Houthis in Yemen
Houthis in Yemen Reuters

US officials have said that the US military launched interceptor missiles during an attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels that targeted the United Arab Emirates during a visit by President Isaac Herzog, The Associated Press reports.

Speaking from the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said the US military "responded to an inbound missile threat on the UAE.

“This involved the employment of Patriot interceptors to ... (support) efforts by the armed forces of the UAE,” Psaki said, according to AP. “I would say we are working quite closely with them.”

At the Pentagon, press secretary John Kirby said that “US Patriots were fired, but it was the Emirati surface-to-air missiles that actually engaged the targets.”

Before Sunday’s missile attack on the UAE, the Houthis attacked three oil tankers near Abu Dhabi. The January 17 attack killed three people and wounded six at an Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. fuel depot near Al-Dhafra.

The Houthis and their allies took over large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, in 2015. A Saudi-led military coalition then intervened in Yemen to try to restore the government.

It has long been believed that Iran is planning to use the Houthis to take over Yemen and seize the key strategic port of Aden, which controls the entrance to the Red Sea and ultimately to the Israeli resort city of Eilat.

Iran denies it is backing the Houthis and has also denied Saudi Arabian accusations that Tehran provided the Houthi rebels in Yemen with ballistic capabilities.