Jan 19, 2022 - World

U.S. and UAE discuss steps to enhance security after Abu Dhabi attack

The Msaffah industrial district in Abu Dhabi, near the site of a suspected drone attack. Photo: AFP via Getty

U.S. envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking traveled to the Gulf on Wednesday in the aftermath of an attack by Houthi rebels that killed three people in Abu Dhabi.

Why it matters: Lenderking's trip was previously planned but became much more urgent after the attack threatened new escalation in the fighting in Yemen and more broadly in the region. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also spoke Wednesday with Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed.

  • They discussed steps to tighten Emirati defenses against missile and drone attacks as well as enhanced maritime security to stop weapons flows, the UAE's ambassador to Washington said.
  • Meanwhile, UAE intelligence director Ali al-Shamsi arrived in Washington for a previously scheduled trip that will include meetings with CIA director Bill Burns, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior members of Congress.

The big picture: The Houthi attack was unprecedented because the Iran-backed rebels had previously targeted Saudi Arabia and ships in the region but not the United Arab Emirates, which is a member of the Saudi-led alliance that intervened in Yemen's civil war in 2015.

  • The Emiratis asked the Biden administration to re-designate the Houthis as a terror organization after the attack. The UAE is also pushing for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss and condemn the attack.
  • The Saudi-led coalition also responded with strikes on Yemen's rebel-held capital, Sana'a.

What they're saying: “The Special Envoy and his team will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process," the State Department said in a statement.

The big picture: The attack took place while Saudi Arabia and the UAE were trying to de-escalate regional tensions with Iran.

  • The UAE invited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for a rare visit to Abu Dhabi, which could take place on Feb. 7, according to media reports.
  • Saudi Arabia also allowed three Iranian diplomats to enter the country to take up posts at the Iranian mission for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah.
  • A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry said this week that Iran and Saudi Arabia could reopen their embassies in Riyadh and Tehran soon.

What’s next: It is unclear what bearing the Houthi attack may have on the regional de-escalation process.

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