UAE restricts US ability to launch retaliatory airstrikes against Iran proxies

10:50 18.02.2024 •

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates in 2022.
Photo: U.S. Air Force

Some Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, are increasingly restricting the U.S. from using military facilities on their soil to launch retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian proxies, according to four people familiar with the issue, reveals POLITICO.

The U.S. has long deployed thousands of troops at facilities in the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East, and the Arab countries’ role in supporting U.S. military activities has come under intensified scrutiny since the Israel-Hamas war that erupted in October.

The conflict has pitted Arab governments’ interests in assuaging their citizens’ anger toward Israel against their desire to help Washington fend off Iranian-backed attacks. The restrictions on U.S. activities on their soil reflect Arab calculations on how supportive they can be — without angering Iran.

The news that some countries are restricting access is based on information from a U.S. official, a congressional aide and two Western officials, all of whom were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive security issue.

Amid a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, several Arab countries, particularly those “attempting a detente with Iran,” are “increasingly restricting” the U.S. and partners from conducting self-defense operations from their soil, according to the U.S. official. This includes limits on retaliatory strikes against attacks in Iraq, Syria, and the Red Sea, the official said.

President Joe Biden has in recent weeks ordered multiple retaliatory air and missile strikes, some in conjunction with U.S. allies, against Iran-backed threats in the Middle East. Iran-backed militias have attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan using a mixture of drones, rockets and missiles 170 times since October, killing three U.S. service members and injuring dozens more. Meanwhile, Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched 46 attacks against shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since the campaign started Nov. 19.

Certain Arab countries are restricting access to basing and overflight for the assets participating in these retaliatory strikes, the official said. It’s not clear how many countries are taking this action.

The reason the UAE in particular is doing this, per one of the Western officials, is “they don’t want to appear like they’re against Iran and they don’t want to appear too close to the West and Israel for public opinion reasons.” The UAE has in recent years also raised concerns about increasing attacks from the Houthis in Yemen. The rebel group has previously launched missiles into the UAE.

The UAE is home to Al Dhafra Air Base, which hosts dozens of U.S. aircraft involved in operations across the region, including fighter aircraft and reconnaissance drones such as MQ-9 Reapers.

One Defense Department official disputed the premise that there is tension between the U.S. and the Emirates over U.S. military basing, pointing out that A-10 attack aircraft and armed MQ-9 drones have recently operated out of Al Dhafra in support of operations to protect shipping in the Arabian Gulf.

But soon after the October strike, the Pentagon stopped publicly disclosing many of the aircraft types used in subsequent retaliatory operations against Iranian proxies.


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