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Original.AntiWar.com: Tensions in the Red Sea Setting the Stage for WWIII

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Thursday, 04 January 2024

Yemen, a Pawn or a Bishop?

In recent weeks, there have been 15 attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea as the Houthis of northern Yemen threatened to attack any vessel heading to the Israeli port city of Eilat.

These attacks caused imports to the port to drop 85% and prompted the formation of a 10-nation coalition led by the US to secure maritime trade. News reports surfaced that Spain and France pulled out of the naval task force, stating they would protect their ships and only accept orders from NATO, not CENTCOM.

On December 23, an Indian-flagged cargo ship was struck in the Arabian Sea 200 nautical miles from the Indian port city of Veraval, and less than an hour later, the Israeli and US governments were claiming they had intelligence the drone was fired from Iran.

The US, EU, and Israel have all accused Iran of having a command ship disguised as a cargo vessel anchored in the Red Sea off Yemen’s northwest coast named the MV Saviz that is identifying ships linked to Israel and handing that information off to the Houthis. In 2021, it was reported that Israeli commandos bombed the Saviz using limpet mines. Iran claims the Saviz is a logistical ship to help protect the region from piracy.

The USS Laboon, a guided missile Destroyer, patrolled the waters around Yemen as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian over the weekend. Meanwhile, the country exploded in a planned protest to show support for Gaza, where an estimated 2.2 million Yemenis marched through Sanaa.

Many people waved Palestinian flags and banners that read, “Your coalition does not intimidate us!” The Supreme Leader of the Sanaa government, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, addressed the crowd via a large screen and loudspeakers, stating that if the US or the UK interrupted their operations on Israeli-linked ships, they would directly target “American and British ships in the region.”

Hours later, CENTCOM announced that the USS Laboon shot down four drones fired from Houthi-controlled northern Yemen that were “inbound to the USS Laboon.” The USS Laboon reported no damage or injuries and continued its mission, guiding a US cargo ship through the Bel el Mandeb Strait to the Suez Canal. Reports then began to surface about a secret plan between the US and the UK to attack Houthi missile sites in northern Yemen with Reaper drones from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

Red Sea Chess Games

It is common knowledge that the Red Sea is a vital waterway where 10% of all maritime global trade travels daily, including 10% of the world’s oil, 8% of the world’s liquid natural gas, and 20% of the global container traffic.

What is less known is the essential role East Africa plays in the region as global powers offer developmental and military aid in exchange for geostrategic positioning. Currently East African countries, excluding South Sudan, are part of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a seven-country trade bloc with Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, and Uganda.

The United States Agency for International Development and EuropeAid have been major funders and partners of the IGAD since 2012, which would explain why countries in East Africa have a vested interest in appeasing Western powers. The leverage the US and UK held over East Africa is dwindling, according to the Atlantic Council.

In recent years, the EU and US have focused more on counterterrorism efforts in the region. At the same time, China built a railway in Africa known as the Addis Ababa that opened in 2018, connecting South Africa to East Africa. The railway has 56,000 passengers daily, creating an economic boom in the region.

China, Germany, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Japan have a military presence in Djibouti. The US and the UK have a joint Reaper Drone squadron at Camp Lemonnier that they have used to launch drone attacks across Africa and the Middle East since 2001.

The US rents Camp Lemonnier from the government of Djibouti for 63 million dollars a year, which goes to a government led by a dictator. There are 29 US military bases across Africa, eleven in the Horn of Africa that hug the Red Sea and Bel el Mandeb Strait.

In April, Russia signed an agreement with Sudan to construct a naval base in an undisclosed Red Sea port city. The deal has not been ratified, and it is unclear whether any progress has been made because the quickest way to stop development in a country is to start a civil war.

Sudan is embroiled in a fierce battle for power that broke out in 2021 between General Abdel-Fattah, who commands the Sudan’s Armed forces, and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands a militant group known as the Rapid Support Forces.

China opened its first foreign military base in Djibouti in 2017, a mile from US Camp Lemonnier. The UAE accused Djibouti of illegally seizing their port earlier the same year as they sought legal action over the port in London. The US alleged the port was stolen from the UAE and given to China. Forty-six African nations have joined China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, and one million Chinese citizens live in Africa.

The US has maintained one steadfast talking point when it comes to Asia and the Middle East investing in Africa, claiming these countries are exploiting Africa and increasing their debt. On the contrary, every deal signed between Africa and nations from the East consists of a language that allows African states to relinquish 20 billion dollars in debts owed to the United States.

West vs. East in Africa and Why it Matters

Trade between the US and Africa is around 80 billion, trade between India is over 100 billion, and with Saudi Arabia, it is over 70 billion. Africa-China bilateral trade is over 250 billion, and trade between Russia picked up after the 2019 African Summit in Sochi, Russia, rising to 18 billion.

Africa imports 30% of its grain from Russia, which incentivizes African nations to make other deals with Russia; between 2016 and 2020, Africa accounted for 18% of Russia’s total arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Geopolitical talking heads claim that Africa is open to making economic and military deals with these nations over the US or EU because countries from the Middle East and Asia don’t care about human rights.

African leaders contend they prefer dealing with these countries because they don’t mingle in their internal affairs or make economic and developmental agreements based on political contingencies.

The US and UK pulled back developmental projects in Eastern Africa, focusing instead on building military bases, and mining natural resources. They prioritized counterterrorism and the pillaging of rare earth minerals over infrastructure projects that would improve the lives of all East Africans.

World War posturing in the Red Sea and exploiting East African countries is not new, as East Africa has been used as a launch pad for Western powers in World War I, World War II, throughout the Cold War, and the War on Terror.

In October of this year, India announced it would operate a massive military and naval base with Japan in Djibouti, meaning that every global superpower will soon have a military presence in the Red Sea.

   *Joziah Thayer is a researcher with the Pursuance Project. He founded WEDA in 2014 to combat mainstream media narratives. He is also an antiwar activist and the online organizer behind #OpYemen.


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