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From: Yacob Asghedom (
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 13:27:34 EDT

I was trying to find out how the 'Iran Troops in Assab' story developed. The best format of presentation and analysis I discovered was one done by a certain person who identified self as "b". I added and corrected some items (which are shown in rectangular brackets) to the original. The original piece can be seen at:
I am sharing this with anyone who is interested believing that there is much to learn from the whole phenomenon. I was not able to include the maps that appear in the original piece. The original presentation was published on December 12, 2008.
December 12, 2008

From Cooperation To World Threat - Iran And Eritrea Rumors

Two weeks ago an Eritrean opposition site published a rumor about cooperation between Iran and Eritrea to revamp an old refinery in Assab, Eritrea.
That rumor developed into a story on U.S. blogs, news sites and Israeli TV about imminent deployment of Iranian ballistic missiles, troops, submarines, helicopters and UAVs to the city of Assab to control the Red Sea.
                    Iranian ships and submarines have deployed an undisclosed
                    number of Iranian troops and weapons at the Eritrean port town
                    of Assab at the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea just below the
                    Strait of Hormuz. As such, the port town is in a unique position
                    its location allows it to control and monitor one of the world's
                     most strategic shipping routes.

Now right-wing sites like Blackfive are concerned:
                   This is exceptionally bad news as a quick look
                    at the map will show.
One might see this as bad news if it would be true. But the report is totally false.
Below I document how this story developed, grew and proliferated throughout the Internets within a quite short time-frame.
Some background:
Eritrea is a dirt poor country with some 5.5 million inhabitants at the Red Sea. It is [governed under the transitional constitution of 1993. A new constitution was adopted in 1997 but it has not been fully implemented. The executive branch is headed by the president, who is both head of state and head of government; the president is elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. There is a unicameral 150-seat National Assembly whose members are to be popularly elected, but legislative (and presidential) elections scheduled for 2001 were not held. Administratively, the country is divided into six regions]…and has border conflicts with Ethiopia and Djibouti. It has a somewhat strategic position at the Bab-el-Mandeb [Strait] which connects the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
The harbor city of Assab has some 100,000 inhabitants. In the early 1960s the Soviets built a small refinery there with a capacity (pdf) of 18,000 barrels per day. The refinery was shut down in 1997 for lack of spare parts and money.

Eritrea, a former Italian colony, had good relations with the U.S. until the Bush administration through Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer took sides with Ethiopia in a UN moderated border resolution and even supported Ethiopia in buying arms from North Korea. [Some people suspect but Eritrea categorically denies and invites them to check and see that] Israel uses a former Soviet navy base on the Eritrean Dahlak Archipelago to refuel its sub-marines that patrol in the Arabian sea.
In May [,2008]the Eritrean president visited Tehran and in the following months several Memoranda of Understanding were signed between the two countries on cultural and economic cooperation. Iran is now also mediating between Djibouti and Eritrea.
Now back to the scare story.
The very first source and the one and only all following reports have been build upon is the Eritrean opposition site of the Eritrean Democratic Party. On November 25[,2008] it published this (pdf):
                                           Top Secret Deal?
                    (source : from inside Eritrea)
        According to news received from Eritrea, Iran is to revamp the Russian built Assab refinery.
        Iran will refine its crude in Assab to cover the shortages it faces at home and of course Eritrea
        benefits from not having to import expensive refined products.
        But, the motive behind this deal is believed to be more political and strategic than economic.
        Iran, due to its conflict with the West and in particular with the US, is under embargo which
        may be further extended and tightened if it continues with its nuclear programs. Thus, Iran
        may be trying to find some renegade states to help her break the embargo and who could
        be a better partner for this than Eritrea’s President Isaias.
        Isaias’ personal blind hate of the US administration and everything it stands for is boundless
        and he will spare no effort to upset the Americans. Strategically Iran and Isaias, with the
        cooperation of some rebel Somali Islamist groups, are also colliding to control the Bab El
        Mandeb Straights in case of any escalation of conflict with the United States and Israel.
        According to our source some high ranking members of the Eritrean regime are saying that
        the President is playing with fire and that the consequences for Eritrea could be grave.
There is a lot of innuendo [i.e. to use words that indirectly describe a person or group in derogatory, or slanderous, or defamatory way] there but not one word about Iranian soldiers, ships or submarines. Iran refines some 2.1 million barrels of oil per day in its own country and is expanding that capacity to 3+ million bl/day. To revamp a small and old 18,000 bl/d refinery in Eritrea would do nothing to help Iran "to cover the shortages it faces at home". There is also no other public record of any cooperation between Iran and Eritrea with regards to the defunct refinery. Iran is usually very eager to publish such cooperation. All that's left is rumor and speculation.
Another Eritrean site, asena-online, picked up the selfi-democracy story on November 26. Its item is in a language I can not read (Tigrinya) but it is less than 80 words long and at the end links back to the selfi-democracy item. I therefore doubt that it adds any additional information. [The asena-online item was the following:
                    ሰራዊት ኢራን ‘ብሳብማሪን’ ወደብ ዓሰብ ይኣቱ፡
                    ነፈርቲ ኵናት ‘ኔቶ’ ኣብ ክሊ ማያት ቀይሕ-ባሕሪ ኤርትራ ይዝምብያ። 

Wednesday, 26 November 2008
                ሰራዊት ኢራን ብ ‘ሳብማሪን’ (ናይ ትሕቲ ባሕሪ መራኽብ) ንወደባዊት ከተማ
                ዓሰብ ከምዝኣተወ ምንጭታት ሓቢሮም። እቲ ሰራዊት ብጀካ እቲ ዝዓጠቖ
                ባለስቲክ ሚሳይል ናይ ሩሑቕ ተ[ም]ዘግዛጊ ሚሳይል ዓጢቑ ከም ዘሎን ብዝሑ
                ብርክት ዚበለ ከምዝኾነን ‘ውን ክፍለጥ ተኻኢሉ ኣሎ።
                ብኻልእ ሸነኽ ክልተ ሰብ ኣልቦ ነፈርቲ ኩናት ‘ኔቶ’ ብ 4 ሄሊኮፕተራት ተሰንየን
                ኣብ ክሊ ግዝኣት ማያት ቀይሕ-ባሕሪ ኤርትራ ትማሊ ኣብ ከባቢ ሰዓት 4፡00 ናይ
                ምሸት ንኣስታት ፍርቂ ሰዓት ከም ዚዘምበያ እቲ ሓበሬታ የረጋግጽ።
                                            ተመሳሳሊ ዜና ንምንባብ ኣብዚ ጠውቑ
Last Updated ( Thursday, 27 November 2008 )

Rough Translation:
        Iran’s Troops Enter the Assab Port ‘With Submarine’,
        ‘NATO’ War Planes Fly Over Eritrean Red Sea Waters.
         Iran’s troops entered the port town of Assab with ‘submarine’
         (under-sea vessels), sources reported. Besides the ballistic
         missiles they had, it is known that the troops were also armed
         with long-range projected missiles and numbered a lot.
         In another aspect, two ‘NATO’ unmanned air vehicles [UAVs,
         or very small planes without a person inside to pilot them],
         escorted by 4 helicopters, flew over the Eritrean territorial waters
         on the Red Sea yesterday around 4:00 p.m. for about half an hour,
         the report ascertains.
The researcher missed that asena-online was the culprit. It is the one that injected statements about Iranian troops, submarine, ballistic missiles, long-range projectiles, as well as NATO, UAVs, helicopters, and most of the military matters. Asena failed to identify its sources (foreign agencies or Eritrean informants or satellite imagery, etc.). The editor, who believes that “the Eritrean regime is illegitimate government”(check, on Featured Articles by Michael Abraha, April 09, 2009) could not have been an eyewitness because he lives abroad. Until it is verified this piece cannot be taken as credible or reliable news information. ]

On November 29 the Sudan Tribune takes the original report and adds some rather fantastic points:
November 29, 2008 (ADDIS ABABA) —
            An Eritrean opposition website,, said that Iran’s submarines have
            deployed an undisclosed number of armed Iranian troops and weapons in the Eritrean
            port town of Assab.
            The unconfirmed report claims that Iran recently sent soldiers and also a number of long-
            range missiles after Iran signed an accord with Eritrea to revamp the Russian-built Assab
            Oil refinery.
            The Eritrean opposition website now reports that Iran will refine its crude oil in Assab to
            cover shortages it faces at home, which will benefit Eritrea by not having to import
            expensive refined products.
            But the report argued, “The motivation behind this deal is believed to be more political
            and more strategic than economic.”

The last cited sentence and some others in the full piece are word by word from the selfi-democracy report quoted above. It is the only source given in that article. But the original selfi-democracy report does not include a word about anything military like submarines. The Sudan Tribune writer simply invented those "Iranian submarines" but attributed them to selfi-democracy.

The last sentence of the Sudan Tribune piece adds something unrelated:
            Meanwhile, four NATO unmanned surveillance planes were reported to have flown for
            about half an hour earlier this week in Eritrea’s Red Sea region.

The Sudan Tribune piece was composed by one Tesfa-alem Tekle. Tesfa-alem is an Ethiopian journalist based in Mekelle, northern Ethiopia. He holds a degree in English from Addis Ababa University and an advanced diploma in Journalism. He has worked as public relation officer for various international organizations in Ethiopia. He has been writing for both local and international media since 2001. He is the currently the Reuters correspondent for northern Ethiopia
An Ethiopian, arch enemies of Eritreans, picked an Eritrean opposition report about a refinery repair in Assab, added lots of Iranian weapon nonsense and published that in the Sudan Tribune.
The same day another Eritrean opposition site, Eritrea Daily, mixes the above three versions and some fantasy into its own report:

                29 November 2008-- An Eritrean website in Tigrigna,, reported on
                Wednesday that Iran has stationed its troops in Eritrea.
                Citing sources from inside Eritrea, same website said that using submarine ships
                heavily armed units of the Iranian army have landed in the Eritrean sea port of Assab.
                The Iranian troops are slated to be stationed in the city of Assab reportedly under the
                pretext of protecting the Russian-built Eritrean Assab Oil Refinary. Earlier, on Tuesday,
                yet another Eritrean website,, had, quoting also sources from
                inside Eritrea, reported that Eritrea tyrant Afewerki had granted Iran complete and
                exclusive control over the Eritrean Oil Refinary with the mandate to revamp, manage,
                and exercise complete authority over production and maintenance of the facility.
                Asena-online further reported that the Iranian troops were loaded with a good number
                of ballistic and long-range missiles.
                Moreover, this same website also submitted that according to reports coming from
                inside Eritrea, Iran flew surveillance missions over the skies of the Eritrea part of the
                Red Sea using 2 UAV(NATO) accompanied by 4 helicopters for 30 minutes around
                4 pm on Tuesday.

This is [seemed to be] the first piece that mentions missiles. The last sentence seems to be a garbled and extended version of the last sentence in the Sudan Tribune piece while adding Iranian UAVs from thin air. It is also very doubtful that Iranian submarines would be able to operate at that distance from their home and be able to carry land troops.
The McClatchy Tribune Information Service distributed the Sudan Tribune report via Comtex.
The Israeli 'selective translation' propaganda service MEMRI picked up on December 1:
                Eritrean Opposition: Eritrea Granting Iran Control Of Strategic Red Sea Port
                Eritrean opposition websites reported that Eritrea has granted Iran total control
                of the Red Sea port of Assab, which overlooks the Bab Al-Mandeb straits.
                According to the report, Iranian submarines deployed troops, weapons, and long
                range missiles in the port of Assab, under the pretext of defending the local oil refinery.
MEMRI names selfi-democracy, the Sudan Tribune and Eritrea Daily as its sources.
On December 3 the Corner at the National Review has 'Top News' that points to some Persian site's report:

            Eritrean opposition claims Eritrea has provided the Assab base on the Red Sea to
            Iranian submarines

On December 8[,2008] a right-wing Zionist (James Woolsey, Abraham H. Foxman, ..) site, The Cutting Edge News, carries a longer piece mixing various parts of the above:
            Iranian ships and submarines have deployed an undisclosed number of Iranian troops
            and weapons at the Eritrean port town of Assab, according to opposition groups,
            foreign diplomats, and NGOs in the area.
            Using protection of the Eritrean refinery as a pretext, Iran has set up its military
            operation there, and has been patrolling with unmanned surveillance drones.
            President Isayas has granted Iran complete and exclusive control over the Eritrean
            Oil Refinary with the mandate to revamp, manage, and exercise complete authority
            over production and maintenance of the facility. Iran will refine its crude oil in Assab
            to cover shortages it faces at home, which will benefit Eritrea by not having to import
            expensive refined products.
            The Eritrean Democratic Party, an opposition party, pointed to trepidation within
            the Eritrean regime, indicating that some high-ranking members are saying that
            the president is playing with fire with Iran and that the consequences for Eritrea
            could be grave.
The piece is written by one Joseph Grieboski who is the Cutting Edge Foreign Editor, President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, which he founded himself and which was "twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize" (by whom?), and Secretary General, Inter-parliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. In 2007 that conference got a $250,000 earmark through the State Department. One recent conference was in Grieboski's hometown Scranton:

            Scranton will enter into a sister-city relationship between Scranton and Mekele,
            Ethiopia, a city of 169,000. Doherty said he first met officials from Ethiopia during
            the institute’s diplomatic dinner at the Scranton Cultural Center in July.

Grieboski also lobbied Congress against the 2007 "Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act". He is obviously pro-Ethiopia and anti-Eritrea.
During the last few days a lot of blogs and news sites reproduced and discussed the Cutting Edge report.
An Israeli TV station's report on December 9 also seems to be based on the Cutting Edge piece:
            According to local reports Iranian troops and a large number of long range ballistic
            missiles have also been deployed at a military base at the port and Iranian unmanned
            drones [or UAVs] daily patrol the area.
Closing the circle a day later, the Eritrea Daily, one of the original rumor spreaders and the one which added the Iranian UAVs, repeats the Israeli TV report.
Starting from a rumor over some Iranian-Eritrean cooperation on an old refinery, several interested sites add military aspects, submarines, missiles and UAVs, to build a world-threatening scenario. MEMRI, NRO, an Ethiopian lobbyist and Israeli TV spread the rumors. Bloggers take it from there.
This is a bit like the game of telephone or Chinese Whisper played out on the Internets. But here everyone adds a bit of disinformation until a cooperation rumor builds into threat to the world within just 12 days.
Next: The UN Security Council plans to sanction Eritrea for stationing Iranian strategic missiles.

Posted by b on December 12, 2008 at 06:04 AM | Permalink
[ May be so, because people such as pro-Ethiopia ex-U.S. Ambassador David H. Shinn do not seem to push for the peaceful, and legal ending of the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict and often display the tendency to enumerate all the negative things they can think of about Eritrea (even telling the U.S. Congress recently that Iran is coming to Assab and “There is much standing in the way of better relations with Eritrea ….“ and ‘the door towards productive negotiations is ajar but it is not wide enough to let the U.S. in, so you may not need to waste your time and efforts’), but Ethiopia is America’s best ally and (even if its government commits inhuman, undemocratic, and illegal actions), the U.S has to support Ethiopia. “ Putting pressure on Ethiopia will become increasingly difficult for the United States and other western countries as Ethiopia continues to strengthen its relations with countries such as China and Russia.” As a professor, Mr. David Shinn could have aimed for taking facts as the basis of his assessments and not fall for the unconfirmed report of Iranian deployment of troops in Assab, but he chose to use a diplomatic double-talk and act as an alarmist. His statements about U.S.-Eritrea relations were:
                         U.S. relations with Eritrea during the past year reached their lowest
                         point since Eritrea became independent in 1993. They would have
                         fallen even further if some persons in the previous administration
                         had had their way and managed to place Eritrea on the list of state
                         sponsors of terrorism. Fortunately, this did not happen and the door
                         remains ajar for a possible dialogue with the Isaias government.
                         There is much standing in the way of better relations with Eritrea.
                         During the past year, the rhetoric on both sides has been harsh. There
                         have never been national elections in Eritrea and the democratization
                         process is virtually non-existent. Eritrea believes that the U.S. has
                         almost single-handedly made it possible for Ethiopia to avoid
                         implementation of the binding arbitration agreement that delineates
                         the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. Eritrea has been aiding and abetting
                         extremists in Somalia in an effort to put pressure on Ethiopia. Asmara
                         serves as the headquarters for the Oromo Liberation Front that periodically
                        launches attacks across the border into Ethiopia. Eritrea sent troops to
                         the border with Djibouti, which it continues to taunt for reasons that are
                         not clear. Eritrea is making a major effort to improve relations with
                         countries such as Iran, which according to an Eritrean opposition group
                         has deployed or intends to deploy Iranian troops in the Eritrean port of
                         Assab. There is no independent confirmation of this report.
                         Any U.S. attempt to improve relations with Eritrea faces huge challenges.
                         A new administration has the advantage, however, in that it can look at old
                         problems in new ways. It may not be possible to improve relations with
                         Eritrea, but the effort still needs to be made.]
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