The dramatic drone and missile strikes on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels highlight the utter folly of the Biden administration's willingness to question the loyalty of one of its key Gulf allies. Pictured: The Musaffah industrial district in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi on January 17, 2022, after three people were killed in a drone attack that was launched by Yemen's Houthi terrorists. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
The dramatic drone and missile strikes on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels highlight the utter folly of the Biden administration's willingness to question the loyalty of one of its key Gulf allies.
In what constitutes a serious escalation in the Houthis' terrorist campaign against pro-US Gulf states, the Iranian-backed rebels said they fired five ballistic missiles and "a large number of drones" at Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, an oil refinery in Musaffah as well as several "sensitive" sites in the UAE.
Abu Dhabi police said three people were killed and six wounded when three fuel tanker trucks exploded in the industrial Musaffah area, near storage facilities run by the country's ADNOC oil conglomerate.
The attack was similar to a Houthi operation carried out against Saudi Arabia's Aramco facilities in September 2019, which also involved a mixture of drones and cruise missiles, which the Houthis were later found to have acquired from Iran.
The Houthis' attack against the UAE, which comes at a time when the Biden administration is attempting to revive the flawed nuclear deal with Iran, was ostensibly in retaliation for the Emirates' involvement in the Saudi-led coalition to restore Yemen's democratically-elected government, which was overthrown by the Houthis in an Iranian-backed coup in 2015.
The Houthi attack on the Emirates prompted a rare display of support from Washington, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the attack during a phone call with his Emirati opposite number, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan promised that Washington would work to hold the Houthis accountable.
The Houthis' terrorist attack also provoked a robust response from the Emiratis.
"The UAE condemns this terrorist attack by the Houthi militia on areas and civilian facilities on Emirati soil... (It) will not go unpunished," its foreign ministry said. "The UAE reserves the right to respond to these terrorist attacks and criminal escalation."
The Saudi-led coalition, meanwhile, responded by carrying out air strikes against Houthi training camps and strongholds around the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and claimed it had succeeded in destroying a drone communication system.
The Houthi attack against the UAE, which has long-standing defence ties with the US and hosts around 5,000 American military personnel, makes a mockery of US President Joe Biden's decision, taken in the first weeks of his presidency, to remove the Houthis from Washington's list of designated terrorist groups, which had originally been implemented by the Trump administration.
Mr Biden defended his decision on the grounds that the designation hampered humanitarian assistance efforts to support the Yemeni people, as the aid supplies are largely controlled by the Houthis. Speaking in the aftermath of the latest Houthi attacks, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahan called on Mr Biden to re-designate the Houthis as terrorists.
The attack certainly puts into perspective the less-than-friendly tone the Biden administration has adopted towards the UAE in recent months, as tensions between Abu Dhabi and Washington have increased over the Gulf state's deepening ties with China.
The Gulf region has become a major battleground between the US and China, not least because American influence is seen as being in decline by Gulf leaders because of Mr Biden's weak and ineffectual leadership, especially in the wake of his administration's disastrous handling of the Afghan withdrawal in the summer.
This has led many Middle Eastern states that have previously adopted pro-Western policies to re-evaluate their long-standing relationship with Washington as they feel, quite rightly, that they can no longer rely on the US to defend their interests, especially when it comes to protecting them against the threat posed by Iran and its allies.
Indeed, concerns about Washington's commitment to the security of its Gulf allies have been growing ever since former US President Barack Obama signed the controversial nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 -- when Mr Biden was serving as his vice president.
With Beijing always keen to exploit any sign of American weakness to its advantage, China has been waging a highly effective charm effective in the Gulf region, one that has seen Beijing forging closer ties with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the Emirates.
In particular, the deepening ties between the UAE and Beijing have become a source of consternation in Washington, which came to a head in November when it emerged China was in the process of building a secret shipping port close to Abu Dhabi as part of its plan to extend its influence over the key shipping routes through the Indian Ocean.
From China's perspective, Abu Dhabi is seen as the "pearl" in its plan to establish what Chinese President Xi Jinping calls the Maritime Silk Road, a project that aims to secure Chinese dominance over key trading routes from Asia to the Middle East and beyond.
The discovery that China was building a secret port in Abu Dhabi prompted a furious reaction from the Biden administration, which resulted in the UAE suspending a $23 billion deal to buy advanced F-35 stealth fighters after Washington put pressure on the UAE to remove Huawei from its 5G network before allowing the deal to proceed.
The deepening tensions between Washington and the UAE can also be seen in the introduction of the bipartisan Monitoring China-UAE Cooperation Act in the US House of Representatives. Introduced by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), both members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the aim of the bill is to assess and monitor the relationship between China and the UAE in order to safeguard U.S. technology and national security from potential threats from the Chinese Communist Party.
The fact that the Biden administration, though, should be pressuring the UAE over its ties with China is a classic example of how the White House has got its priorities all wrong.
As this week's attack by Iranian-backed terrorists on the UAE graphically illustrates, Iran poses the greatest threat to Gulf security, and it is Washington's failure to support its Gulf allies against the Iranian menace that has led them to develop ties with China in the first place.
If Mr Biden is truly concerned about nations like the UAE developing relations with Beijing, then the best way to reverse this trend would be to offer the Gulf states better protection against Iran. That would be a sure-fire way to get American relations with the Gulf back on track, and keep the opportunistic Chinese communists at bay.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.