The Iran File is an analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.
Iran File: Iran’s evolving threat calculus in the Gulf
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]
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Iran is likely coordinating proxy and partner attacks against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deter growing Emirati cooperation with Israel. The Houthi movement conducted drone and missile attacks on Abu Dhabi, UAE, for the first time since 2018 on January 17, 24, and 31, 2022. One attack targeted the Al Dhafra air base, which houses approximately 2,000 US service members. An Iranian proxy in Iraq also conducted a drone attack on the UAE for the first time on February 2. Iran may coordinate future attacks on the UAE and possibly Bahrain for cooperating with Israel, endangering US personnel in these countries.
Iran is responding to the increase in diplomatic and defense cooperation between Israel and several Gulf states, which began in December 2021. Bahrain, Israel, and the UAE participated in the US-led International Maritime Exercise in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, and Red Sea from January 31 until February 17. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett *became the first Israeli leader to visit the UAE, on December 13, and Bahrain, on February 14. Israel offered defense and intelligence assistance to the UAE on January 18 and signed a historic defense agreement with Bahrain on February 3.
Iranian media and officials have expressed concern about strengthened Israeli-Gulf ties and are warning the UAE and Bahrain against further cooperation with Israel. Iranian media began *circulating reports of an Israel-led and US-backed anti-Iran coalition in the Gulf after Israel and Bahrain signed a defense agreement on February 3. Iranian media also *alleged that Israel is building an underground military base in the UAE and *called the UAE an “Israeli colony.” Iranian officials reportedly warned Bahrain against permitting an Israeli naval presence in the Gulf, and have since *publicly *warned Bahrain against expanding ties with Israel. Iranian officials have historically *called an Israeli military presence in the Gulf a “red line” and *restated this position in recent weeks.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) may coordinate further attacks on Gulf states cooperating with Israel and could target US interests in these states in a less likely but most dangerous scenario. Iran may facilitate more attacks on bases hosting US service members, as it did in Al Dhafra, or target US personnel in the UAE and Bahrain. Iran may coordinate more proxy and partner attacks on the UAE and could target Bahrain to deter Abu Dhabi and Manama from further cooperation with Israel. Iran could attack Bahrain by facilitating proxy attacks, facilitating or conducting cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure, or providing increased financial or military support to Bahraini dissident groups.