UAE Says It Intercepted a Missile From Yemen. But With What Defense System?

The Emiratis have kept relatively hush over a string of recent Houthi missile attacks on the desert oasis, which some experts say has cloaked the fact that they are 'bleeding money' in order to face their hostile neighbors

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Emirati leaders arrive at the UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 31, 2022.
Emirati leaders arrive at the UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 31, 2022.Credit: CHRISTOPHER PIKE/ REUTERS
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

The United Arab Emirates has acknowledged intercepting a ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Monday as the Israeli president visited the country, the third such attack in recent weeks. However, officials were reticent regarding the details, with the country’s top prosecutor threatening that people who film or post images of such an incident would face criminal charges.

“The one interesting thing about the UAE is that they downplay the whole thing very intentionally. They don’t give many details or show you videos,” said Uzi Rubin, a top Israeli expert on missile defense and former head of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization.

Monday’s attack follows two previous missile and drone attacks launched by Houthi militants in Yemen within the space of a week.

Three people were killed in the first attack on January 17, in which a ballistic missile aimed at a local oil facility adjoining an American base was intercepted, Defense News reported.

The attack occurred as South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in was visiting the UAE, during which the two sides reached a preliminary $3.5 billion deal for the sale of a South Korean Cheongung II medium-range surface-to-air missile system, which is expected to be delivered in 2024.

Several days later, on January 24, the UAE and U.S. military intercepted two additional ballistic missiles. An army spokesman subsequently acknowledged that assistance of American Patriot missile batteries prevented the Houthi missiles from striking targets in Abu Dhabi. Videos on social media suggested outgoing interceptor fire came from the American Al-Dhafra Air Base.

Without the American statement, it would have been impossible to know which system was used from the scanty video evidence, said Rubin.

“We’re not sure what kind of missiles were used,” he said. “You could see [in a video of the incident] an interception hit and an explosion, but you couldn't distinguish which interceptor did it.”

“It’s not clear who intercepted it. If it is the Americans there with their systems or Emirati systems that they operate themselves,” agreed Yoel Guzansky, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.

But while Emirati leaders have not shared many details, the overall composition of their missile defense shield has been reported in the past. Aside from American systems based there, the UAE maintains its own multi-tiered missile defense system which includes the Russian Pantsir-S1 missile system (which it had reportedly operated in Libya) as well as the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) and PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile systems.

THAAD is a system made by Lockheed Martin that intercepts short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, while the Patriot system —which the US Army calls its "premier guided air and missile defense”— is meant to deal with high-altitude, long-range threats.

“I would rate their defense systems as a very good, integrated, multilayer system,” said Tal Inbar, a senior research fellow at the U.S.-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. But, he cautioned, “they will be bleeding money over time” because of the high price of the systems in use. “They have the capability to defend themselves, at least for now. What we are seeing is they are coping very well,” Inbar said, adding that by striking the launcher in Yemen shortly after the strike, the Emiratis showed impressive intelligence capabilities.

Given that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are all facing missile attacks from Iranian-backed proxies, Jerusalem should begin assisting regional allies with “our experience and technology and stand by them in their hour of need,” said Guzansky, hinting at Israel’s Iron Dome system, which has been shown to be effective against rocket launches from the Gaza Strip.

“We have the technology and all sorts of things can be done. It’s a shared challenge. This is the same enemy with octopus arms throughout the Middle East.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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