On January 17, a drone attack on the UAE by Ansarullah, also known as Houthis, in Yemen marked the first time Yemeni forces were able to strike targets in the UAE, a notable escalation in the Yemen War, reports The Associated Press. The Associated Press further reports that this attack was followed by subsequent strikes on strategic facilities in the UAE, including during the visit of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, on January 31. The U.S. military also fired interceptor missiles during this exchange in a rare direct involvement, reports ABC News. Ansarullah have previously launched rockets into Saudi Arabia as well, reports The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recently intensified their airstrikes in Yemen, launching a devastating bombing campaign beginning on January 22 on the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. According to The Guardian, Saudi forces struck a prison, killing at least 80 people and wounding over 200. They also struck a telecommunications tower, causing an internet blackout in much of the country. As of February 8, Emirati-backed militias have halted Ansarullah forces advancing in the strategic province of Marib, the only stronghold in Northern Yemen controlled by the internationally-recognized, Saudi-backed government, reports Reuters. These recent setbacks contributed to Ansarullah’s decision to attack the UAE as a deterrent against the state’s support of the pro-government militias, reports BBC News.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Yemen War began in 2014 after the Ansarullah movement overthrew the Saudi-backed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was installed as president and backed by the Gulf monarchies in 2011 after widespread protests during the Arab Spring, ultimately leading to the ousting of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2014, widespread discontent towards Hadi’s government sparked a rebellion in Northern Yemen led by the Houthis, an influential clan among the Zaidi Shia minority in Yemen, which became known as Ansarullah. According to the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Hadi was an incredibly unpopular leader whom many viewed as a continuation of the former dictator Saleh, under whom he had served as vice president.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia, along with a broad coalition of various Arab countries including the UAE, began a military campaign in Yemen focused on returning Hadi to power, while Iran later began to support Ansarullah. Human Rights Watch has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians by bombing “hospitals, school buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories, and detention centers.” The Saudi coalition has at times allied with jihadist Sunni militias in Southern Yemen, including AQAP, the vehemently anti-Houthi al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, according to the International Crisis Group.
After seven years of war, the Saudi coalition has failed to make significant gains, while contributing to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country, reports Al Jazeera. The war has killed more than 300,000 people, according to the UN, and the Saudi-imposed blockade has led to widespread famine and a cholera outbreak. Despite the recent conflicts in Marib and Sana’a, Ansarullah still maintains control of the majority of the country, according to the Brookings Institute.
The United States has played an instrumental role in supporting the Saudis throughout the war. The U.S. has amassed billions in arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis, providing them with state-of-the-art military equipment and fighter jets, according to Al Jazeera. The U.S. also provides intelligence and logistical support for coalition operations in Yemen, reports The Guardian.
Despite promising to bring an end to the war in Yemen, President Biden has continued to oversee arms sales to the Saudis, according to Business Insider. VOA News reports that the Biden administration is planning to increase military support for the Saudis in response to the recent drone strikes. He is also reportedly considering redesignating the Houthis a terrorist organization, a move that former president Trump had taken and Biden reversed, reports The Intercept. Designating the Houthis as terrorists would significantly impair the ability of human rights organizations to provide aid to the Yemeni people, which is why Biden initially reversed Trump’s policy. By artificially prolonging the war through arming the Saudis, millions of Yemenis may be condemned to living under conditions described by the UN as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.