New Israeli Early Warning Station in Eritrea Tracks Iran’s Movements
A big Israeli early warning station has just been commissioned in Eritrea on the east coast of Africa for scanning the maritime space between Somalia in the south up to the approaches to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez and Suez Canal in the north (see map), DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report.
Its range extends to the Red Sea coasts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The installation is linked directly to the Saudi Navy’s operations room in Jeddah and the Egyptian Navy’s Red Sea naval command centers at Safaqa and Hurghada.
It is perched atop Mt. Amba Sewira, 10,000 feet above sea level, outside the coastal town of Semafe, which lies 135 km south of the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
The steep, flat-topped mountain location was chosen for its inaccessibility and defensibility, like the remote surrounding villages, wells and farmland. Indeed, there is no approach road up to the station, and so a fleet of helicopters had to haul the building materials and electronic equipment onto the flat mountain top after an Israeli military engineering unit laid out landing pads.
The station’s main task is surveillance over aerial and naval activity, including submarines, in the Red Sea and the eastern Indian Ocean, with focus on the movements of Iranian aircraft and warships in the neighborhood. In a war emergency, the installation will provide early warning of the approach of Iranian missiles heading for Israel, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
Its other purpose is to keep close watch on the strategic Strait of Bab el Mandeb and its islands, one of which was occupied by Egyptian marines last year, as Cairo’s contribution to the Saudi-led campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The Israel station’s third task is to spot craft on furtive missions to smuggle Islamic State terrorists onto the coasts of Israel, Egypt, Sudan or Saudi Arabia for attacks on strategic targets or tourist resorts.
And a fourth task is to scope out the boats of arms smugglers or pirates.
The Israel teams manning the facility are relieved every few weeks.
It goes into service at a tense moment: Two of Israel’s close military allies, Ethiopia and Eritrea, are shaping up for major hostilities.
In a bloody border clash on June 16, Eritrean officials claimed that 200 Ethiopian troops were killed, raising fears of a reignited conflict between the two east African nations. Addis Ababa has not confirmed this figure; neither has Asmara revealed its own casualties in the clash.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been preparing to set out on a tour of East African capitals in July to assemble a new Israeli-African bloc with the participation of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan.
However if Eritrea and Ethiopia are plunged in full-scale war, Netanyahu may be caught uncomfortably between a commitment to extend military assistance to Addis, while the same time safeguarding ties with Asmara and keeping the early warning station running, as a key component of Israel’s defense system against Iran.