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MOGADISHU (HAN) March 31. 2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. Salem Solomon. Saudi Arabia appears intent on reaching across the Red Sea to build alliances in the Horn of Africa, where piracy, drug and weapons smuggling, and terrorism threaten commerce in the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

This was evident during the Saudis’ intervention in Yemen. Over the past year, they built a coalition of African partners to help dislodge Houthi rebels who were in control of most of the country, including the capital, Sana’a.

Eritrea played a key role, although it was not technically part of the Saudis’ 12-nation coalition. Eritrea allowed the United Arab Emirates to use an airbase and logistics hub in the port town of Assab. The two countries also shared intelligence.

“Peace and stability in the Horn of Africa is very important for us,” Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, a military adviser for the Saudi minister of defense, told VOA in a recent interview. “This is why we coordinate with Eritrea, with Djibouti, with Ethiopia, with Somalia, with the legitimate governments of Yemen and Sudan, to make sure that this area is controlled and secured to avoid … trans-border crimes.”

Countering Iran

Analysts say the Saudis’ interest in the Horn of Africa is an extension of their intense competition with Iran for influence in the Middle East.

FILE - A Shiite Houthi rebel holds his weapon as he attends a rally to protest Saudi-led airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Aug. 24, 2015.

FILE – A Shiite Houthi rebel holds his weapon as he attends a rally to protest Saudi-led airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Aug. 24, 2015.

Phillip Smyth, a research associate at the University of Maryland and an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the Saudi diplomatic surge in Africa is specifically aimed at countering Iranian influence.

“The Saudis are now aggressively reaching out to any state [in the Horn of Africa and beyond] that may have actually had any contact with the Iranians or have dealt with the Iranians,” Smyth said, “in order to bring them under their wing and demonstrate that [Saudi Arabia] can actually function as a regional hegemon [significant regional power].”

Smyth noted the Saudi outreach includes Sudan, a historical ally of Iran, which recently received approximately $5 billion in military aid from Saudi Arabia and was part of the Saudi coalition in Yemen.

The Saudi arms deal with Sudan really is an accomplishment, Smyth said, “in terms of countering [Iranian influence] in the African Horn region.”

There also are reports that Saudi Arabia has promised $50 million to Somalia if Somalia severs diplomatic ties with Iran.

Same side as U.S.

Observers find these new alignments interesting because, from a broader perspective, they put countries like Eritrea and Sudan on the same side as the United States, which supports both the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and the coalition against Islamic State (IS). These may be some of the few things Eritrea, Sudan and the U.S. agree on in terms of international policy.

FILE - A Shiite fighter known as a Houthi stands guard in front of buildings destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sana'a, Sept. 5, 2015.

FILE – A Shiite fighter known as a Houthi stands guard in front of buildings destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sana’a, Sept. 5, 2015.

In fighting IS, “the main jihadist enemy,” Ambassador Herman Cohen, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, says the United States is “relying … on Arab nations, especially the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan.”

“And here we have Eritrea aligning itself with the same coalition,” Cohen told VOA. “So, therefore, the United States and Eritrea are on the same side.”

Cohen, who has long advocated improved U.S.-Eritrean relations, believes Asmara and Washington can develop closer ties if current trends continue.

“Eritrea and the United States should be working together and not be angry at each other and not having normal relations,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for either side.”

In an interview on Eritrean national television in January, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki seemed to hint at a willingness for increased regional engagement.

“Without taking limit, scope and size into consideration, collaboration of the regional countries is key,” he said, referring to Eritrea’s involvement in the Yemen coalition. “We can say that the announcement of this Saudi-led anti-terrorism effort is a small part of a bigger plan.”

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6 COMMENTS

  1. A criminal tyrant and murderer ISAYAS AFEWORKI is shopping around to sell our boys and girls to the tyrannical monarchs of Saudi Arabia to do their dirty job in Yemen. A delusional drug addict narcissist ISAYAS AFEWORKI sacrificed our boys and girls to defend another drug addict monster in LIBYA and here you go again in the name of regional stability, he is trading our precious Eritrean girls and boys to be bullet fodders for the dictatorial regime of Saudi. Through his mouth pieces and lobbyists in Washington, they are exhausting every means to be removed from the terrorist list and to lift the sanction imposed on the criminal cold blooded murderer regime of ISAYAS AFEWORKI.
    It is funny like the criminal regime in our Eritrea the delusional idiots of CASTRO brothers of CUBA after years of misguided and failed policies and ideology (ANIMAL FARM), all of a sudden it was celebration and joy in CUBA during the visit of OBAMA and it makes you wonder were they celebrating because they will have their empty store shelves will be filled with LEFT OVER from the US ? or is it because finally they will have three meals like the rest of the world?
    Communism is an ideology for delusionals and idiots and ISAYAS AFEWORKI is a confused corrupted blood thirsty communist.
    Awetn selamn nhzbi Eritrea.

    • Alem bring some evidence to support your hat rage to words Iseyas and Eritrea,you just throw words as mad,it does not help or bring any change.Some times you try to admire Obama who supported Daesh,the criminal gangs and supported the ugly lie sanction on Eritrea.You are very proud of Eritrean sanction on criminal lie by Obama and CIA and the simple parasite WEYANI.And you try to Insult fidel Castro who stand for his country for 60 years against the danger terror policy imperial CIA.Today Obama kiss his hand not Fidel Castro,but because you bother more about your belly than your identity.This is the simplest job of mercenaries,have you seen them the Eritrea gangs who are working under centro ethnic weyani,such DESALE all those in meskerem with their ugly face,started to insult our martyrs and our heroes men and women.Those are the continuation of MEHARENA and DONBAY who killed Eritreans in every corner of the country sided with criminal Ethiopian leaders. Alem and other smerwa gangs now are exposed out on the surface,you hided your agenda for long time,now the people of Eritrea are able to see on their own eye,to insult their heroes by those scavengers,but I always thanked to GOD that Iam from resilient people of Eritrea,they will pick you out from your hiding place and your fate will be MAHARENA COATIT.Your danger ideology unity/andnet/ with centro ethnic weyani is expired.Esyas can make mistake as human,but your hiden agenda is not about president Iseyas,your ugly agenda is how Eritrea will turn another Iraq and all the scavengers will run Eritrea with help of TPLF/dreamers/.Eritrean people is very aware about you ugly opposition who are oppose 200million to your own family,who supported ugly and lie sanction against their own family.Tewelde Gebreslase wrote to NATO to bomb Eritrea in 2011 did you read alem?what did you fell bombing Eritrea by Nato,very sad,those are terrorists and Weyani Dogs who have no mercy on their people.You idiot regionalists fnatics terrorists will not get Eritrea,better to die than to see you sloughed us in day light. Our ANdnet—Kumands…Wodegeba…Esepa..now you the worst traitors in our history,we are ready bury you at any cost.Serkti..yiakil hji
      wetru awet nihafash,netom bandera abrsi UN ztekelu jeganu sematatin zelowun dma wetru ablibna eyom

  2. Alem bring some evidence to support your hat rage to words Iseyas and Eritrea,you just throw words as mad,it does not help or bring any change.Some times you try to admire Obama who supported Daesh,the criminal gangs and supported the ugly lie sanction on Eritrea.You are very proud of Eritrean sanction on criminal lie by Obama and CIA and the simple parasite WEYANI.And you try to Insult fidel Castro who stand for his country for 60 years against the danger terror policy imperial CIA.Today Obama kiss his hand not Fidel Castro,but because you bother more about your belly than your identity.This is the simplest job of mercenaries,have you seen them the Eritrea gangs who are working under centro ethnic weyani,such DESALE all those in meskerem with their ugly face,started to insult our martyrs and our heroes men and women.Those are the continuation of MEHARENA and DONBAY who killed Eritreans in every corner of the country sided with criminal Ethiopian leaders. Alem and other smerwa gangs now are exposed out on the surface,you hided your agenda for long time,now the people of Eritrea are able to see on their own eye,to insult their heroes by those scavengers,but I always thanked to GOD that Iam from resilient people of Eritrea,they will pick you out from your hiding place and your fate will be MAHARENA COATIT.Your danger ideology unity/andnet/ with centro ethnic weyani is expired.Esyas can make mistake as human,but your hiden agenda is not about president Iseyas,your ugly agenda is how Eritrea will turn another Iraq and all the scavengers will run Eritrea with help of TPLF/dreamers/.Eritrean people is very aware about you ugly opposition who are oppose 200million to your own family,who supported ugly and lie sanction against their own family.Tewelde Gebreslase wrote to NATO to bomb Eritrea in 2011 did you read alem?what did you fell bombing Eritrea by Nato,very sad,those are terrorists and Weyani Dogs who have no mercy on their people.You idiot regionalists fnatics terrorists will not get Eritrea,better to die than to see you sloughed us in day light. Our ANdnet—Kumands…Wodegeba…Esepa..now you the worst traitors in our history,we are ready bury you at any cost.Serkti..yiakil hji
    wetru awet nihafash,netom bandera abrsi UN ztekelu jeganu sematatin zelowun dma wetru ablibna eyom

  3. Elias, what does the tyrant mad dog Isayas pay you that you defend him so much thanks to
    those retarded Eritrean like yourself our people are suffering. The mad dog tyrant will not
    hesitate to sell Eritrean life in the process destroying Eritrean at the end of the day that is his goal.
    Because the mad dog does not have Eritrean blood. It is sad some fucked up people like yourself
    exist in Eritrea.

  4. Are you one of the registered mercenaries to work dirty job on behalf CIA Daniel or you are stooge of Centro Ethnic Weyani.You dirty gang who have no mercy on your people and try to cover your ugly act using president Iseyas.We have scavengers like you idiot who wishes Eritrea to turn another Libya.You will eat mad stupit wedogoba traitor.Go addis and beg for weyani to help you you disgusted liers and human traffickers.President Iseyas is good or bad is not your bussiness you idiot traitor,it the bussines of Eritrea resilient people,carry on to insult our martyrs you hopless case,your name is change for democracy,,fucked democracy..thives idiot.

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