UAE is not safe for as long as it continues to be in the service of the Zionist enemy in Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” the spokesman said.
A little later the Israeli President responded with “We completely support (the UAE’s) security requirements.… we are here together to find ways and means to bring full security to the region”. Most analysts interpret this to mean a favourable response to the UAE’s enquiry about obtaining Israel’s Iron Dome missile interception system.
Events are moving quickly in the region. At the time of writing this post, Saudi warplanes had just completed significant bombing raids on various Houthi strongholds and provinces across Yemen. Damage and death tolls are currently unavailable.
The upscaling of attacks, and potential for more, on Abu Dhabi and Dubai are deeply worrying to the Emirs by shaking the carefully cultivated sense that the UAE is a safe and peaceful destination for tourists and international business. We can expect the UAE to flex its considerable financial muscle to protect their reputation for security and calm in a turbulent Middle East.
11 thoughts on “Guest Post: Speedbox – Saudi Arabia, the Houthi and the UAE”
This has been going on since the Sunnis offed Ali.
Shi’a are concentrated in the north east parts of Saudi and have been feral a long time. They also make up most of Bahrain, which has a Sunni royal family. The Houthis are a particularly nasty grade of Shi’a. The Iranians are millenarian Shi’a nutters with an inferiority complex and a hankering to re-establish the Persian Empire for Allah (just not the Sunni’s Allah). They’re also sitting on a shedload of oil and have the Chinese as willing buyers. They don’t particularly mind what Xi is doing to his muslim minority because they’re all wicked Sunnis.
Everything Iran touches turns to shit. Lebanon has been destroyed by them. Syria nearly so. Yemen has been destroyed by them. They’re working on Qatar and Iraq and they have an industrial scale drug empire through Hezbollah. Much as I dislike the Saudis and the Sunnis the Iranian regime deserves a really good clean out. And all their Shi’a goons in those other places. The Iranian people would thank whoever did it.
True, Dover. The Iranian mullahs are crazed despots destabilising the entire middle east.
One thing I didn’t realise years ago is that Sunni and Shia Muslims don’t just hate each other, they are rivals I the true sense of the word.
Creating a caliphate gives either bragging rights on steroids, and elements of Shia Islam believe a war with the US will bring about the end days.
You can follow a guy on twitter called Aleph (i think he’s tag is “itsnotmyturn”) who I think never sleeps and reports on every single action the Houthis are taking, no matter how small or large. He’s Israel based.
The broader West should have supported the Brits holding on to Aden as a strategic asset. Thanks UN.
Or we can expect the UAE to fold and reject the Israelis.
“Everything Iran touches turns to shit.”
When I had my business, they guy in the next industrial unit was a civil engineer business.
He was from Iran.
I asked him why he migrated, and his story was this:
Did his national service, which, since he had a degree, was as an officer (IIRC, a captain).
Followed orders from his CO to go “guard a bridge” or whatever it was.
Turns out, his CO was part of a counter-revolution that failed.
So, they put him against a brick wall, 12 guys pointed guns at him, the CO said “Fire!” and all the guns went “click”.
CO said “Well, next time we’ll make sure the guns are loaded. You’re free to go”.
At that point, he decided it was a good idea to live in another country.
Bruce of Newcastle says:
February 3, 2022 at 10:32 am
This has been going on since the Sunnis offed Ali.
Thanks Bruce, nice summary.
A few fun facts: Of interest the main Arab tribes trace their lineage to Yemen ( even the Al Maktoum Emiratis). According to legend many of the tribes with the early Islam armies were Yemeni and they settled throughout Iraq and Iran ( part of Arabising Persia). All that doesn’t mean much to us (or USA) but it sure does to them. Also Saudi annexed a large part of Yemen in the 1930’s and hung onto it. I’ve met quite a few Yemeni and they remind me of the toughness and single-mindedness (asabiyat in Arabic) of the Afghans. So no one will back down.
My impression is that UAE will go with Israel and Saudi on this. There is a lot of development in the region ( NEOM and the rail from UAE to Haifa).
Ezekiel 38:13 (KJV) Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?
Sheba and Dedan were grandchildren of Abraham and his third wife Keturah, and this verse refers to the people in Ethiopia (Sheba) and Saudi Arabia (Dedan). Tarshish refers to the Atlantic Ocean, in particular the British Isles, Australia is amongst the “young lions” of Tarshish.
This verse refers to a group of people, the Sunni Moslems in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia together with the British and Commonwealth nations standing up to the army of invaders to protect their oil supply. The invaders will be the Shia Moslems from Iran and other Shia Arab states (most likely Iraq & Syria) who are led by the person named as the Anti-Christ in the Revelation.
He is known as the Al Mahdi who comes to power with his lieutenant, the Moslem “Prophet Jesus” (a Syrian) who the Bible calls the “False Prophet.”
We have vast oil resources here in Australia, we’ll probably meet out downfall as we haven’t developed them and we are too dependent on imports.
How does control of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait prevent ships leaving the Persian Gulf sailing directly to the Indian Ocean, forcing them to go through the Suez? Surely it is the other way around? Confused.
JohnJJJ – There were also the North Yemen/South Yemen years. The South as I recall were rabid Marxist-Leninists. Now the south is more aligned with AQ/ISIS. Go figure. But with neighbours like them you can see why the North might be a bunch of knuckle dragging maniacs. They’d need to’ve been just to survive the last century.
I have no time for the Houthis, but they live in a crappy neighbourhood.
Bab el-Mandeb Strait prevent ships leaving the Persian Gulf.
I think he got his Gulfs mixed up. But indeed it is good that people are realising what is happening in that part of the world.
Control of Yeman is very important to Saudi Arabia as the Red Sea is absolutely vital to their new economic plans. NEOM is a multi billion dollar completely new city at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. As well there is the Red Sea Project and more ( European consultant companies are going nuts with the new Urban/IT/Enviro planning money splashing around). The stability of Egypt and their new capital and the possible bridge across to Sharm el Sheikh, all depend on stability in Yemen.
But that’s OK, we’ve got Wagga Wagga.