The Houthi crisis is creating an Emirati-Israeli opportunity

Hussain Abdul-Hussain
David May
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Houthi attacks on the United Arab Emirates proved what many have known for a long time, that Arab solidarity is an imaginary concept. In Beirut, Hezbollah cheered on the strikes. In Gaza, Hamas politburo member Mahmoud al-Zahar said the attacks were as blessed as “liberating Palestine from the Israeli occupation.” And in Baghdad, the pro-Iran group Alwiyat al-Waad al-Haq gave the Houthis a hand by launching explosive drones at Abu Dhabi.

When it came to the attacks on the UAE, the strongest regional displays of support came from Israel. Israeli gestures of solidarity helped solidify Emirati-Israeli ties, which have been growing since the declaration of peace between them in the Abraham Accords of 2020.

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The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen launched a drone attack on an Emirati port on January 17 that killed three people and blew up several fuel tankers. One week later, Emirati and US forces intercepted two Houthi missiles launched at the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi. The Houthis attacked the UAE again on January 31.

Following the initial attack this past month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sent a letter to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, offering “heartfelt condolences.” Bennett further stated, “Israel is committed to working closely with you in the ongoing battle against extremist forces in the region, and we will continue to partner with you to defeat our common enemies.” Bennett also spoke with the Crown Prince and tweeted, “Israel stands with the UAE. I stand with Mohammed bin Zayed. The world should stand against terror.”

The Emirati, Israeli and US flags sway in the wind. (File photo: AFP)
The Emirati, Israeli and US flags sway in the wind. (File photo: AFP)

Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Isaac Herzog, Israeli Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and several members of Knesset echoed Bennett’s condemnations of the Houthi attacks and condolences for the Emiratis. Lapid also called for Israel to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel “will be happy to cooperate” with the UAE to bolster its defenses. Meanwhile, Israeli-Druze MFA digital diplomacy officer Lorena Khateeb shared her support in English and Arabic.

Beyond government declarations, individual Israelis deplored the Houthi attacks and affirmed their support for the UAE.

Despite security warnings, Herzog traveled to the UAE in late January, becoming the first Israeli president to visit the country. Israeli defense officials reportedly visited the UAE to discuss defense and intelligence assistance in the wake of the Houthi attacks. And Israel’s Channel 13 reported that Israel is planning to advance the sale of missile defense systems, possibly including Israel’s famed Iron Dome, to the UAE. For his part, Prime Minister Bennett “ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance” to prevent future attacks.

Further solidifying Israeli-Emirati ties, Israeli police commissioner Kobi Shabtai traveled to the Emirates on February 6 to promote security cooperation between the two countries. Around the same time, Israel hosted a delegation from the UAE’s Federal National Council. Ram Ben Barak, head of the Knesset’s foreign and defense committee, met with the visiting delegation and called them “neighbors and brothers.” Beyond the defense portfolio, the UAE and Israel signed cooperation agreements in healthcare and tourism on February 8.

The UAE reciprocated Israel’s torrent of well-wishing. After meeting Herzog late last month, Mohamed bin Zayed said they discussed their “common view of the threats to regional stability and peace, particularly those posed by militias and terrorist forces,” and the UAE and Israel’s “shared understanding of the importance of taking a firm stance against them.”

Thanks to the Houthi attacks, the UAE seems to be taking its partnership with Israel to a new level, where the two governments actively cooperate in countering pro-Iran militias throughout the region.

Every crisis presents an opportunity. Both the UAE and Israel have found themselves the targets of Iranian-sponsored drone and rocket attacks. Israel’s expressions of solidarity and offers of aid in the wake of Houthi attacks on the UAE will further cement the budding Israeli-Emirati alliance. The bonds enhanced during this crisis may lead to mutual recognition in the UAE and Israel that the two countries do not just face shared threats but may have a shared destiny.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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