Since 2016, Israel has secretly established a forward electronic intelligence base in Eritrea to monitor the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, through which much of the Gulf’s oil shipments travel on their way to customers throughout the world.
This base, located on the country’s highest mountain, Emba Soira, outside the country’s capital, Asmara, monitors activities of the Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting against UAE and Saudi Arabia. Further, it also serves as a command and control center for Gulf air force attacks in Yemen. It is a means of ensuring that Egypt would never threaten Israeli interests in the southern portion of the Red Sea, especially movement of its shipping. The base also enables Israel to monitor arms trafficking in Sudan for the benefit of Hamas. Finally, it serves as a forward base to monitor Iranian shipping, and that country’s efforts to penetrate Eritrea, after it was ejected from Sudan following the overthrow of its dictator, Omar al Bashir.
The Israeli article linked above notes a second secret Israeli base planned in the Gulf. After the recent normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE, both states are eyeing a base on the Yemeni island of Socotra. According to a Turkish report, the Yemeni tribal chief of the island told a Syrian media outlet about a recent joint visit by a senior Israeli-UAE intelligence delegation tasked with choosing sites for a new military intelligence base. According to Intelligence Online, the Yemenite militant group allied with UAE, which has occupied the island for the past four months, was not happy with the Israeli presence and made its displeasure known to its patrons.
As in Eritrea, Socotra is mountainous and offers locations advantageous for siting electronic (SIGINT) intelligence facilities. Though the island chain is under Yemeni sovereignty, UAE took control of the territory and maintains a military presence there.
Among other things, the base will permit Israel to monitor shipping between Iran and China. After signing a $400-billion 25-year military-commercial pact, China is expected to provide llogistics, advanced technology and weapons systems to Iran, much of which would travel through these waters, providing an excellent vantage point from which to observe the sea traffic.
Socotra would be Israel’s second major intelligence base in the region and a further example of its attempt to project its power far beyond its southern borders (Israel already projects its power beyond its northern borders into Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq). This is, of course, ironic since one of the main claims against Iran is its purported “expansionist” aims to project its Islamist revolution beyond its border into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Israel has long preceded Iran in this game. And its hypocrisy in accusing the Iranians of doing precisely what it has done for decades, is immense.
In a separate development related to UAE-Israel normalization, Intelligence Online reports that the Gulf state is lobbying its own allies in the region to join it in forging relations with Israel. Among those negotiating for such a deal are the Yemeni movement supported by UAE, Libya’s militia leader, Khalifa Haftar, and Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian strongman who has become one of the UAE Crown Prince’s senior security advisor.
These are not the most savory characters in the region. But that doesn’t seem to put off Israel’s own unsavory leaders, who never met an Arab dictator they didn’t like. All they need to find favor with Israel is an authoritarian regime, lots of petro-cash, and a hankering for Israeli weapons and spy technology.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.