Has the Red Sea Become Strategic?
In trade with Europe, with the economic emergence of India and China, the Red Sea is increasingly inescapable. The Suez Canal has been expanded. There is talk of an Israeli rail link between the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat port) and the Mediterranean Sea (Ashdod port). There is also talk of a new Shari'a-free Saudi-owned new city, a stone's throw away from Eilat, called "Nyome" or "New York on the Middle East," followed by a new "Coast". azure "on the Arabian shores opposite the Egyptian Sinai.
In addition to these dream projects, we are witnessing the concrete installation of foreign military bases on the Horn of Africa. These bases are the manifestation of ambitions, and desire for influence and hegemony, in a complex and multipolar world. " This is where Europe meets Africa, and where Africa meets the Middle and Far East Explained Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG).
For a long time, however, a few Western bases in the Horn of Africa were aimed at fighting piracy and ensuring the stability of the sea route linking Asia and Europe to the Strait of Europe. Bab el Mandeb.
This is the case of the French base in Djibouti, whose strength has steadily declined since independence. But today Djibouti earns a lot of money by hosting the military units of seven countries - the United States (Camp Lemonnier), China (Obock), Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Spain and soon Saudi Arabia.
China has invested heavily in Ethiopia and the military base of Djibouti secures its investments. Moreover, Djibouti has become a privileged gateway, " a strategic point on the new Silk Road ". Japan has installed since 2011, a contingent of 180 soldiers occupying a site of 12 hectares, next to Camp Lemonnier, to counter the Chinese influence.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen across the Bab el Mandeb Strait. After arguing with Djibouti, Riyadh signed an agreement for the construction of a new base.
Camp Lemonnier's US base on a 200-hectare site is home to an expeditionary force of 3,200 soldiers and civilian personnel, near the international airport. The Camp, home to the United States Army Command Africa Joint Task Force for Africa in the Horn of Africa, is the only permanent US military base on the continent.
In 2015, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched the development of Assab's deep-water port and its 3,500 meter long runway, capable of handling large transport aircraft. Assab is the main logistics center of the UAE for all their operations in Yemen, including the sea blockade of the Mokha and Hodeida ports on the Red Sea. In return, the isolated Eritrean government has received financial and infrastructure support to taunt Ethiopia.
A second UAE base is expected to emerge in Somaliland after signing a 25-year concession agreement. The latter country, independent of Somalia, which is not recognized by the international community, sees the establishment of this military base in Berbera, a first step towards official recognition. Arab diplomats have dealt directly with Somaliland and not Somalia. For the UAE, it is to consolidate their position in this region through the installation of a naval base. At the end of these 25 years of concession, the base should return to the authority of Somaliland.
The UAE has pledged to develop infrastructure, including the port of Berbera. This agreement would suggest an alliance between Somaliland and the Emirates "against" Djibouti.
Turkey is also settling in the Horn of Africa. This country has signed an agreement with Somalia to set up a military base with a capacity of 1500 soldiers in Mogadishu. The stated objective is " to create a more seasoned Somali army to fight members of the Islamist group Shebab and other militias operating in the region. "
In addition, we are talking about the presence of Egyptian troops in the region, not in a databasebut simply the possibility for Egypt to use existing Emirates-owned bases. The Egyptian presence would mark a new tension between Ethiopia and Egypt, whose relations - historical and recent, linked to the creation of an Ethiopian dam on the Blue Nile - are already strained.
US commandos operate in Somalia from Kismayo and Baledogle.
Diplomatic tension persists between Sudan and Egypt. One of the reasons for this new tension is the recent rapprochement between Khartoum and Ankara. Sudan, which lost more than half of its oil revenues with the independence of South Sudan, conceded the management of Suakin Island to Turkey against promises of investment, reconstruction and military cooperation. Turkey will install on this island a military base.
Granted to Turkey for 99 years, the island of Suakin, located in the northeast of the country, is only 70 km², but its port is one of the oldest in Africa. Its position in the Red Sea is strategic because this seaway is the second largest in the world.
To help the Sudanese economy, Ankara has bought all cotton production in 2016/7 and intends to increase bilateral trade. An executive committee has recently been formed for the implementation of numerous agricultural and military agreements.
In addition to the tension caused by the island of Suakin, which adds to a border dispute, which has been an issue since 1958, Cairo does not look favorably on Sudanese rapprochement with Turkey. Ankara, which has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, continues to criticize the politics of Cairo, which does the same.
Moreover, the new Turkish presence in the Red Sea is also a problem in the Saudi kingdom. Suakin is on the western border of Arabia. Turkey also has a large military base in Qatar, which accentuates disputes with the Riyadh, Cairo and Abu Dhabi axis. In addition, Erdogan announced that pilgrims from Turkey, going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, would first visit the island before traveling to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia by boat ...
This country has yielded to Arabia the island of Tiran south of the Gulf of Aqaba. This transfer against a strong financial aid, will allow Arabia to connect his country to Sinai by a bridge.
The island of Suakin is at the center of a large inland harbor that leads to the Red Sea, facing Jeddah. (see the top of the map on the left)