Conflict Alerts # 476, 26 January 2022
In the news
On 24 January, the defence ministry of UAE stated that the missiles fired by the Houthis targeting Abu Dhabi once again were intercepted prior to the infliction of any form of material damage. On 17 January, missiles and drones targeted Abu Dhabi, causing damage near the international airport and killing three civilians.
On 18 January, as a response, the Arab coalition launched airstrikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa and other Houthi strongholds and camps. The attack killed about 14 people, including a former military official. Save the Children stated that the air raids in Hodeida killed three children and hit a telecommunications facility. On 21 January, approximately 70 people were killed and 140 wounded in an airstrike on a detention centre in Saada in northern Yemen.
On 21 January, the UN Security Council issued an official statement, unanimously condemning the "terrorist attacks in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 17 January, as well as in other sites in Saudi Arabia." The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack on UAE and the air raids by the coalition. He stated that "the attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited by the international humanitarian law."
While the US condemned the attack on Abu Dhabi, it also called for calm after the deadly airstrikes by the Arab coalition. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "the escalation in fighting only exacerbates a dire humanitarian crisis and the suffering of the Yemeni people."
Issues at large
First, the escalation of violence. The seven-year war in Yemen has climbed up the escalation ladder, with the Arab coalition, Giants Brigade and Iran-backed Houthis relentlessly fighting for the resource-rich Marib, al Bayda and Shabwah. The region is increasingly seeing the spillover effects of an expanded warzone. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that 839 airstrikes by the coalition, 16 drone strikes and 12 ballistic missile strikes fired by the Houthis toward Saudi Arabia.
Second, the Houthis losing ground. In 2021, the Houthis seemed to have tasted much success as they moved into Marib and captured much ground, despite relentless bombardment from the coalition. However, since the UAE- backed Giants Brigade moved into Shabwah with the support of the pro-UAE provincial governor Awadh al-Awlaki, the Houthis have suffered heavy losses. The Giants Brigade and the Yemen government forces have successfully recaptured Shabwah from the Houthis and simultaneously launched operations to hold Marib, killing more than 400 Houthi fighters in both provinces.
Third, the humanitarian crisis. The UN-brokered peace process has failed to de-escalate the conflict. The direct impact is on the Yemeni population. The UN estimates that more than 377,000 (seen as an undercount) people have lost lives as of 2021 due to the conflict, and approximately 60 per cent of the deaths were due to indirect factors such as famine, extreme hunger and diseases.
First, possible change in UAE's role. The UAE has significantly reduced its military involvement and is mainly confined to political backings and indirect support to the actors on the ground. The Southern Transition Council, backed by the UAE, is a separatist force fighting the Yemeni government and controlling Aden, highlighting the diverging interests of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. With the Giants Brigade actively fighting Houthis and Abu Dhabi under the line of fire, UAE may now change its course of action, once again involving itself militarily. The escalation may hint at a stronger partnership between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to meet their goals in Yemen.
Second, the dwindling prospects for peace. The recent escalation has once again challenged the UN and Oman-backed peace process. It has also questioned the likely talks between the Arab countries and Iran and can have larger regional repercussions.