UAE’s strategy behind Berbera, Assab bases
London - The United Arab Emirates has moved to counter Iranian expansion attempts in the Horn of Africa at a time it and the Saudi-led coalition fighting Tehran-allied Houthi rebels and forces of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh are making significant gains in Yemen.
Abu Dhabi seeks to establish two large military bases, the first in the Eritrean port of Assab and another in the port town of Berbera, Somaliland, in an effort to control the strategic Bab el Mandeb strait, between Yemen on the Arabian peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa.
The Somaliland parliament’s approval of the base came after Abu Dhabi submitted a formal request in January, with 144 legislators voting in favour of the initiative.
The deal was championed by Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, who said during a parliamentary session ahead of the vote that the agreement would create jobs and other benefits for the country.
The deal would allow the UAE to use the Berbera base for 25 years, said a legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The UAE is working on a long-term strategy to contain the Islamic Republic’s influence and expansion plans in the Arabian peninsula and in Africa by increasing military and economic investment in the region.
A Somaliland official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the UAE plans to build a naval base in Berbera, which would serve as a port for its naval forces to launch operations against the Houthi and Saleh forces in Yemen. An airbase is also a part of the Emirates’ plans, which would give it a strategic presence in the region.
Somaliland, a former British colony that unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991, signed a $442 million deal with Dubai-based DP World, a global ports operator. DP World said it would take approximately two years to complete. It would be run by the firm for 30 years with the option of extending for another ten years.
The UAE has been pursuing better military and economic ties with Somaliland since 2012, a year after the outbreak of the “Arab spring” protests, and has seen relations between the countries grow closer with the start of Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015 to contain Iranian influence in Yemen.
Sources familiar with the matter said the signing of the agreement occurred last September during a visit by a high-level delegation from Somaliland to the UAE.
An official source in Somaliland said the agreement to establish an Emirati military base included the UAE agreeing to provide training and support to Somaliland security forces. This would represent much-needed security cover for Somaliland authorities as Somaliland’s borders are not recognised by neighbouring Somalia and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab terrorist group is known to operate in the border area between the two countries.
The acquisition, along with its military infrastructure in Eritrea, gives the UAE a potentially strong military foothold in Africa.