Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have conducted an attack on an oil facility in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi that set part of the facility ablaze and killed three people.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs that were shared with the Associated Press showed plumes of smoke rising over an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.(ADNOC) fuel depot in the Mussafah neighborhood of Abu Dhabi. One image taken immediately after the drone strike on Monday shows scorch marks and white fire-suppressing foam on the ground at the depot.
“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to determine the exact cause and a detailed investigation has commenced,” ADNOC said in a released statement.
The UAE government said the Houthis were responsible and the foreign ministry condemned it as a “cowardly act to spread terrorism and chaos in the region.”
Oil Prices Spike
Fears over further attacks could on either the UAE or the Saudis, both OPEC members and major oil producers by the Houthi rebels that could affect the world’s oil supply pushed the prices of Brent crude oil to their highest level in seven years. On Tuesday morning, a barrel of Brent crude traded at over $88.13 a barrel by 11 a.m. the highest the prices have been since October 2014.
The three people killed included two Indian nationals and a Pakistani while six others were wounded in the attack, near the Al-Dhafra Air Base and the Abu Dhabi International Airport. The sprawling airbase is also home to American and French military personnel. There was reportedly an explosion at the airport which would indicate that it was targeted as well. However, the Emirates security services have blocked foreign journalists from visiting the stricken areas and local media outlets have not yet posted any pictures of the damage.
In response to the attack, the Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthis in Yemen reported that they conducted airstrikes on Houthi sites in the capital of Sanaa. They also bombed a drone-operating base in Nabi Shuaib Mountain near Sanaa.
Videos released by the Houthis showed massive damage including the 3-family home of BG Abdalla Kassem al-Junaid, chief of the Air Academy. At least 12 people including five civilians were killed in the Saudi airstrikes according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Saudis have faced international criticism for the indiscriminate targeting of civilians during the war.
The Iranian-led Houthis claimed to have used ballistic and cruise missiles in the attack, but police officials from the UAE said that the attack was conducted by drones. Houthi military spokesman Yahia Sarei said the group launched an attack deep in the UAE. They claimed to have fired 10 missiles and launched 8 drones in the attack in retaliation for the UAE’s role in a military offensive in the oil-rich Marib region of Yemen last week.
Fahmy Al-Yousifi, deputy information minister of the Houthi government in Sanaa, spoke to members of the Arab media and stated that the Houthi forces would “continue to retaliate against the United Arab Emirates so long as it remains involved in supporting combatants inside Yemen.”
About a week ago, members of a UAE-led militia attacked Houthi forces in Marib, helping to thwart the gains made by the Houthis in trying to capture the oil-rich region. On January 2, the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged oil tanker in the Red Sea as a warning to the UAE to withdraw from Yemen.
Yemen has been a war of proxies as forces loyal to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have been fighting in Yemen for a decade. The civilians of Yemen are caught in the middle and the humanitarian toll which the U.N. has characterized as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UAE has requested that the Biden administration reverse the decision it made in the opening days of his presidency where he revoked the terrorist designation that the Trump administration had levied on the Houthis in the waning days of his administration.
President Joe Biden revoked that designation as an olive branch to the Iranians to help jumpstart negotiations of restarting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal.
Washington Isn’t Happy
The U.S. condemned the attacks.
“The Houthis have claimed responsibility for this attack, and we will work with the U.A.E. and international partners to hold them accountable,” national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a released statement.
“Our commitment to the security of the U.A.E. is unwavering and we stand beside our Emirati partners against all threats to their territory.”
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.