UAE in Empire-Building Mode, Sets up New Base in Somalia
After setting up a naval-air base in the Eritrean port of Assab in late 2016, the United Arab Emirate, joined by Egypt, is building its twin at a newly-acquired site in the Somali port of Berbera. The two Horn of Africa bases are 370km apart as the crow flies, or 900km by road. The distance from Berbera to the Yemeni coast of the Bab al-Mandeb Straits is just 90km. (see attached map.)
With the addition of the new UAE facility, the stretch of Red Sea between Eritrea and Somalia, at the northern tip of the Indian Ocean, will house one of the densest concentrations in the world of bases holding naval, air and special operations forces.
The UAE facility in Eritrea stands alongside Israeli early warning stations, whereas Djibouti is the site of American, French and Chinese naval and special operations forces. Now, Somalia is about to host a combined UAE-Egyptian sea and air force presence.
This heavy concentration of military power is aimed at four objectives, three of them connected to Iran:
1. As a barrier against Iranian naval expansion into the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.
2. To offset Iranian domination of the strategic Bab el-|Mandeb Strait, the key to the Red Sea’s southern gateway.
3. To bar grabs by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for bases in Yemen, Somalia or one of the islands commanding the route to eastern Africa, such as the Comoros Islands (see attached map).
4. The UAE and Egyptian naval chiefs found it necessary to augment the Assab base, because ships berthed there are exposed to missile attack – either from the sea, or from the Yemeni coast, or even from Iranian warships sailing in the Red Sea. But an even greater danger was revealed by intelligence reports of a Revolutionary Guards operation for teaching Yemeni Houthi rebels how to sow marine mines.
It is easy for them to plan mines at the entrance to Assab port, but they don’t possess the vessels or mine-sowing equipment to go as far as the northern Indian Ocean port of Berbera.
Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, whose title is even longer than his name – Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme UAE Commander – has taken another step for promoting his emirate’s empire-building ambitions: He is transforming its tiny army of 65,000 men into the strongest military force in the oil-producing Gulf region, by two methods. Massive arms purchase from Russia and hiring thousands of foreign mercenaries with the skills for operating the new advanced weaponry.
They were enlisted on three continents: North and South America – mostly in Colombia; Britain, Germany and France; and Muslims – mainly from Pakistan.
In recent months, the UAE crown prince concluded military contracts with Moscow worth $1.9bn, including a $700m deal with the Russian arms contractor Rosoboronexport.
That deal covers the supply of 5,000 anti-armor missiles with training and logistical support.
Abu Dhabi also awarded a contract worth $235 million to the Swedish SAAB AB for new airborne surveillance systems. The UAE firm Maximus Air has won a $490 m contract for air cargo planes.
For the emirate’s air force, an agreement was signed for the purchase of advanced Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters, which are Russia’s most sophisticated operational combat aircraft.
The Russian jets will top up the UAE’s already formidable fleet of US Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Block 60 Fighting Falcons.
Russia and the UAE have agreed to work together to develop a fifth-generation light combat aircraft, with advanced avionics, in the coming years – project revealed this week by Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Rostec, at the International Defense Exhibition Idex 2017.
Deeply concerned, Saudi rulers are looking askance at the UAE crown prince’s ambitious program. They would prefer to see Al-Nahyan focusing on winding up the war Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are fighting in Yemen, before he branches out into major armament and regional expansion programs.