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UAE restricting US military action targeting Iran as Gaza casualties mount: Report

Some Arab nations are increasingly limiting the US's ability to carry out defensive actions from their territories
Soldiers and military helicopters from the United Arab Emirates demonstrate their skills at Expo 2020 in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on 5 March 2022 (Karim Sahib/AFP)

A number of Arab states, including the UAE, are imposing limitations on the United States' use of military bases within their territories for conducting strikes against Iranian-affiliated groups, Politico reported on Wednesday.

As civilian casualties in Gaza escalate, some Arab nations, especially those "attempting a detente with Iran", are increasingly restricting the ability of the US and its allies to carry out defensive actions from their territories, a US official anonymously told Politico.

This encompasses constraints on countermeasures in response to aggressions in Iraq, Syria, and the Red Sea, Politico reported.

Politico cites a US official, a congressional aide and two western officials, "all of whom were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive security issue".

Middle East Eye reached out to the UAE embassy, the Pentagon, and the US State Department for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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One official told Politico that some nations are limiting the use of their bases and airspace for assets involved in conducting these counterattacks. The exact number of countries implementing these restrictions remains uncertain.

According to Politico, the official said that the specific reason the UAE is undertaking these actions is that "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".

For many years, the US has stationed thousands of soldiers at bases in the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and other locations across the Middle East and Gulf.

Since 7 October, the involvement of these nations in facilitating US military operations has been subject to increased scrutiny.

Across the region, Tehran and Washington have been vying to outflank each other in a deadly proxy war. The conflict has taken on different flavours that reflect local and geopolitical realities.

In Lebanon, the US is trying to de-escalate fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, with both sides wary of being dragged into a wider conflict. Meanwhile, Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen have made themselves targets of US air strikes as a response to their attacks on commercial shipping.

But the conflict is perhaps at its most intense and complex in Iraq - which could potentially be one of the countries restricting US military activity alluded to in the Politico report.

“The Iraqi government is weak, divided and fundamentally can’t control conflict on its borders from foreign powers,” Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at the Chatham House think-tank, told Middle East Eye for an earlier article. 

“It emerged as the playground of choice, where the US and Iran can fight it out. The risk of escalation here is lower for both. And they can show force and compete for influence.”

Red Sea attacks 

In January, the US and the United Kingdom launched air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, following a spate of attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea region.

In a statement, US President Joe Biden said the strikes were in response to the Houthis endangering "freedom of navigation in one of the world's most vital waterways", and were carried out with the UK and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands. 

"These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes," Biden said.

The UK and the US have repeatedly warned the Houthis against attacking vessels passing through the Red Sea, a vital shipping route, in protest against Israel's war in Gaza.

Various shipping lines have suspended operations, instead taking the longer journey around Africa.

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