February 9, 2020 was destined for UAE to hit a glorious national event: celebrate, officially and publicly, the safe return of our valiant forces who joined their Saudi-led Arab coalition counterparts in Operation Determination Storm and Operation Restoring Hope in sisterly Yemen since 2015. The “Faithful Hawks” celebration, which was attended by Their Highnesses the Rulers of the Emirates, highlighted two main points: First, expressing gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for their nation; Second, showing pride in, and appreciation of, our armed forces for heroic actions, courage and high fighting skills in performing the missions entrusted to them by our wise leadership.
The UAE participation in the Saudi-led Arab coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen from the rebel militia is highly significant vis-à-vis national policy and principles, and highlights our role in maintaining peace, stability and welfare regionally and globally. It was rightly expressed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who said “Our valiant soldiers who participated in Operation Restoring Hope in sisterly Yemen gave, along with their Arab coalition counterparts, their best sacrifice and taught the world that UAE’s contribution will always remain a cornerstone for regional security and stability and that our siding with rightness is rock-solid”. The same idea was crystalized by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, who said “Our armed forces have been, and will always be indeed, for peace and stability in the region and the world, and that the UAE is for peace, welfare and hope”.
First: UAE Involvement in Yemen—Strategic Constants and Considerations
UAE’s attitude toward restoring legitimacy in Yemen since day one was conditioned by certain preliminary and strategic considerations, most notably:
UAE’s preliminary and constant attitude supporting the Arab causes and out brothers in distress:
The Arab dimension has been a crucial foreign policy element for the UAE since establishment in 1971, which was practically shown at regional and international levels thanks to the unionist philosophy of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (May God bless his soul) who said “No nation on the face of this planet had the essentials of unity the way the Arab nation had; the essentials of history, religion, tongue and common interests” A case in point is the UAE constitution that supports crucial Arab causes and maintains, to the farthest possible extent, cooperation with Arab nations in order to achieve national aspirations in unity and better life” and that “(UAE) Federation is part and parcel of the greater Arab world with which we share the bonds of religion, tongue, history and common destiny. The Federation has one people to embrace, is part of the Arab nation and has its doors wide open for all Arab countries.” An October 1971 Emiri statement outlined UAE foreign policy’s Arab relations by saying “Our newly-fledged foreign policy is evident and clear-cut: an Arab policy that believes in common destiny of the Arab nations, thrives to maintain Arab rights and national aspirations, and works hand in hand with sisterly nations” In a December 1972 National Day speech, the late Sheikh Zayed outlined four tracks of national foreign policy: settle differences between UAE and neighboring countries by peaceful means, expand the Federation by leaving the door wide open to interested partners, support Arab causes and coordinate foreign, economic and otherwise policies with sisterly Arab nations, and open up to the world”.
The genuine approach founded by the late Sheikh Zayed continued to play as a foreign policy cornerstone during the time of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE President, (May God save him) who takes “Arab integration, interdependence and cooperation as a cornerstone for the welfare and prosperity of the Arab peoples”.
Accordingly, Houthis’ control of Yemen and attempts to establish a sectarian state was regarded by the UAE as a threat to an outstanding Arab nation, its identity and Arab affiliation, and hastened to intervene to save Yemen from Houthis.
UAE Security Part and Parcel of Arab National Security:
The UAE considers itself part and parcel of Arab national security and that threat to any Arab nation is a threat to its own security. This was one of the most important considerations that shaped UAE attitude since 2011 turmoil and 2015 military intervention. This was made clear by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who said in a May 2017 speech on the unification of the armed forces that “… Special tribute to our force that handles tasks outside of the UAE in support of righteousness and high national interests… We believe that national, regional and global security are one… We joined regional and international anti-terror coalitions to abort attempts to hijack Yemen and its identity to convert it into a base to threaten Saudi Arabia’s security…”
Similarly, in a speech on the return in November 2015 of a UAE armed forces regiment that joined Operation Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said “The “participation of our valiant soldiers in Operation Determination Storm and Operation Restore Hope in sisterly Yemen has played a crucial role in defeating the ambitions of sectarian and rebellious militias and maintaining Yemen’s identity and position as an all-time strategic depth for GCC nations… The Arab military coalition to restore Yemen’s legitimacy and freedom flashed a meaningful message that Arabs have the ability and will for joint action to maintain sovereignty and integrity and abort attempts for interference under any pretext”.
Siding with Just Causes:
The UAE has been a staunch supporter not only of Arab and Islamic causes but also just of causes and people brought under oppression and aggression”.
Similarly, in a November 2016 speech on Martyr’s Day, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said “What our courageous officers and soldiers have done in Yemen will rightfully go down in the UAE, Arab, Islamic and human history as a campaign in support of the wronged and oppressed, of righteousness and restoring regional security and stability”.
The UAE went to Yemen out of strategic or geostrategic considerations, notably Yemen’s strategic position at Bab Al Mandab Strait, a vital international waterway for world, Gulf and UAE oil shipments. Seizing control of this waterway poses a threat to UAE and Gulf oil exports and to Fujaira Port.
Support Saudi Arabia:
Houthis’ revolt against legitimacy in Yemen meant a direct threat to southern Saudi Arabia, and UAE believes that any threat to Saudi Arabia is a threat to GCC nations’ security and Arab national security in general. This was repeatedly highlighted by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan who, attending Gulf Shield-1 military exercise in Saudi Arabia in April 2018, said “Saudi Arabia is an impregnable Arab Islamic fortress against any attempt to jeopardize regional security, interfere in Arab internal affairs or play havoc with regional peoples’ destiny and accomplishments. The UAE stands with Saudi Arabia in the same trench, and the UAE-Saudi coalition is premised on rock-solid foundation of mutual understanding, respect and joint action to consolidate regional security and stability, maintain Arab national security against any threat. His Highness added that “The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (May God bless his soul) believed in Saudi Arabia’s pivotal role as a regional safety valve and a cornerstone of Gulf and Arab security. The same approach was pursued and consolidated by the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (May God save him) – a fact driven home by progressive bilateral relations at all levels…”. These relations have set a perfect example of how brotherly relations should be, especially in historical junctures witnessed by the Arabian Gulf, Arab region and the world today”.
Support World Peace and Stability:
This is one of defining principles of UAE foreign policy that prompted UAE attitude vis-à-vis Yemeni crisis since 2011. UAE’s intervention in Yemen was essential, if not inevitable, as indicated in November 2015 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan who pointed out that “We did not go to Yemen with a private agenda. Neither did we attack others or monger war, for it is not our style. It was imposed upon us after exhausting all means of peaceful solution… Our participation in the Arab military coalition in Yemen came within as a nation-wide mission made inevitable by humanitarian considerations and upon a request by the legitimate government in Yemen and in implementation of international legitimacy resolutions”. His Highness added that “The UAE and Arab military intervention in Yemen was legitimate because it was based on the right to self-defence according to the UN Charter, Article 51, as ordained by Islamic Sharia (Law) and upon a direct request by the legitimate government in Yemen, according to joint Arab defence agreement and UN reso lutions 2014, 2051 and 2140 that label Houthis’ revolt against legitimacy in Yemen as violating international community resolutions.
Second: Military Performance … Heroism, Competence, Accomplishment and Ethics
The UAE armed forces in Yemen demonstrated an immaculate ability to perform all missions any time any place with top-rated efficiency and professionalism. Former United States Marine Corps General and former Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), Anthony Zinni, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The UAE is a top-class regional military force with potentials steadily increasing compared to its size”, adding that the UAE showed survival skills in Yemen despite casualties”.
The speech of Staff Lieutenant General Engineer Essa Saif bin Zaabalan Al Mazrou’i, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and Co-Commander of Joint Operations in Yemen, celebrating the Faithful Hawks on 9 February 2020 demonstrated the great military achievements of these forces in Yemen. The UAE lost 108 lives there.
UAE Military Role in Yemen: Distinct Remarks
1. UAE military performance in Yemen was not only superior, competent and professional but also ethical, as explained by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan celebrating the same return of forces from Yemen: “The UAE soldiers have revealed their true mettle siding by righteousness and justice and extending a hand to the needy”. In 2015 His Highness referred repeatedly to the need to stick to the UAE ethics, sublime values, heritage and principles as taught by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (May God bless his soul) and to face challenges and side with righteousness.
2. It reflected the UAE as a nation for not only tolerance and coexistence but also for resolution and determination when it comes to principles or when national security -and the security of brotherly nations- is undermined. “We are for not only peace, welfare and love, but also for resolution and perseverance when our security -and the security of our brothers- is at stake”, noted His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
3. It crystalized our wise leadership’s vision that only strong nations have the will to defend themselves in a world fraught with danger and challenges. In his speech on 40th anniversary of the unification of the UAE Armed Forces in 2016, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan pointed out that “Nations unable to defend themselves and maintain their interests and sovereignty are fragile and cannot live with dignity in a world full of dangers, ambitions and threats…”
4. It showed the close relationship between the armed forces and the U AE faithful people who “have been the staunchest supporter of valiant armed forces in their noble mission in Yemen – a customary tradition of our genuine people”, as mentioned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
5. Finally, it helped defend international navigation in the highly strategic Bab Al Mandab which the Houthis sought to control in order to jeopardize international navigation and blackmail international community. The Strait, which sits off the coasts of Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea and links the Red Sea and the Arab Sea, sees more than 21,000 ships crossing annually, i.e. 57 vessels daily.
Third: Humanitarian and Developmental Role: One Hand to Build, Another to Carry Weapons
The UAE went to Yemen carrying not only weapons against rebel militia but also welfare, development and humanitarian support for our Yemeni brethren. Documented statistics put UAE assistance to Yemen at AED 22 billion between 2015 and 2019. Another AED 367 million was offered to Yemen by UAE in 2019 within UAE-provided UN Humanitarian Plan for Yemen. Schools rehabilitated by the UAE since 2015 totaled 1,400 in addition to 650 health centers throughout Yemen.
A crucial role was played by the UAE armed forces to secure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to disputed areas. Thousands of injured Yemenis were evacuated and the cost of their treatment abroad was provided. Moreover, the UAE helped support the Yemeni economy, a step lauded by UN Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths in 2018.
A number of facts are reflected by the UAE’s humanitarian and developmental role in Yemen: First: The UAE went to Yemen to serve the interests of the Yemeni people, their development, stability and right to decent life away from suspicious sectarian schemes. Second: The UAE is used to offer good gestures and development wherever it goes. Third: The humanitarian and development-conscious dimension has always been a cardinal element in UAE foreign policy since the times of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (May God bless his soul).
Fourth: Fighting Terrorism
In an article published by US Politico Magazine on 2 May 2016, the former CIA Director, Michael Morell, mentioned that “The role played by the UAE armed forces in driving away Al Qaeda from southern Yemen is “a perfect lesson to solve the dilemma of how to tackle terrorist groups in control of inhabited areas”. “Sunni Gulf states are often depicted in the western media as shying from armed confrontation, unable to fight and reluctant to deal with terrorists and extremists but the UAE campaign in Yemen proved these stereotypes are not applicable to Abu Dhabi”, he went on.
In a December 2019 symposium on terrorism held at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, Elizabeth Campbell, Oxford University researcher, lauded Yemeni Transitional Council’s efforts to combat terrorism, with UAE’s support, there.
On another note, the US President Donald Trump appreciated UAE’s role in releasing the American hostage Danny Burch.
Fifth: Maintain Nation-State
UAE and Arab intervention in Yemen in 2015 was a lifeline for the nation-state there, as repeatedly emphasized by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan who received the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi in Abu Dhabi in November 2019 and announced that “The UAE and Egypt are co-partners in promoting peace and stability in the Arab region…”.
The UAE military, humanitarian and developmental mission in Yemen will undoubtedly alive in the memory of Emiratis and Arab nations, citing lessons to be learned by the coming generations on how to defend, and die for, national soil and side by righteousness and justice against injustice, oppression and aggression.