Feb 2, 2022 - World

Israel offers to help UAE bolster defenses after Houthi attacks

The flags of the UAE and Israel fly at Expo 2020 Dubai in the Gulf country on Jan. 31. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images
The flags of the UAE and Israel fly at Expo 2020 Dubai in the Gulf country on Jan. 31. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli defense officials visited the United Arab Emirates last week to discuss possible defense and intelligence assistance following recent Houthi attacks targeting the Gulf country, two Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The unprecedented missile and drone attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels have rattled the UAE and led it to look for ways to bolster its defenses against future strikes.

  • Israel and the UAE had a back-channel defense and intelligence relationship for more than two decades that only became more public after the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

Driving the news: The Houthis have launched at least three recent attacks targeting the UAE, which is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has waged an aerial campaign against the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen since 2015.

  • The first Houthi attack killed three people in Abu Dhabi and wounded six others. The second was intercepted by U.S. and Emirati air defenses.
  • The third came on Sunday, just hours after Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived in Abu Dhabi for his first-ever official visit to the UAE. The missile was intercepted by Emirati and U.S. air defenses, and Herzog continued his visit as planned.
  • A Houthi military spokesperson this week threatened to continue the attacks on the Gulf country, linking them to the ties between the UAE and Israel.

The big picture: Following the first attack, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) in a letter that Israel was ready to provide intelligence and defense assistance.

  • In Abu Dhabi last week, Israeli officials met with Emirati military officials, who said the Gulf country needed assistance with its missile defense and counter-drone technology, according to Israeli officials
  • The officials tell me one critical field that was discussed was detection and early warning.
  • Emirati officials declined to comment.
  • Emirati ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba and ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday that the Biden administration and other world powers should deploy sanctions against the Houthis to pressure them to agree to a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to MBZ yesterday and stressed that Washington will continue to provide early warning intelligence and collaborate on air defense, the Pentagon said.

  • Austin told MBZ the U.S. will send the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole to the UAE and will deploy F-18 and F-22 fighter jets in the UAE.

What’s next: Israel's Ministry of Defense and national security agencies are expected to discuss the Emirati requests in the coming days, Israeli officials tell me.

  • The officials say they want to help the UAE as much as they can while not jeopardizing sensitive technology that Israel doesn't want shared.
  • “We will be happy to help whoever is our friend as much as we can, and if the Emiratis want, we will be happy to cooperate. It is their decision," Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday.
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tells me Israel should formally designate the Houthis as a terror organization.
  • Gen. Frank McKenzie, the outgoing commander of U.S. Central Command, is also expected to visit the UAE next week for further discussion on bolstering defense cooperation, a source with direct knowledge of the issue said.
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