The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recently made an agreement with the Republic of Somaliland to utilize the port of Berbera as a military base. The UAE intends to use this base as a naval staging point in their fight against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Our readers may not be familiar with either Somaliland or the Houthis, and with the mainstream media’s obsession over the current president and his “failings” (real or imagined), that is completely understandable. Don’t worry, LibertyNation is here to break it down piece by piece.
Somaliland is a self-declared republic on the Gulf of Aden. After the 1991 overthrow of Siad Barre, military dictator of Somalia, Somaliland declared independence. The West African republic is still not internationally recognized, but they have a currency, government, and police force. In 2016, Somaliland made a $442m deal to upgrade the port of Berbera with a company based in Dubai. The port currently exports livestock to the Middle East, but it’s strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, and potential upgrades with the expansion agreement with the UAE, provide the potential for further economic growth and opportunities for Somaliland.
The Houthi movement, formally known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God), is an Iranian-backed (according to Saudi Arabia and the United States) militia. It began in the early 1990s as al-Shabab al Muminin (Believing Youth), a moderate theological revivalist movement founded by Hussein al-Houthi. Their goal was to protect and revive the traditions of Zaidi Islam, a sect that is almost exclusive to Yemen.
Yemen’s president Abdullah Saleh began a campaign against al-Shabab al Muminin – which had labeled him as a weak leader and a puppet of the United States – repressing them by military force. The tactics used by Saleh alienated many Yemenis in the northern regions, and Ansar Allah began to gain power and credibility by fighting for freedom against the oppression of Saleh’s autocracy.
Ansar Allah participated in the National Dialogue that developed from the Arab Spring in 2011, and they supported peaceful protests against Mr. Saleh. Soon, however, they grew impatient with the interim government run by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In 2014, Ansar Allah allied with Saleh, their former enemy, and launched a military campaign against the government. They assaulted the Yemeni capital in September of that year. Both political and military strife plague the country as Ansar Allah, who now controls the western regions of Yemen, continues to wage a civil war against President Hadi’s forces, who control the areas in the east.
The Current Situation
In 2015, Saudi Arabia began military interventions with a coalition of nine countries to aid the Hadi government and fight the Houthi rebels and their allies. The intervention began with an air campaign and now also includes a naval blockade as well as ground troops. Saudi Arabia’s coalition includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain.
In regards to the UAE’s new naval base, the naval operation against the Houthis is purported to stop weapon and supply shipments from Iran into Yemen. Iran, naturally, denies any connection with the Houthi rebels. Somaliland’s location is also strategically important; it is across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen and, although not internationally recognized, is not currently under UN sanctions like Eritrea (the location of another one of UAE’s military bases). In the long term, use of Somaliland’s port of Berbera allows for strategic protection of shipping routes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Is this Saudi-led coalition a sign of things to come? Will these nations begin to intervene in other insurgencies or move to combat terrorist groups like ISIS? With waning US influence and Middle Eastern countries establishing themselves strategically, the power structure of the region is changing. But is this the sort of change we want to see?
Human rights advocates have reported war crimes on the part of the Saudi coalition. Complaints include the targeting of wounded and medical personnel, targeting facilities operated by aid organizations, the use of cluster munitions, and the use of white phosphorus. Between the Yemeni Civil War and the Saudi-led intervention, over 10,000 people have been killed, and over 40,000 have been wounded to date.
The United States currently provides logistical and intelligence-gathering support, but in the wake of these human rights issues will the current administration continue this support?