The glitzy skyscrapers and 21st century comforts of Dubai feel very distant from the barren sand dunes of Marib in central Yemen, the latest strategic prize in a regional power struggle pitting the wealthy Gulf Arab states against Iran.

But Salem, who plies the featureless landscape in an SUV that pulsates with American hip hop music, has no regrets about joining thousands of other young soldiers from the United Arab Emirates in one of the poorest corners of the Arab world.

“Me, I don’t know very much about Yemen, but Sheikh Mohammed knows much more and we must do our duty,” said Salem, referring to the ruler of Dubai who is also the prime minister of the UAE. […]