New Saudi-UAE Bases Defend Strategic Waters against Iranian Navy
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis had no sooner started his regional tour in Riyadh Tuesday, April 18, when he saw Iran heating up the race for control of the region’s strategic waters.
Tehran that day announced the dispatch of a flotilla of warships to the Gulf of Aden complete with intelligence and logistics vessels. They had set out from Bandar Abbas under orders from Navy Commander Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari and other top naval officers.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards site defined their mission as “ensuring the security of naval routes for Iranian merchant vessels and oil tankers,” as well as “confronting the enemies’ negative propaganda and Iranophobic projects.”
This step was clearly timed to coincide with Secretary Mattis’ arrival in Riyadh. It indicated, say DEBKA Weekly’s Gulf and intelligence sources, that Tehran was fully apprised of the strong focus his talks in the region would attach to the state of security in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb Straits and the Gulf of Aden.
However, far from the international limelight, our military sources reveal that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had embarked on an aggressive policy to defend those strategic waters: They are in the process of building or leasing five bases on the shores of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the southern approaches of the Indian Ocean, to shore up their military control of those seas.
One of the Defense Secretary’s most important goals is to assess whether their navies and air forces are up to performing this highly strategic task.
They informed him that on April 6, Somalia’s semiautonomous Puntland region had signed a deal with the Dubai-based P&O Ports – a ports developer and operator – for a three-year concession to develop and manage a multi-purpose port project at Bosaso seaport at a cost of $336 million.
In late March, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi secretly agreed on terms with the Sudanese ruler Omar Bashir for the use of naval facilities at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
These two transactions rounded off the five sea bases, some of them with air force facilities pegging 3,000km of coastline on the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Somali shore of the Indian Ocean. This strip of shore is delimited by Port Sudan at one end and Bosaso seaport, at the other.
In between the two, the Saudis and Emirates have gained the use of three additional bases: Assab in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Berbera in coastal northwestern Somalia.
Berbera has a deep seaport, which serves as the region’s main commercial harbor, and is positioned strategically on the oil route. (See attached map.)
The two Gulf nations have acted expeditiously to gain control of these vital waters to bolster their rear and acquire strategic depth for their embattled forces in Yemen. There, they are additionally fighting for a foothold in Al Hudaydah which faces the five bases from the eastern Red Sea shore to create an impediment to the Iranian navy muscling in on the Red Sea.
The UAE recently captured the port of Mukallah on the southern Gulf of Aden coast of Yemen. Emirati instructors are training Yemeni conscripts as coast guards in this anti-Iran base, the sixth in the region.