The normalization agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with Israel may not be sufficient to push Iran to rearrange its priorities in the region, but it provides an inevitable push to build the capabilities of the Arab Gulf armies in the face of the growing Iranian threat.
In 2014, the Houthis allied with Iran in order to preserve their gains and expand in the rest of Yemen, and turned against the legitimate president in Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. While the Houthis are prepared to develop these alliances they have raised alarm bells in Saudi Arabia, which has hostile relations with Tehran. This danger was enough for Riyadh, and with it Abu Dhabi and other capitals, to enter the Yemeni conflict.
The euphoria of the victory that the Houthis achieved in Sanaa led them in 2015 to try to march south. In terms of vital facilities and wealth, such as the port of Aden, the oil fields in Hadramout and the oil and gas export ports in Shabwa and Hadramout. The Houthis targeted the temporary capital, Aden, but they were surprised by a Saudi-led military intervention to prevent them from expanding in the south after they had taken control of the north.
Among all the forces participating in the intervention, the performance of the Emirati forces was impressive over the past five years. Emirati forces, practically on their own, were able to block the Houthi advance in Aden and also worked to build military capabilities and strong partnerships with the southerners by combatting terrorism and repelling the Houthis and extremist Islamic militias.
Abu Dhabi’s presence in the eye of the storm of regional tensions and its desire to build its capabilities, is among what has also pushed it to rapprochement with Israel recently. It is very likely that the UAE will choose to purchase drones, air assets and air defense needs from Israel in order to face the risks from Iran, the Houthis and Turkey.
The Houthis’ acquisition of weapons from Iran is one of the biggest sources of concern in the Yemeni war. Tehran denies the allegations. However, various reports and U.S. officials confirm that Iran has smuggled weapons to the Houthis over the past years. Including cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft parts, the smuggled weapons depart from the small and unseen Iranian ports and are then stealthily transported by small boats across the Persian Gulf waters. To avoid detection, the crews of small ships switch off the transmitters and receivers.
Other smuggling routes include Somalia to Yemen via the Gulf of Aden and the open coasts of South Yemen. Thus, Iranian persistence broadens the range of goals that must be monitored to fight the Houthis and counter Tehran’s tampering in the region. Raising the capabilities and activities of the Gulf states’ military and intelligence in the Persian Gulf and even in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, could indirectly lead to the weakening of the Houthis in Yemen, by blocking the path to Iran to supply its proxies.
Many observers believe that the Houthis should not be wiped out to end the war in Yemen and impose stability. It is sufficient to recognize them and accept them as an essential component of a comprehensive and serious peace process, but that acceptance is contingent on forcing the Houthis to sever their ties with Iran and stop them from receiving support and advice from them. On the other hand, Tehran must be convinced that its support for the Houthis only prolongs the war, and therefore, it must reconsider its use of the group to achieve its strategic goals in the region.
While UAE and Bahraini normalization with Israel may not be enough to get Iran to rearrange its priorities, more normalization agreements are expected that could cause have repercussions on Iran’s policy in the region, which may indirectly affect Yemen.
Common security aspirations
Israel is looking for a number of gains through normalization with the countries of the region. One of them is to break its isolation and gain allies against a common enemy, Iran. As well as penetrating new markets for its security, defense and intelligence industries and technologies, which have decreased slightly over the past decade; Israel is among the leading countries in the defense industry, and its defense export deals for 2019 totaled $ 7.2 billion. It is also the most important manufacturer of military drones after the United States. Today, it pays more attention to the radar and electronic warfare markets.
Facilitating the UAE’s access to Israeli technology could contribute to the growth of its military power to be a reliable partner for the United States. According to some experts, the UAE army is considered the best among the Arab armies, and the capabilities of the military force of the “Gulf Cooperation Council” countries are considered good partners when compared to other U.S. allies such as Britain, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and Germany.
Building the capabilities of the militaries of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, led by the UAE, could reduce the cost of Washington’s commitment to protecting its interests in the Middle East including combating terrorism, protecting global energy sources and straits and containing Iran.
This will also cast a shadow over the war in Yemen where terrorist elements are active, and where the Houthis threaten, with the instruction and support of Tehran, to strike the vital interests of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and to disrupt the maritime trade movement through the Bab al-Mandab strait.