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Saudi-led coalition in the Horn: A threat to Ethiopia’s security

By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, April 30, 2016

Saudi-led coalition in the Horn: A threat to Ethiopia’s security
NewArab, an online newspaper, recently reported that Saudi Arabia is planning to build a military base in Djibouti a stone’s throw away from Ethiopia.


On Saturday 23, 2016, an interesting and revealing piece appeared on the opinion section of the UK’s Times newspaper titled ’’ 9/11 Secrets could turn Saudi’s into pariahs.’’ Michael Burleigh an author of Blood and Rage: A cultural History of Terrorism was the writer of this article.

The piece revolves around the deteriorating US-Saudi rapport and the source of the tension according to the writer is Riyadh’s involvement in exporting Wahhabism, the extreme version of Sunni, as well as financing the constructions of massive mosques worldwide for hired radical clerics to spread the virulent brand of Islam. America is also aware of Saudi’s involvement with the terror outfit al-Qaeda prior and after the heinous crime committed in September 2011, says the author of the article.

Moreover, Mr Burleigh states that  the US senate is considering a bill that would compel the White House to release a 28 page report that links Saudi officials with the 9/11 hijackers. So far, only very few congressmen have been able to read the report under guard but they were not allowed to take notes.

Mr Burleigh further asserts that the strong affiliation that existed between the US and Saudi Arabia has greatly cooled but its resurging religious rival Iran seems to have succeeded in improving its relations with the US as well as Europe resulting in the lifting of punitive sanctions that were imposed on the Islamic Republic for being involved in uranium enrichment programme. As a result of the kingdom’s waning influence on the US, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has decided to go it alone and stamp his authority on his immediate region and beyond.

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been heavily involved in supporting Sunni Islamist rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The once bustling Arab nation has now been completely reduced to rubbles, and according to Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR), 470,000 people have been killed and 1.9 million wounded since the conflict begun in 2011. In all, 45% of the population have been displaced, 6.36 million internally and more than 4 million abroad. SCPR also reported that 13.8 million Syrians have lost their livelihood, and to-date, the country’s overall economic losses have been estimated at $255 billion. 

Saudi Arabia’s desire to reduce Shia Iran’s sway in the region by discarding Bashar al-Assad has failed to materialise. In actual fact, the Syrian dictator supported by Iran and Russia appears to be gaining ground resulting in the recent capture of the strong hold of the extremists, Palmyra. Undeterred by his failure in Syria after having spent billions of dollars, King Salman has now immersed himself in another conflict in Yemen to remove Iran-backed Houthi rebels. UN reports indicate that since Saudi-led bombings began in March 2015, 6000 Yemenis have been killed, 2.7 million have had to flee their homes and 14 million people are in desperate need of medical attention. Mr Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, launched a humanitarian response plan in February 2016 to raise $1.8 billion to cover basic needs such as food water and sanitation.

Saudi-led alliance has now gained the support of countries in the horn region and this will certainly allow the coalition to tighten the screw on Yemen and inflict more hardship on the people who are already in a very dire situation. Somalia has been paid $50 million to terminate its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) while Sudan received $2 billion for being part of Riyadh’s war in Yemen. Eritrea, a former ally of IRI, and Djibouti, which withdrew its ambassador from Tehran, have also been brought into the Saudi’s orbit of influence.

NewArab, an online newspaper, recently reported that Saudi Arabia is planning to build a military base in Djibouti a stone’s throw away from Ethiopia. Similarly, UAE, a member of the coalition of Arab countries, is constructing a naval base in Assab which could possibly be its first permanent station in a foreign land as reported by IHS Jane’s Defence weekly. Like the other minnow members of the Saudi-led coalition, Eritrea has also received millions of dollars and fuel for permitting its port as launching station for sortie missions as well as for being a participant in the blockade of Yemen intended to force the Houthi insurgents into submission. Reports released by the UN monitoring group on Eritrea and Somalia have also revealed that large numbers of Eritrean soldiers have been  embedded with UAE forces fighting on Yemeni soil.

Liker Syria, Yemen has been wrecked due to the relentless and indiscriminate bombings that has been taking place since early last year. Millions of innocent citizens have been gravely affected by the intractable strife and regional experts predict that the bloody war will not come to a halt in the immediate future. Constructions of naval bases in Eritrea and Djibouti clearly indicate that Saudi Arabia its followers intend to remain in the Horn region for an indeterminate period despite the kingdom’s budget deficit of $98b in 2015.

The Yemeni crisis has created an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to engage itself in spreading Wahhbism in the Red Sea area from very close proximity. Eritrea has already come under the hegemony of the Arabs and soon followers of the country’s Sunni Islam will have mosques in areas of their choice and money to hire radical clerics. Shia Eritreans must be sternly concerned by the presence of Saudi Arabia, the principal exporter of an extreme version of Sunni Islam, in their domain. No doubt, Christian highlanders, which are the majority, would also feel the same way and before long the pariah state may experience Middle-East type conflict between the various religious denominations and brands.

But before it gets to this stage, all Eritreans must unite and call for the annulment of the leasing of Assab to the Saudi-led alliance currently busy destroying Yemen after having succeeded in obliterating large parts of Syria. Instead of running to Ethiopia, the Eritrean youth should remain in their own country and facilitate the elimination of their psychopath leader who seems to be determined to take the country down with him. 

By and large, Ethiopia is surrounded by Muslim countries that have become part of the Saudi-led league and this is a very serious threat to its security and free movement of incoming and outgoing goods. It is imperative that the country has to be on its guard at all times in order to shield its steadiness and the socio-economic strides of the last couple of decades. Dealing with unemployment; maintaining and elevating the economic growth of the last 20 years; ensuring fair distribution of wealth; taking stern action against corruption and maladministration; nurturing the budding democracy; upholding human rights and the rule of law; winning the hearts and minds of Muslim youth; fostering religious harmony; having strong army and modern intelligence network will certainly deny the Arabs the opportunity to cause havoc in the second most populous nation in Africa that has become the third largest economy on the continent in such a short span of time.

Furthermore, Ethiopia should warn Djibouti that any military aggression that emanates from its soil or any measures that hamper its import and export goods will have sever and dire ramifications. In light of new developments in the Horn locality, Ethiopia must also re-assess its position on Eritrea pretty soon as the current strategy of no war , no peace was adapted well before it was  surrounded by potentially enemies.    

But the recent security failure in Gambella region resulting in numerous fatalities was disconcerting and extremely worrying. As a direct result of the preventative strategies and full co-operation of Ethio-Somalis, Al-Shebab has been prevented from committing heinous crimes in the AU capital. Kenya, on the other hand, has failed to counter the terror group resulting in the deaths of hundreds of innocent citizens. On a number of occasions, Ethiopia succeeded in foiling Al-Shebab from undertaking murderous acts against its populace. Why was it not possible to do the same thing in Gambella and avert the mass execution of harmless nationals with absolute impunity?

To learn from this unfortunate episode which has occurred on more than one occasion, an urgent public enquiry has to be instigated in order to determine the root-causes that led to the carnage and implement preventative measures immediately. If need be, a buffer zone has to be established inside South Sudan to protect the people, who used to be treated as second class citizens, from cross border attacks. It happened in Eritrea when its army was severely trounced and there is no plausible reason why it should not take place in this instance. In any case, lessons acquired from the inquest should also be applied in other susceptible regions of the country that may afford an opportunity for the enemies of Ethiopia to disturb the prevailing serenity and the march to be become the economic hub of Africa.


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