Armed Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis tribesmen brandish their weapons during a gathering in the capital Sana’a to mobilize more fighters on June 20, 2016. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Houthis Aim to Disrupt International Transport and Trade

The Iran-backed rebels claim to have fired missiles from a drone on Abu Dhabi Airport

Houthi rebels in Yemen announced on Thursday that they had attacked Abu Dhabi Airport with missiles fired from drones. Emirates officials, however, quickly denied the Houthi claim, saying that all operations at the airport were functioning normally.

The UAE said earlier last week that there had been an incident with a supply vehicle at the airport’s terminal 1, but did not offer details. It is unclear whether or not the incident was caused by the Houthi drone.

Abu Khaleel, the Houthi head of security in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, told The Media Line that the drone “flew nearly 1,500 km. (932 miles) before firing three missiles on Abu Dhabi Airport. Reality cannot be denied. This is the first message to the UAE and its supporters, the U.S. and Israel, that we have extra capabilities to attack vital infrastructure targets in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“I call on all foreign companies in the UAE to keep away from security and military institutions or leave the state,” he warned.

A day earlier, Saudi officials admitted that Houthis had attacked two oil tankers in the Bab al-Mandeb shipping lane, one of the world’s most important tanker routes off Yemen’s western coast and the rebel-held main port city of Hodeidah. One tanker was slightly damaged. The narrow strait is a strategic oil lane connecting the Red Sea with the Arabian Sea.

The Shi’ite Houthis, who forced out Yemen’s President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi in 2015 and overran many provinces, have intensified attacks against the Saudi-led coalition in recent months, particularly since the coalition killed Houthi political leader Saleh al-Samad.

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to restore Hadi to power since March 2015, but many Yemenis are disappointed that it appears to have made little progress in defeating the Iran-backed Houthis.

The Houthis have on many occasions touted their ability to block Bab al-Mandab Strait and claim that they have the naval capability to attack Saudi tankers in the Red Sea. Politicians tie such threats to those previously announced by Iran to block the Strait of Hormuz, the all-important oil route between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea.

“Iran is jeopardizing international transport and trade via the Houthis, and Iran’s activities in the region represent an international danger threatening the interests of the Western powers,” the Yemeni diplomat told The Media Line.

Following the attack on its tankers, Riyadh, the world’s largest oil exporter, temporarily suspended the transport of oil via the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, warning that the suspension would last until the route is secure.

“The Saudi economy is still very much dependent on oil. Anything threatening exports of petroleum threatens the kingdom’s lifeblood,” former U.S. diplomat J. Michael Springmann told The Media Line.

“Hitting the tankers is one way of showing the Americans and British that their support for the Saudi war against Yemen has its price and that their money can’t prevent harm to Saudi Arabia,” Springmann commented.

“The Houthi attack on Saudi tankers confirms the necessity of pushing the Houthis out of Hodeida city,” tweeted Emirate government minister Anwar Gergash.

“Suspending oil exports carries regional risks. We are very concerned about the differences in how the U.S. and EU view Iran,” Gergash added.

Kuwait is now examining a proposal to suspend oil exports via the Bab al-Mandab Strait due to the Houthi threat.

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