UAE Intercepts Houthi Missile Attack as Israeli President Visits

DUBAI—The United Arab Emirates said on Monday it intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement as the UAE hosted Israeli President Isaac Herzog on his first visit to the Gulf business and tourism hub.

In the third such attack on the U.S.-allied Gulf state in the last two weeks, the Houthis’ military spokesman said they fired Zulfiqar missiles at Abu Dhabi and drones at Dubai.

He reiterated a warning to residents and firms to “stay away from vital headquarters and facilities” in the UAE, which prides itself as a safe business haven and global tourism destination.

The United States condemned the assault—which followed a Jan. 17 strike on a fuel depot in Abu Dhabi that killed three people—in an escalation of the Yemen war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE.

A senior Emirati official described the attacks as “useless” provocations. “Those who test the UAE are mistaken,” the official, Anwar Gargash, said in a Twitter post.

The assaults have led to rare security jitters among some residents in a country where expatriates are a majority, but have had no visible impact on daily life, with restaurants and beaches packed during the peak mild winter season.

UAE market sentiment weakened following Houthi missile launches but economic analysts say the attacks, mostly thwarted, have not dampened business or investor confidence yet.

The UAE said the missile was intercepted at 20 minutes past midnight and its debris fell on an uninhabited area.

It came as Israel’s president was visiting the capital where he discussed security and bilateral relations with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Isaac Herzog meeting
Israeli President Isaac Herzog (center L) and First Lady Michal Herzog meet with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (center R) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Jan. 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via AP)

“While Israel’s president is visiting the UAE to build bridges and promote stability across the region, the Houthis continue to launch attacks that threaten civilians,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet.

Herzog pressed on with his visit to Expo 2020 in Dubai.

He voiced hope more countries would normalize relations with Israel as the UAE did when it, along with Bahrain, forged ties in 2020 under U.S.-brokered pacts dubbed the “Abraham Accords.”

“I hope and I believe that more and more nations will soon follow the UAE lead and join the Abraham Accords,” Isaac Herzog said at an event amid tighter than usual security at the Expo site.

Isaac Herzog
Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks at Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Jan. 31, 2022. (Jon Gambrell/AP Photo)

The presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial post. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the UAE in December.

The UAE and Israel share concerns about Iran and its regional allies, and also see the agreements as a way to boost their economies.

“Already our trade has exceeded over $1 billion, more than 120 agreements were signed, and a $100 million (research and development) fund was established recently,” Herzog said in a speech at the six-month long world fair in Dubai emirate where UAE and Israeli flags were raised and both countries’ national anthems were played.

He said 250,000 Israelis had so far visited the UAE and he hoped Emiratis would reciprocate once COVID-19 restrictions eased.

“There are only two alternatives for this region. One is peace, prosperity, cooperation, joint investments … or alternatively, what Iran is doing, which is destabilizing the region and using its proxies to employ terror,” Herzog later said in a statement issued by his office.

Herzog departed the UAE on Monday, seen off at an airport by Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a video from the Israeli president’s office showed.

Regional Security

The accords have built a new axis between Israel and Sunni Muslim Gulf states based mainly on shared concerns over Shi’ite Iran, including its proxies and its ballistic missile program.

At the same time, the UAE has been engaging directly with Iran under de-escalation efforts driven by economic priorities. An Iranian business delegation is due to visit Expo in February.

The Saudi-led coalition accuses Iran of supplying arms to the Houthis, a charge both the group and Tehran deny. The Yemen conflict is seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Israel offered the UAE security and intelligence support after the Jan. 17 attack. Last year, it joined a naval drill with UAE, Bahraini, and U.S. forces. Emirati and Israeli state-owned weapons makers have signed deals to jointly develop an advanced drone defense system and unmanned military vessels.

The Houthis have frequently carried out missile and drone launches on Saudi Arabia in the nearly seven-year war before expanding strikes on the UAE this month.

The UAE had largely ended its military presence in 2019 but Yemeni forces it arms and trains recently joined battles against the Houthis in key energy-producing regions.

The coalition has recently also carried out deadly air strikes on Houthi-held areas.

By Mahmoud Mourad and Alexander Cornwell