Date: Friday, 04 August 2017
A Dangerous Gulf in the Horn: How the Inter-Arab Crisis is Fuelling Regional Tensions
Project Director, Horn of Africa
3 August 2017
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani inspects a guard of honor upon arriving at the Bole International Airport during his official visit to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, on 10 April 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
The Gulf crisis and the scramble for military outposts in the Horn of Africa are exacerbating regional tensions that risk triggering a conflict. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director Rashid Abdi untangles the complex web of relations that tie the Horn and the Gulf.
How has the Gulf crisis affected security and stability in the Horn?
The Gulf and the Horn are intricately intertwined regions that face common threats and vulnerabilities: armed conflict, transnational jihadism and organised crime, including piracy, human trafficking and money laundering. The current crisis comes at a difficult moment for the historically conflict-prone Horn, much of which is either politically unstable, mired in internal armed conflict or still in a state of fragile post-conflict recovery. Turmoil in the Gulf has sharply escalated the region’s already dangerous militarisation as governments are pressed to side either with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or with Qatar (and, indirectly, Turkey). This has been profoundly destabilising, sowing new regional divisions and rekindling old hostilities. Perhaps most alarmingly, the Gulf crisis potentially could put Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti on a path toward armed confrontation, inflaming the Horn’s most dangerous three-way territorial dispute.
Border tensions rose in June when Qatar removed 400 observers monitoring a ceasefire on the Red Sea island of Doumeira, claimed by both Eritrea and Djibouti, to protest the two countries’ support for its Gulf adversaries. Taking advantage of the pullout, Eritrea swiftly deployed forces to cement its de facto hold on the island. Asmara may have intended to force a resolution of the island’s status, which has remained unsettled since border clashes in 2008. But its actions have increased the danger of serious armed conflict, which would be likely to draw in neighbouring Ethiopia, Eritrea’s bitterest foe and a strategic ally of Djibouti.
[R]enewed regional tensions over Doumeira conceivably could trigger more serious flare-ups on both the volatile Eritrea-Ethiopia border and on the Djibouti-Eritrea frontier.
Despite Djibouti’s protests and calls for intervention by the UN Security Council and African Union (AU), Eritrea so far seems unwilling to withdraw its troops and engage in talks aimed at a peaceful settlement. Reports that Ethiopia is massing forces to dislodge Eritrean troops from Doumeira are unverified, yet plausible. Unless quickly contained, renewed regional tensions over Doumeira conceivably could trigger more serious flare-ups on both the volatile Eritrea-Ethiopia border and on the Djibouti-Eritrea frontier.
Attempts by both the AU and UN to promote dialogue have failed so far. Djibouti has called on the AU to insert neutral forces or observers into the disputed areas. Eritrea, which has already blocked a team of AU observers from visiting the island, would probably reject any such intervention, however.
China has offered to deploy troops to Doumeira, but though Beijing has good ties with both Eritrea and Djibouti, it is not clear whether this would be acceptable to either country. In July, China deployed its first contingent of combat troops to its new military base in Djibouti – a signal of its intent to play a more prominent role in the region........................
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