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The Emirati Navy Arrives in Eritrea

Analysis Stratfor has detected an Emirati naval presence in the Eritrean port of Assab that may indicate Eritrea's support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Satellite imagery taken Sept. 16 appears to show three landing craft


Stratfor has detected an Emirati naval presence in the Eritrean port of Assab that may indicate Eritrea’s support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Satellite imagery taken Sept. 16 appears to show three landing craft docked in the port that are not vessels known to exist within the Eritrean navy’s inventory. Analysis of the detailed images provided by our partners at AllSource Analysis — and of naval vessels in the wider region — suggests that all three vessels belong to the United Arab Emirates. While there have been previous claims of Eritrea’s support for the coalition conducting operations in Yemen, the naval activity in Eritrea’s southern port reveals that Eritrean facilities and possibly even personnel are assisting the Saudi-led military effort.

Eritrea’s exact role in the coalition’s operations remains unclear and cannot be derived from this imagery alone. However, the presence of Emirati naval vessels indicates, at the very least, that Eritrea has assumed a direct military or logistical responsibility within the campaign. One of the landing craft located at Assab port was likely either Al Quwaisat or Al Futaisi, the only two ships of that particular class that were delivered to the United Arab Emirates in 2012. One of these ships was also spotted dropping off Sudanese troops and equipment at Yemen’s Aden port on Oct. 17. It is therefore clear that Emirati landing craft are ferrying troops and equipment into the port of Aden as ground forces continue to mass ahead of a potential offensive push into Sanaa. Still, Eritrea’s position in this scheme is less apparent.

Given the distances that must be traveled over sea to get to Aden from Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, the port of Assab may be serving as a local logistics hub, situated relatively close to the conflict. If this is the case, it would allow smaller landing craft to ferry back and forth between Aden and closer ports rather than making longer trips to the Persian Gulf or deep into the Red Sea. It is possible that Sudanese forces passed through Assab on their way to Aden, though nothing in the imagery suggests the presence of a significant foreign military presence at the time the photographs were taken. Alternatively, a recent U.N. report claimed that 400 Eritrean soldiers were deployed to Aden to support the Saudi-led coalition. If true, the report would point to a direct purpose for the Emirati vessels’ presence in Assab: They could either be transporting the Eritrean troops or ferrying equipment and supplies to the Eritrean troops already in Yemen.

While the imagery cannot lay bare the details of Eritrea’s role in the coalition’s efforts, perhaps more interesting is its revelation of Eritrea’s political realignment, at least for now, toward Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There was a time when Eritrea supported Yemen’s Houthi fighters and functioned as a transshipment location for Iranian supplies heading to them. And indeed, Houthi representatives have met with Eritrean organizations as recently as January. But over the past few months, Saudi Arabia has been building up its coalition, and it seems to have successfully pulled in Eritrea. The U.N. report mentioned the provision of Saudi financial support and fuel supplies to Eritrea, which could have been a means to secure Eritrea’s cooperation. But it also included claims that the United Arab Emirates has secured a 30-year lease of Assab port, which are more directly related to the presence of the Emirati naval vessels.

Either way, as Eritrea integrates itself into the Saudi-led coalition, it will likely seek to expand its relationships beyond the region in an attempt to break its isolation and attract Western investors. From Eritrea’s perspective, accepting Saudi and Emirati cash and resources would be a logical move. Eritrea’s new partnerships could also enable it to show the international community that it can play a constructive role in regional security matters — a goal Eritrea has long sought.

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  • AHMED SALEH !!!. November 2, 2015

    Do not change the subject with stupid politics of sanction or
    no sanction at the expense of Eritrean people suffering ?
    You think sanction effects the livelihood of government officials
    except for the forgotten poor Eritrean people even before united
    nation involvement in our region conflicts . And you think we
    are happy to see our nation to face international condemnation
    because of one man rule decision-making policy .
    Absent of human right , oppression , luck of accountability and
    illegal activities are destroying the country for the last more
    than twenty years . Sanction didn’t stop foreign companies sign
    contracts worth millions of dollars , maybe that makes you feel
    better for now but do not expect to share peace of pie with HGDF
    hungry mouth .

  • selamawit2 November 4, 2015

    We must start to prepare for the time after the dictatorship of iseyas.
    As he is not legitimated to rule the nation, he does not have the proxy to sign
    such contracts.
    The only legitimation he had in former times is to establish “a liberal government to prepare for elections”, a transitional government.

    It’s like a thief who comes into you house as guest and stays there and signs contracts for you against your will.

    there must be and there will be ways to null these unouthorized “deals”.

  • selamawit2 November 4, 2015

    @cow face aka kombishato aka teclay aka 100 names

    Iseyas did not only fool us, he also fooled you

    – you thought he is protestant like you and he would support your church and weaken the orthodox and the muslims.
    – you thought he wants to “reunite” the highlanders from ethiopia and eritrea.
    – you thought he hates moslems and especially arabs and will support your interest to devide the people by religion.

    No matter how evil you are, don’t be so stupid. stop to see only half of the truth.
    Iseyas doesn’t care for anybody but for himself.

    – he is the one who brought slavery back to africa. he is a vehicle or neocolonialism!

    – he is the who let vanish protestants, orthodox, muslims in unknow prisons. he wants to destroy everybody who as a god, because he wants to be god for everybody!

    – he is the one who want the ethiopian highlanders to kill each other (weyane, demhit, gibot7 ect.).
    he is the one who wants the highlanders of eritrea to kill each other (hamasien, akele guzai, seraye…).

    – he is the one who make deals with the worst arabian butchers (sudan, saudi arabia, al shabab…)

    – he loves only himself and you never know the minute he would have you for breakfast (people say, he “ate” his one biological brother).

  • Kabbire November 7, 2015

    It is not surprising to see the greedy and opportunist Arabs renting a vacant port from their own Arab Abeed.