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Biden vows support after UAE intercepts latest incoming missile

The Dubai, UAE, skyline in 2021. (Hayri Atak Architectural Design/DDP/Zuma Press/TNS)

U.S. President Joe Biden pledged support for the United Arab Emirates after it intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemeni fighters during a visit by Israel’s president, the third attack in a month on the Middle East’s financial hub.

“We’ve been in daily contact with the UAE, addressing those threats,” Biden told reporters during an Oval Office visit Monday by Qatar’s ruler. Biden said he directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “to do everything he can to communicate the support of the United States for the UAE, Saudi Arabia and throughout the Gulf region.”

The UAE destroyed the latest incoming missile and there were no casualties, with fragments falling “outside of populated areas,” a Defense Ministry statement said on Monday, without giving details on the location. A spokesman for the Iranian-backed Houthi fighters confirmed the attack, which the U.S. State Department said had targeted Abu Dhabi.

U.S. military personnel activated Patriot missile batteries to defend against the attack by Houthi rebels, but the missile was shot down by the Emirati missile defense systems, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.

The interception came during a visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who met with UAE de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed for the first time since the two countries normalized relations in 2020. Herzog’s office said there was no danger to the president and that his visit was expected to continue as planned.

There was no impact on flights or airports, the General Authority for Civil Aviation said.

Dubai’s benchmark equity index dropped 1.5% in early trade, while stocks in Abu Dhabi dropped 1%. Dubai is the UAE’s commercial center while Abu Dhabi is the capital city. The Houthis said more details on the attack would come soon.

Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said in a televised speech on the group’s Al-Masirah TV Monday that its fighters conducted two attacks, targeting Abu Dhabi with ballistic missiles and Dubai with drones. He warned the strikes would continue until the UAE ends its involvement in Yemen.

The recent missile attacks mark the biggest blowback for the UAE since it got involved in Yemen’s war that began about seven years ago. They also threaten to rattle investors, who count on the country as a safe haven in a volatile region — as well as millions of foreign workers, who call the country home and keep its economy running.

Concerned about spreading Iranian influence, the UAE and Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015, after the Iran-backed Houthis took the capital and dislodged the internationally-recognized government.

The UAE withdrew most of its forces from Yemen in 2019 but kept a smaller group to maintain support and training for Yemeni proxy forces,including those known as the Giants Brigades. UAE-backed fighters had stepped up their campaign in recent weeks, triggering the Houthi missile fire, but the Giants said on Friday they were ending their operation and pulling back forces. The UAE also has ties to the Southern Transitional Council, a separatist group fighting the Houthis.

The U.S. last week warned against travel to the UAE, in part due to the threat of missile and drone attacks. That followed a rare alert from the U.S. embassy offering detailed advice on how to cope with missile strikes.

U.S. and UAE forces at Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra Air Base used multiple Patriot interceptors against two inbound missiles last week. About two thousand U.S. troops are stationed at the base.

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