A satellite image of smoke rising a UAE oil facility attacked by Iran-backed Houthis, Jan. 17, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP) (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Israel takes notice as Iran’s proxy in Yemen launched missiles and drones at Emirati oil facility and airport.

The United Arab Emirates called on the Biden administration to re-designate Yemen’s Houthi militia as a terror group after the Iranian proxy attacked the Emirates with missiles and drones on Monday.

Three people were killed and six injured in the attack, which targeted a petroleum facility. An area of Abu Dhabi International Airport under construction was also hit, but no casualties were reported.

The Houthis claimed responsibility, saying they used cruise and ballistic missiles. They offered no evidence, but the attack raises Israeli concerns that the Houthis could strike Eilat. Emirati officials have vowed to retaliate.

In a phone call after the attack, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to re-designate the Houthis as a terror organization, Axios reported.

The Biden administration lifted the Houthis’ place on the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist lists in February. At the time, Tim Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen said that lifting the designation would make it easier to address a humanitarian crisis resulting from the country’s civil war, insisting that the change would not give the Houthis what he called “a free pass.”

The Houthis and their four top leaders were placed on the US terror list in January 2021 during the last days of the Trump administration. The designation, among other things, barred Houthi members from entering the U.S. and made it illegal for U.S. nationals to provide the group with “material support or resources.”

Other Iranian Shi’ite proxy groups currently designated by the U.S. include Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and other militias operating in Iraq and Syria.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid denounced the Houthi attack.

“I strongly condemn today’s drone attack in Abu Dhabi and send my condolences to the families of those killed and my wishes for a speedy recovery to those wounded. Israel stands with the United Arab Emirates,” Lapid tweeted.

“We call on the international community to strongly condemn such attacks and to act immediately so that Iran and its proxies will not have the tools to continue to undermine regional security and harm innocent people,” Lapid added in a follow up tweet.

Satellite images by Planet Labs PBC analyzed by the Associated Press showed smoke rising over an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot in the Mussafah neighborhood of Abu Dhabi after the attack. Another image taken shortly after appears to show scorch marks and white fire-suppressing foam deployed on the grounds of the depot.

Although the UAE has largely withdrawn its own forces from Yemen, it is still actively engaged in the conflict and supports Yemeni militias fighting the Houthis.

Coinciding with the anniversary of the assassination of Al-Quds Force commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Houthis seized an Emirati-flagged civilian cargo ship, the Rwabee and its crew of 11 in the Red Sea on Jan. 2. The Houthis claimed the ship was carrying military material and have ignored a demand from the UN Security Council to release the crew and ship.

The Houthi Threat to Israel

The Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb, a chokepoint connects the Red Sea to Gulf of Aden, is particularly sensitive to Israel. The Houthis are known to have placed mines and fired rockets at Saudi ships traversing the waterway.

Red Sea

The strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. (Screenshot with additions by United With Israel)

Israel and Iran have already been engaged in what many describe as a “shadow war” on the seas.

In April, the Saviz, a cargo ship that reportedly served as a floating base for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was struck by a mine in the Red Sea, between Yemen and Eritrea. The Saviz was reportedly conducting electronic surveillance and assisting Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Iran claimed the ship aided “anti-piracy” efforts. In August, CNN reported that another Iranian vessel, the Behshad, is now stationed in the same area.

In November, the U.S., Israel, UAE and Bahrain held joint naval exercises in the Red Sea, the first of their kinds since the signing of the Abraham accords.

Following a missile attack on a Saudi oil facility in the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2020, the Houthis claimed the missiles used were also capable of reaching Eilat.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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