Saudi Arabia and the UAE have diverging goals in Yemen

A map of the Red Sea region with relevant troop deployments and military bases
The UAE is using troop deployments and development funding to gain influence around the Red Sea. It also wants to create a quasi-independent state in southern Yemen (source: dpa)
  • The UAE’s goals in Yemen are increasingly divergent from Saudi Arabia’s
  • Abu Dhabi wants a divided Yemen, while Riyadh wants to keep it whole
  • These tensions will grow more acute and complicate the conflict
  • Greater UAE influence around the Horn of Africa could blunt terrorism there

At the beginning of May, troops, armor and materiel from the United Arab Emirates landed on the Yemeni island of Socotra, strategically located at the entrance of the Gulf of Aden, just north of Somalia. The development exposed an important set of geopolitical dynamics in the Yemen conflict, as the main protagonists try to maximize their advantage.

The UAE is part of a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia to fight the Houthi rebels, whom Iran has been actively supporting. Iran has several objectives in backing the Houthis. Mainly, it wants to complete its encirclement of the Persian Gulf, gain access to the Red Sea and control this crucial maritime choke point through a presence on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea coast. This push also serves to drain Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s resources, helping minimize their engagement in Syria.

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