UAE says Yemen rebel threat will not be a 'new normal'

UAE says Yemen rebel threat will not be a 'new normal'
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An anonymous UAE official said the Houthi attacks will not become a 'new normal'
Houthis have stepped up on their attacks on the UAE [Getty]

Yemen rebel attacks will not become a "new normal" for the United Arab Emirates, a senior Emirati official said Thursday, vowing a robust defence.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels launched two missile attacks on the UAE this month, with three oil workers killed in the first assault on January 17 and the second intercepted by its defence forces.

"This is not going to be the new normal for the UAE," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We refuse to acquiesce to the threat of Houthi terror that targets our people and way of life," the official added.

The United States, a staunch UAE ally, had asked its citizens Wednesday to reconsider travel to the Emirates "due to the threat of missile or drone attacks".

But the UAE official stood firm on Thursday that the Gulf country was "ready to defend itself".

"We remain one of the most secure countries in the world, and the recent attacks have only strengthened our commitment to safeguarding the welfare of our residents," the official said.

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While the UAE's main economic mainstay comes from exporting oil, it also relies on tourism and foreign investments.

Foreigners make up 90 percent of its 10-million population.

Yemen's rebels have frequently targeted Saudi Arabia, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging infrastructure, including oil facilities and airports.

'Terrorist designation'

The Emirates has had a major role in the Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen's internationally-recognised government against the Houthis.

In 2019, the UAE withdrew its troops from Yemen but remains an influential player.

The attacks, in response to a series of rebel defeats by a UAE-trained militia, pit the Houthis' home-grown weaponry against the Emirates' multi-billion-dollar missile defence capabilities.

The rebels have warned of further attacks on the UAE, which hosts American troops and is one of the world's biggest arms buyers.

"The UAE has world class defense capabilities and is constantly seeking to update them," said the official.

"In addition to annual upgrades, the UAE works with its international partners to obtain advanced systems and technology to deter and counter threats to our national security."

The official also said that the Houthi rebels "must be" designated as a terrorist organisation.

"We are in talks with our US allies to secure this terrorist designation in reflection of the group's relentless brutality against civilians inside and beyond Yemen," said the official.

Former US president Donald Trump designated the Huthis as a terrorist movement but the administration of President Joe Biden scrapped that in response concerns from aid groups responding to what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Biden's administration has, however, sanctioned individual Houthi figures.

The Yemen conflict, which erupted in 2014, has killed hundreds of thousands of people directly or indirectly and left millions on the brink of famine, according to the UN.