You are currently viewing The Strait Containing Threats in Bab al-Mandeb

The Strait Containing Threats in Bab al-Mandeb

Currently Bab al-Mandab is witnessing an unprecedented escalation of threats endangering the global trade movement passing through the strait. The technological advancement associated with naval mines emerges as an effective tool in flaring up this threat.

While maritime threats in this region have been common throughout the last three decades in the Red Sea, yet the threat actors have changed significantly. The threats emanating from piracy and al-Shabab movement receded, while the Houthis’ threats to the strait have been on the rise.

Nature of Threats

  1. Military threats: Military threats in Bab al-Mandeb have spiked since October 2017, as the Houthi militias started launching missiles and planting naval mines, as well as attacking Gulf vessels using drones. This threatened one of the vessels operated by UAE, Swift, which operated as a landing pad for troops and logistics center. In the ensuing weeks, the US Navy intercepted three similar assaults. In addition, it launched Tomahawk missile strikes to destroy the coastal radar sites responsible for gathering information needed by Houthis to carry out such attacks.[i]

Furthermore, a Saudi frigate was targeted off the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah at the end of January 2018 by a remotely controlled drone similar to those used by Iranian smugglers in the Strait of Hormuz. The US military ships, which cross the Strait of Hormuz, are frequently harassed by small boats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, using an unmanned, remotely-controlled boat.

Given these risks, the US government has advised that Bab al-Mandeb Strait should be crossed during daylight hours only, amid growing threats to vessels.

  1. Economic threats: According to the Annual Energy Report issued by Columbia University, the closure of Bab al-Mandeb as a waterway, even temporarily, can lead to significant increases in total energy costs and global energy prices. [ii] The closure of the strait hinder the passage of the Arabian Gulf oil through either the Suez Canal, or the Sumed pipeline, thereby increasing the transit time and cost. In addition, European and Southern African oil flows will no longer be able to reach Asian markets through the Suez Canal and Bab al-Mandeb. Based on economic forecasts, the cost of shipping will increase by USD 45 million per day, plus the higher freight costs due to the longer route taken by the tankers by about 6000 nautical miles.

For Egypt, Bab al-Mandeb strait has an additional significance as the country maintains its electricity supply through relying on the imported liquefied natural gas passing through the strait. Egypt receives one tanker of LNG weekly passing through Bab al-Mandab, thus Egypt is concerned about any attempts to obstruct the passage to protect its LNG imports. [iii]

Threat Actors

  1. The Iranian role: Iran has worked on expanding its presence in the Horn of Africa after 2006 Lebanon war, in anticipation of regional and international reactions to the outcome of that war. As a result, Tehran worked on charting a new map for its naval influence, expanding beyond its limited presence in the Arabian Gulf and coastal waters of the Indian Ocean. Elements of the naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when they dispatched the first warship to carry out anti-piracy patrols in response to Somali pirates seizing Iranian cargo ship. [iv]

The Iranian strategy in the Red Sea formulated in 2009 after holding the Iranian-Djiboutian summit, which was culminated with signing a memorandum of understanding for mutual cooperation. This cooperation allowed Iran to create military training centers that aimed to create what was known as the African Revolutionary Guards. In addition, the Central Bank of Iran granted loans to the Central Bank of Djibouti and the two countries agreed to establish a joint committee contributing to the development of Djibouti. [v]

Another factor that contributed to the expansion of the Iranian role in the Red Sea was the growing relations with the Houthis in Yemen. The Iranian support to Houthis has played a major role in turning them into an armed militia, threatening the Yemeni national security, as well as the national security of the GCC. This has led the Arab Coalition to take actions to thwart the growing Iranian role in Yemen.

  1. Somali’s al-Shabaab movement: After a period of relative calm, al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement made a strong comeback in Somalia with the attacks that took place in October and November 2017. Attacks launched by the movement are the deadliest since 2007 in terms of the magnitude of destruction and losses, which carry strong messages for the movement’s foes at home and abroad. These terrorist attacks indicate a desire to prevent the administration of the Somali President Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo from completing its term.

Al-Shabaab is seeking as well to force the states participating in African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to withdraw their forces, which has already been done by Sierra Leone while Kenya and Uganda still resist. The attempts of al-Shabaab to undermine the nascent efforts to establish state institutions in Somalia pose a major threat to all Gulf States, as the chances of terrorist attacks in the region are on the rise.

“The U.N. Security Council’s sanctions monitoring team, which tracks compliance with U.N. sanctions on Somalia and Eritrea, found in 2013 that most Iranian weapons deliveries are coming into northern Somalia – that is, the autonomous Puntland and Somaliland regions – after which they are moved farther south into Shabaab strongholds.”[vi]  Thus, the Iranians continue to expand their disruptive influence in the region by arming violent extremist organizations.

Containing Threats

Given the increasing Iranian military role in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has sought to widen the military confrontation to Djibouti, with the aim of setting up a military base on its territory facing Yemen, on the other side of Bab al-Mandeb strait, to thwart any naval threats against its military operations in Yemen. Djibouti’s Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Ali Yusuf confirmed these endeavours, saying that his government agreed in principle to establish a Saudi base in Djibouti. A draft security, military and strategic agreement between them has already been drafted and will be signed soon he added.

UAE as well established a base in the Eritrean port of Assab, in order to support the current military operations in Yemen, as well as to step up their military presence in the region[vii] and guaranteeing the security of oil exports passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait. [viii]  The UAE has used this base to launch military operations, including airstrikes in southern Yemen, while the Emirati combat ships were involved in enforcing naval blockade of the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and Mokha. [ix]  This military operation, dubbed as Golden Victory, is intended to liberate the city from the Iran-backed Houthi militia. “The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in Bab Al Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood”, said Yemen’s government in a statement announced by Saba news agency. [x]

Other Regional countries like Egypt began to pay attention to the security of the horn of Africa. This was evident in the Egyptian announcement, in January 2017, of the Southern Fleet commander center at Safaga Naval base in the Red Sea governorate. This naval force included Mistral, which clearly reveals that in the Egyptian strategic calculation the security situation might necessitate such intervention.Furthermore the purpose of creating the Southern Fleet Command was  not only to ?facilitate the management of maritime traffic but to strengthen Egypt’s deterrent capacities in the ?face of the threats in the Red Sea region, especially in the vicinity of Bab Al-Mandeb given the ?deterioration in the state of security of Yemen. [xi]

Finally, it could be argued that in the face of the rising maritime threats in the southern entrance of Red sea, regional countries, especially Arab Gulf States, have managed to pacify with a high degree of success the current threats, whether in the face of Iran or Armed non-state actors.


Source : futureuae