The Houthi Missile Threat to the UAE

"The Houthis' claim of targeting the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant represents a major shift in the group's propaganda in the Yemen war." Analysis by Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay

The "target": Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi (Photo: Arun Girija/Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation/WAM via AP)

Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed on December 3, 2017, that they had launched a cruise missile towards the Barakah nuclear power plant, which is under construction in Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The UAE's National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, or NCEMA, has denied claims made by the Houthis of a missile launch towards the UAE's airspace. In a statement, NCEMA emphasized that the UAE's air defense system is capable of dealing with any threats.

The authority noted that the Barakah nuclear power plant has all necessary safety and security measures in place to avert crises. NCEMA reassured the UAE's citizens and residents that the nation is safe and stressed that the country will always maintain its safety and security, continuing in its beliefs of peace and justice. The authority went on to advise the general public not to pay attention to such rumors disseminated by media agencies issuing false news that question the UAE's capabilities, strength, and security.

The UAE prepares to launch the first nuclear power plant in the Arab-world. The UAE is building a nuclear industry from scratch, hiring nuclear physicists, setting up a regulator, training operators, and setting up institutes for radiation monitoring and accident prevention. UAE energy minister Suhail al-Mazroui said that the first nuclear reactor is 96 percent complete and it would be operational by next year.

The UAE is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been waging war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen since March 2015.

The Houthis issued a warning to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in November 2017, claiming that it could retaliate against the lead partners in the Saudi coalition. The warning came after Saudi Arabia and the UAE expanded the siege on Yemen, as a response to a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh. "All airports, ports, border crossings and areas of any importance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be a direct target of our weapons, which is a legitimate right," read a statement released by the Houthis' political office. 

The UAE's Anti-Missile Defense System  

The UAE deploys a three-tier air defense system against low-, medium- and high-altitude threats:

The first tier: For low-altitude defense against cruise missiles and manned or unmanned aircraft and helicopters, the UAE possesses the Russian Pantsir-S1 system.

The second tier: For medium- to high-altitude defense against tactical ballistic missiles and aircraft, the UAE operates nine Patriot batteries.

The third tier: For high-altitude defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles, the UAE deployed two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems.

The UAE also possesses the Patriot PAC-3, deployed alongside major population centers and critical infrastructure sites. In addition to the UAE batteries, the US has deployed another two.

The UAE is the first Gulf country to deploy a THAAD battery and the first GCC country to deploy the advanced AN/TPY-2 Surveillance Transportable Radar. The AN/TPY-2 is a long-range, high-altitude surveillance radar that is the primary radar for the THAAD missile system.

The UAE has also been leading the region in missile defense preparation and training after it opened a dedicated training center in Abu Dhabi in 2010. The International Air and Missile Defense Centre at Al-Bateen Air Base in Abu Dhabi offers training in missile defense systems, battle scenarios and complex exercises, including attack operations and defense against missile attacks.


This is the first time that the Houthis claimed a missile attack against the UAE and first time to use a cruise missile. The Houthi militia's claim of targeting the United Arab Emirates’ Barakah nuclear power plant represents a major shift in the Houthi propaganda in the Yemen war and should be considered as a potential threat to use missiles against targets in UAE.

The UAE’s recent deployment of the AN/TPY-2 radar and THAAD missile defense system ensures the most effective capability for defense and integrates well alongside the existing Patriot PAC-3 systems.

The UAE is a member of the GCC and the Saudi-led coalition that has been waging war against the Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen since March 2015. The UAE’s air defense system is equipped not only to defend UAE territory but also Bahrain, parts of Saudi Arabia and Oman.

The war in Yemen is part of the regional conflict between Iran and its allies and the moderate Arab Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt and includes the UAE.

The outcome of the campaign in Yemen will have far-reaching effects on the future of the region. The United States and other Western countries will need to join the Saudi coalition to ward off the threat of Iranian hegemony and bring an end to the civil war and the humanitarian crisis.