UAE's exit from maritime coalition hints at US-UAE discord

UAE's exit from maritime coalition hints at US-UAE discord
The UAE says it withdrew from the US-led Combined Maritime Forces two months ago, amid continued reports of tension between Abu Dhabi and Washington.
3 min read
31 May, 2023
The UAE said it would continue to work for "regional security and navigation safety" [Getty images]

The United Arab Emirates announced its withdrawal from a US-led Middle East maritime security coalition on Wednesday, citing a review of its security partnerships. However, some observers view this as another sign of strained US-UAE relations due to differences over Abu Dhabi's deepening connections with China and Russia.

The UAE was quick to deny there were any serious differences, rejecting in a statement posted by the official news agency "the mischaracterisation, in recent press reports, of US-UAE conversations regarding maritime security".

The Combined Maritime Forces is a 34-country operational force, with its headquarters at the main US naval base in Bahrain, working on security, counter-terrorism and counter-piracy in the Red Sea and Gulf areas.

These waters are home to some of the most strategic shipping routes in the world. Since 2019, there have been a series of attacks on tankers and other vessels at times of tension between the United States and Iran.

"As a result of our ongoing evaluation of effective security cooperation with all partners, two months ago, the UAE withdrew its participation in the Combined Maritime Forces," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement carried by Emirati news agency WAM.

The statement said the UAE was committed to dialogue and diplomatic engagement to advance regional security and stability, as well as ensuring navigation safety in its seas in accordance with international law.

Five weeks ago, Iran seized two tankers within a week in Gulf waters near the Strait of Hormuz. The second tanker, the Niovi, had been travelling from Dubai toward the UAE's Fujairah port.

The UAE statement said a report by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday which, citing US and Gulf sources, said the UAE was frustrated by the lack of US response to the recent tanker seizures, was a "mischaracterisation" of conversations between the two countries.

The UAE's relationship with the US has been tense recently as a result of the former's continued ties with Russia and its failure to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.

Last April, leaked US intelligence revealed that Russian agents had boasted that they had convinced the UAE "to work together against US and UK intelligence agencies".

The UAE has also emerged as a key trade hub for Russian gold amid stringent Western sanctions on its economy.

The UAE's relations with another US adversary, China, has also caused concerns in Washington.

A report by The Wall Street Journal revealed construction at a suspected "secret" Chinese military facility in the UAE was stopped at Washington's request in 2021.

Close allies of the US in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have been charting a foreign policy that often diverges from Washington's trajectory, with both countries engaging in rapprochement with Iran in recent months.