Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they fired a ballistic missile at a nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi, targeting a second member of the Arab coalition battling them. The United Arab Emirates said the claim, which was reported Sunday by the Houthi-affiliated al-Masirah TV, was untrue.
The conflicting reports come days after former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke his coalition with the Houthis and called on the Yemeni people to “defend their republic” against the rebels. That call was supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies, who have been mired in a conflict in Yemen since 2015 against the Iran-backed Houthis. A U.A.E. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, dismissed the claim and jokingly said the government was still waiting for the missile to arrive.
The U.A.E.’s air defense system is capable of dealing with any threats, and the Barakah nuclear power plant has the necessary safety and security measures in place, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority said in a statement carried by the sate-run WAM news agency.
The Houthis have stepped up their missile attacks in recent weeks, including an attempt to strike Saudi Arabia’s international airport in Riyadh — foiled by Saudi air defenses — that upped the stakes in the regional showdown between the oil-rich kingdom and Iran. Sunday’s claim reflects the “desperate political position” the Houthis face both politically and militarily, according to Ghanem Nuseibeh, London-based founder of Cornerstone Global Associates.
“They’ve lost their main ally on the ground in Yemen,” Nuseibeh said. “What they’re trying to show is that they haven’t been as negatively impacted as they have been.”
The breakup of Saleh’s alliance with the Houthis may benefit the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in its attempts to reinstate the government of ousted elected President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi. Despite a devastating air campaign that has killed hundreds of civilians, the Houthis still control the capital, Sana’a, and about 55 percent of northern Yemen. There was fierce fighting between Saleh’s forces and the Houthis in the city on Saturday night and Sunday.
Escalating violence could also drive Yemen, a nation only reunited in 1990, to completely disintegrate, becoming a failed state perched south of the world’s biggest oil exporter and a major maritime artery.