Officials working for the United Arab Emirates were shocked last year when the US asked that Abu Dhabi, a close US partner, pay for the military assistance it received in the aftermath of a drone attack, Axios reported, citing Emirati and American officials.
The revelation comes from a book released this week titled Trump’s Peace, written by Axios reporter, Barak Ravid.
Last January, a drone attack claimed by the Houthis targeted an oil facility in Abu Dhabi, killing three people: one Pakistani national and two Indians.
After that attack, then Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who is now the ruler of the UAE, held an emergency meeting with his military commanders to figure out what immediate measures to take in order to defend the emirate from another attack.
The Emirati military said, according to the report, that the best way to do so was to have Emirati Air Force F-16s and Mirage 2000s in the air at all times, which would require refuelling capabilities that the US possessed. The US obliged and refuelled Emirati fighter jets several times.
Several days after the second attack on Abu Dhabi, the military attache at the US embassy arrived for a meeting with senior UAE military officials in which they handed their Emirati counterparts a bill for the refuelling.
The incident was deeply offensive to the UAE, and Emirati officials told Axios that it was further proof of Mohammed bin Zayed’s growing feeling that the US had abandoned them in a time of need.
US officials at the White House and Pentagon told Axios that the request was a mistake and they regretted it.
“Sheikh Mohammed was understandably upset,” State Department counsellor Derek Chollet said.
“I felt bad that so much time had elapsed, that he was feeling upset and we didn’t have an indication that this was the case. We certainly took it very, very seriously and felt that we responded in a way that we thought was responsive to our friends in need. Sheikh Mohammed did not feel that way,” Chollet said.
The events last year took place during a low point in the relationship between the US and the UAE.
In the first year of the Biden administration, the UAE had signalled unease over what it perceived as Washington’s declining commitment to the security of US partners in the region.
The F-35 deal has yet to be finalised, with the UAE reportedly showing frustration by the slow pace and conditions related to the sale.
In December 2021, Abu Dhabi said it would suspend discussions on the sale, with key sticking points relating to the country’s relationship with China, including the use of Huawei’s 5G technology.
In March 2022, the Emirati ambassador to the US said that the relationship between the two countries was going through a “stress test”.
It took months to even start working towards repairing ties, a key help being Biden’s meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last July.