What Saudi-Emirati friction in Yemen means for Israel
Israel and Arab Gulf states have drawn closer together in recent years as they form a common front against Iran. A prominent Israeli think tank has warned that tensions between Saudi and Emirati proxies in Yemen could strengthen Iran’s position in the region. The Institute for National Security Studies report dated to last month said that fighting between Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates would allow Iran to target Saudi oil infrastructure, and undermine US and Israeli interests.
Based at Tel Aviv University, the institute has strong links to the Israeli government and intelligence community and counts among its researchers and analysts many senior former Mossad and military officers. The piece argues that the UAE’s open backing of the separatist push to take Aden, as well as the withdrawal of Emirati soldiers from frontline duties in Yemen, was evidence that there was indeed a rift between Saudi and UAE policymakers. “An independent southern state serves neither Saudi interests nor those of the Hadi government, particularly when most of the former northern territories remain under Houthi control,” the report by Inbal Nissim-Louvton, Yoel Guzansky, and Ari Heistein states.
The authors of the report argue that the burden of fighting the Houthis will now fall to the Saudis, who are not as well prepared to take on the Houthis, as the Emiratis. That changed dynamic would force “more restrained approach” on the part of the Saudis. Meanwhile, the report forecasts that Houthis are likely to strengthen their hold on northern Yemen under such an eventuality, threatening Israeli interests and emboldening Iran. Israel and the Gulf states have maintained backdoor channels for almost two decades but the growing alliance between Arab states, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and Israel has become more apparent in recent years.
After the ascent of Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi crown prince, Gulf states have made low-level overtures of friendship towards Israel, which have been gratefully received by the latter. Israel, which is short of allies, in the region wants to make sure that those burgeoning friendships are not at risk and that Iran does not move in to fill spaces opened up by intra-Arab rivalries.