In the past year, Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi, President of the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, travelled around Middle East capitals, holding long conversations with Saudi king Abdullah in Riyadh and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. To both, he offered a naval base on the islands in return for financial aid. Neither took him seriously.
The world was not particularly interested when Sambi, 48, won the Comoros presidency in 2006 by 58 percent of the vote. Although he is a Sunni Muslim, like most of the electorate, he is known as the Ayatollah. This is because he studied Islamic political theory in Iran after stints in Saudi Arabia and Sudan and his preference for wearing a turban.
In Iran, he studied under Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi who holds to the belief that a great war will hasten the return of the 12th Shia Imam, the Mahdi.
The Comoran president denies his opponents' charge of being Islamist: “I am not ashamed to be a Muslim but our country is not ready to be an Islamic state and I will not make anyone wear the veil,” he declares.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that Sambi explained to Saudi and Egyptian rulers that unless his indigent island-republic receives financial assistance, it will succumb to separatist violence and fall into the hands of radical elements seeking a jumping-off point for penetrating the Horn of Africa to the west and the Arabian Peninsula, to the east.
Comoros president offended by Arab rulers
President Sambi was deeply offended by the brush-off he received in Riyadh and Cairo. His hosts were unmoved even after he threatened to turn to Tehran for aid.
In early 2009, the Comoran president approached Israel through African intelligence channels: He offered air and naval bases to support an attack on Iran in return for Israeli investments for developing the island economy. In his view, the Israeli Air Force could use these bases to reach Iran directly across the Arabian Sea without the problem of having to pass through US-controlled or Arab air space.
At the time, the offer was scarcely heeded by the Israeli government. Then in transition, its preoccupations did not extend to setting up a military base on a remote island.
So Sambi made good on his threat and approached the office of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, through Iranian intelligence agents working in Somalia. His offer of air and naval bases in return for development assistance for the island-republic was quickly taken up.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report that Ahmadinejad did not need to be told twice about the strategic value of an Iranian foothold on the Comoros. He immediately referred the plan with his recommendation to the office of Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
After consultations with the military brass, Iran's leaders began wracking their brains on how to draw the necessary funds from their crisis-ridden economy.
Ahmadinejad jumps on the unwanted prize
Ahmadinejad insisted that the offer was too good to pass up and he bombarded Khamenei's staff with promises to trim other budget clauses to find the money.
In the last week of April, Khamenei gave Ahmadinejad the green light: Tehran would earmark funds for developing the Comoran economy, in return for an Iranian naval base in the capital of Moroni.
By the first week of May, the deal was in the bag. Tehran sent a luxury executive jet to fly president Sambi over in order to wind up the details of a new military-economic pact.
The Comoran president was informed that after it was signed and sealed, Iran would make him a gift of the jet with its Iranian flight crew for his personal use.
The presidential craft is now parked at Moroni and four Iranian warships are ensconced at their new base nearby. This is just the beginning of Iran's military venture on the Indian Ocean shore of Africa.
The US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, having missed the boat, are now up against a fresh Iranian strategic menace to their shipping routes and their interests on the African continent.