Senior Emirati leaders have hit back at criticism of Operation Restore Hope, the Saudi-led coalition of Arab air forces that have been attacking what they describe as rebel Al Houthi forces in Yemen. The operation has attracted unprecedented criticism from humanitarian agencies—and in a report commissioned by the United Nations Security Council—for indiscriminate targeting of civilians and refugees. There has also been renewed speculation that the coalition will soon launch an offensive on the rebel-controlled port of Hodeida. It has been the conduit for Iran's supply of weapons to the Houthis, including the ballistic missile that was fired at Riyadh last week. But Hodeida also handles relief supplies for a Yemeni population that faces disease and famine on a huge scale, according to relief agencies.
Speaking at the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference (DIAC2017) on November 11, Emirates Airline and Dubai CAA chairman Sheikh Ahmed, representing the Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed, claimed that the UAE “has favored peaceful resolution of conflicts [while] establishing a strong deterrent base.” He said that the UAE Air Force was “a highly capable and professional force.”
Maj Gen Ibrahim Naser Al Alawi, the air force commander, said that his airmen were following “well-defined and restrictive rules of engagement” over Yemen. He revealed that Emirati troops and airmen were deployed in six location within Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The conflict with the Houthi rebels has now lasted nearly 1,000 days, he noted.
But the U.S. Air Force has been at pains to distance itself from air targeting policy in the Saudi-led campaign. Lt Gen Jeffrey Harrigan, commander U.S. air forces in CENTCOM, told AIN last September that although his airmen were providing air refueling tanker support to Operation Restore Hope, and were present in the Saudi Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Riyadh, they were not advising on targeting. “We are only working deconfliction with U.S sorties and liaising on squawk codes, etcetera,” he added. He repeated that policy at a press conference here in Dubai on November 11, adding that “we are working with the Saudi-led coalition on the ground in teams in the border region to assist them in their operations, without getting into targeting.”
Last July, a legal challenge mounted by the UK's Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CATT) failed to halt British arms exports to Saudi Arabia. CATT repeated the UN assessment that more than 10,000 people had been killed in Yemen since the Saudi-led intervention in 2005, and accused Riyadh of “repeated and serious breaches” of international humanitarian law. The High Court in London ruled that the sales were lawful, however, based on evidence from the UK Ministry of Defence that was heard in secret. The judgement was on a narrow legal point, and the judges reflected that there was “a substantial body of evidence” that the coalition had acted in the manner outlined by the CATT.
The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has used British-supplied Tornado and Typhoon fighters to attack targets in Yemen, with weapons that include Paveway IV dual-mode guided bombs that are manufactured by Raytheon in the UK.