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Saudi, UAE divided over US efforts to counter Houthi Red Sea threat

December 20, 2023 at 12:11 pm

A man reads a local newspaper carrying a picture depicting Yemen’s Houthi-run navy forces and an article about targeting ships bound for the Israeli ports, at a newsagent on December 12, 2023 in Sana’a, Yemen [Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images]

Disagreements between Saudi Arabia and the UAE are hindering US efforts to counter the threat from Yemen’s Houthi-aligned armed forces as they continue to target Israeli-linked and Israel-bound cargo vessels in the Red Sea.

According to a report by Bloomberg on Monday, citing informed sources, “Their diverging stances are complicating the US-led attempt to forge a coherent response to the Iran-backed group.”

While the UAE is reportedly in favour of military action, Riyadh is taking a more diplomatic approach, so as not to provoke and jeopardise ongoing fragile peace talks with the de-facto government in Sanaa. Abu Dhabi also wants the US to re-list the Houthis as a designated terrorist organisation.

Both Gulf states are partners in the Arab coalition that has waged war on Yemen since 2015, in a bid to re-instate the internationally-recognised Yemeni government, ousted following the 21 September Revolution. Despite being on the same side against the Houthis, the two countries have at times clashed over their conflicting agendas in Yemen, with the Saudis backing the pro-government militia, and Abu Dhabi sponsoring the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC).

READ: US escalates Israel aggression on Gaza with naval plan against Houthi attacks on Red Sea

Also on Monday, the Pentagon announced the formation of a new “multinational security initiative”, called Operation Prosperity Guardian and consisting of 10 countries, including Bahrain, the UK, Canada, France, Italy and the Seychelles. The taskforce aims to tackle the “recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen.” However, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Egypt, are notable absentees from the coalition.

The Houthi-aligned navy has carried out several operations, most recently targeting a Norwegian-flagged ship heading for Israel with a direct missile strike. The Houthis also detained an Israeli-linked ship in the Red Sea and targeted southern Israel with missiles and drones, vowing to continue these actions until the military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza stops.

It has also been reported that Sanaa has been engaged in Oman-brokered talks with “international parties” over its naval operations in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea, although the movement did not specify which countries are involved or when the talks took place.

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