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Phantom Israeli and Iranian Military Bases
December 27, 2012


Dec 27, 2012 ( Africa Global Media) -- In less than 48 hours since this piece was posted in Stratfor website on December 11, 2012 at 11:15 GMT, the story was picked up [as a quick search by the title yielded some 152,000 and another hour or so later 269,000 results), from sites that range from blogs to established news papers.

Some of the sites even gave the story a life of its own. For instance, the, which boasts “over 100 years of journalistic excellence,” picked up the story as a special report (Dec. 11, 2012 at 1:52) under the title “Israel, Iran vie for control of Red Sea,” this piece is full of quotes from the original piece but failed to quote the source.

The Eritrean Center for Strategic Studies (ECSS) in its review of the `report` found several areas of concern, beginning with the intention, assemblage, and not to mention its unfounded accusations, passing remarks and unsubstantiated conclusions.

Let us first focus on the easily verifiable facts:

1. Eritrea enjoys normative diplomatic ties with Iran. This is nothing extraordinary; neither is the relationship particularly close or special. Indeed, it is not different, by any measurable yardstick, from the warm diplomatic ties that Eritrea enjoys with all other countries in the Middle East. Eritrea has in fact resident embassies in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait while it is represented in Iran by a non-resident Ambassador. Furthermore, Iran has much deeper economic ties and resident embassies (which is not the case in Eritrea) with all other countries in the Horn of Africa; including Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Sudan. True, Eritrea had signed a loan agreement3 worth 25 million Euros with Iran in April 2009, during the visit of President Isaias to Tehran. But this amount is much smaller than Iranian development assistance or investments in Ethiopia or the Sudan. Furthermore, according to Eritrean Government sources, the loan, which was essentially a commercial credit to buy construction materials and other commodities from Iran, was not executed in time due to various administrative delays and was dropped altogether later.

2. Eritrea also enjoys diplomatic ties with Israel. Again this is not peculiar or extraordinary in any sense of the word although both Israel and Eritrea have resident ambassadors in each other`s capital. Investment and trade ties between the two countries are not that significant.

3. Eritrea has never granted Iran or Israel, or both of them as it is ridiculously maintained by Stratfor, military bases or outposts in its inland territories or waterways and islands. And yet, for reasons better known to its authors, these wild stories have been circulating intermittently for some years now. A couple of years ago, for instance, the London-based Sunday Times quoted obscure Israeli Security officials to ascertain, in a rather long article: “Israel is said to have two Eritrean bases, one a `listening post` for signals intelligence , the other a supply base for its German-built submarines while ... Iran has a naval base in the Eritrean port of Assab”. The Israeli Prime Minister subsequently lamented Iran`s “increasing influence” in Eritrea in an interview with Fox News shortly afterwards although he reportedly retracted his statement later in an apologetic official communication to the Government of Eritrea4.

4. How Eritrea can be thought of simultaneously offering military bases and host two mortal enemies in adjacent patches of its territory is really mind boggling. One might argue that in abstract legal terms, Eritrea has, as a sovereign state, every prerogative and right to enter into military and economic alliances with any country of its choice and in accordance with the exigencies of its national interests. The signing of bilateral or multilateral pacts and alliances is indeed a matter of Eritrea`s sovereign political choices. Various publications and official statements nonetheless confirm that the Government of Eritrea does not subscribe to the notion of providing military bases to major international or regional powers. The public statement5 issued by Eritrea`s Foreign Ministry in response to the Sunday Times article in fact emphasizes that “Eritrea`s sovereign choice has always been, and remains, that of aversion to dependency, polarized alliances and the suzerainty” of a big brother. In any case, Eritrea would not be so foolhardy, reckless or myopic to mortgage its land and territory as a battleground for two avowed enemies in exchange for possible short-term gains.

In the event, why Stratfor ignored, without serious research or validation, these well known facts and chose to recycle the mendacious innuendos that are already available in the market remains a mystery. Straftor did not, in fact, bring new information or fresh and credible evidence to what it evidently considered was a “sensational scoop”. And on the basis of this false presumption, it proceeded to dissect the “plausible explanations of motive and environmental constraints” that must have impelled the Government of Eritrea to play with fire! As we shall briefly demonstrate below, these presumptions are even more tenuous and flawed.

Straftor`s `analysis` is anchored on “two key geopolitical constraints and multiple security concerns,” that, in its view, afflict Eritrea and that it has to grapple with as the new kid-in-the-block. One of these is described, in very hyperbolic terms, as “the existential threat of invasion from Ethiopia.” Stratfor does not analyze and tell us, in the first place, why and how a border war, that is fully resolved now to all legal purposes and intents, morphs into an “existential and permanent threat of invasion”. Surely, both countries can co-exist and cultivate mutually beneficial ties of friendship, cooperation and alliance if both countries subscribe to, and abide by, normative principles of international law. Past and current Ethiopian regimes may not as yet be beholden to these objectives although the new Government in Addis Ababa is going out of its way “to talk the language of peace”. However this plays out in reality in the months ahead, the border problem between Eritrea and Ethiopia does not, objectively, fall into the category of “existential conflicts”.

But there may be external forces that are wedded to, and are prodding, Ethiopian internal agendas that could trigger another round of conflict and war. Stratfor`s report may be alluding to the centrality of the external dimension when it confirms US endorsement of Ethiopia`s past practices and perhaps inchoate agendas. Although Stratfor chose to gloss over the issue, Ethiopia could not have managed to violate fundamental pillars of international law to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories with impunity without overarching US political and diplomatic support and protection. But it is instructive to note that the report tacitly legitimizes Ethiopia`s belligerent ambitions when it cryptically amplifies Ethiopia`s drawbacks as “the largest landlocked country in Africa.” This is the repackaging of the old `head-and-hectare-mentality`, which justified that Eritrea, with small territory and population, should be sacrificed at the altar of big regional [Ethiopia] and international [mainly US] interests. This old strategic thinking has been repackaged to justify the possibility of another Ethiopian attempt of re-invading Eritrea.

Stratfor`s gross anti-Eritrean bias is further demonstrated when the report gullibly parrots the false narrative that “Eritrea lost the war”. What criteria did Stratfor employ to reach such a conclusion? There are much deeper issues that the `report` needs to dig out regarding the conduct of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war if it really wishes to form an informed opinion. What transpired during those fateful three Ethiopian offensives is now history. However, just to highlight the sloppiness of the report: while categorically stating that “Eritrea had lost the war”, it simultaneously asserts, in the next sentence, that Eritrea “repelled the Ethiopians and safeguarded its independence.” Still, it wrongly insinuates the death toll of 70,000 as the casualties suffered by Eritrea. Eritrea`s losses in the war were less than a third of this figure even if this remains horrendously high in terms of its population size. Ethiopia`s losses exceeded 70,000 by its own official admissions. But the central issue at stake is not the arithmetic of each country`s human losses. War cannot be justified under any conditions; there is no acceptable threshold as far as human losses in either country is concerned and the unnecessary death of even a single person cannot be condoned.

Stratfor further drifts into what it considers geopolitical chess games to casually assert: “Eritrea has turned to the Middle East for alliances and assistance.” And without factual evidences or solid premises, it simply tells us that Eritrea has become a close ally of Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and then concludes that “Eritrea and its waters have become another venue for Iran and Israel`s rivalry”. As we intimated before, these assertions are not substantiated by facts and figures that illustrate the depth of these “close” ties. They are not put in regional perspective to gauge whether Eritrea`s ties with these countries are on a higher plane than those of the Sudan, Ethiopia or Djibouti. There is no investigation to find out whether these “close ties” begun after the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia or whether they predate them and have thus no correlation with the antagonistic relationships that obtain today between the two neighboring countries.

In as far as Iran is concerned, the report alleges that Eritrea had struck a deal with Iran “to maintain a military presence in Assab - officially to protect the state-owned, renovated, Soviet-era oil refiner there.” Straftfor does not provide us with the plausible evidence that such an agreement ever took place. As described before, the two countries did sign a loan commercial agreement in April 2009 and this document is in the public domain. Secondly, the Assab refinery, which was built by the Soviet Union in 1968 has not been renovated in the last twenty years and it has not been functional for almost ten years now. Third, what would be the rationale for Eritrea to seek Iranian military presence in order to protect a small, outdated, oil refinery?

How Stratfor can publish such a flawed and silly report without checking its facts is really surprising. The more so as the journal has earned a well-deserved reputation for insightful and original analysis of issues and events of critical geopolitical importance. Although we would not like to speculate without any substantial information and thus fall in the same trap, we would nonetheless hope that it has not been lured by tabloid considerations of publishing any “sensational story” for commercial gains. We also hope that it has not served, unwittingly, as a credible platform and conduit for some intelligence agencies that may have an interest in planting a fabricated story in pursuit of their sinister objectives against Eritrea. Whatever the case, there are no military bases of Iran and/or Israel in Eritrea. Indeed, at this age of preponderant cyberspace technology, the locations and details of these bases would have long been publicly available with all the required resolutions and precisions unless, are mere phantoms that exist in the crooked minds of the detractors and arch-enemies of Eritrea. These can not, after all, matters of sheer speculation, sinister disinformation or seemingly informed guesswork.

Eritrean Center for Strategic Studies (ECSS)

© 2012 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved

Sudan, Iran Agree to Set Up Military Base in Red Sea
FARS News Agency
December 11, 2012

Sudan`s anti-government newspaper Hurriyat cited an unnamed opposition source as saying that the Sudanese government had struck a deal with Iran for building a base in the Red Sea.

Another Sudanese anti-government news outlet, al-Rakoba, quoted Sudan`s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) as saying that President Omar al-Bashir has made “highly advanced” arrangements with Iran`s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) to establish a naval base either in Port Sudan or elsewhere in the Red Sea.

The accusations came after two Iranian naval vessels, the 1,400-ton Destroyer Jamaran and the 4,700-ton support ship Bushehr, docked in Port Sudan on Saturday.

Mahjoub Hussein, a spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement, said that “the visit of the Iranian warships, the second in recent months, was not intended as a message to Israel but rather to test regional opinion regarding the establishment of an Iranian military base”.

According to reports in the Sudanese press, Sudan`s army spokesperson Colonel Al- Sawarmi Khalid Saad said on Friday that the visit by the Iranian military vessels is part of a “military exchange” with Iran. The ships are scheduled to stay for three days, during which they will be open for view by the public.

On Saturday, the Iranian Navy`s 23rd fleet of warships, including home-made Jamaran destroyer, entered Port Sudan, the Iranian navy announced.

The Navy`s public relations office said the fleet, comprised of Jamaran destroyer and the logistical chopper carrier vessel, Bushehr, docked in Port Sudan after passing through the strategic Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and accomplishing its mission in the Red Sea.

Late in October, the Iranian Navy`s 22nd fleet of warship had docked in Port Sudan.

The Iranian Navy`s fleet of warships was comprised of Khark warship and Shahid Naqdi Destroyer. Khark has 250 crewmembers and can carry three helicopters.

The Iranian Navy said at the time that the visit was aimed at conveying the message of peace and friendship to the neighboring countries and ensuring security for transportation and shipping against sea piracy.

The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since November 2008, when Somali raiders hijacked the Iranian-chartered cargo ship, MV Delight, off the coast of Yemen.

According to UN Security Council resolutions, different countries can send their warships to the Gulf of Aden and coastal waters of Somalia against the pirates and even with prior notice to Somali government enter the territorial waters of that country in pursuit of Somali sea pirates.

The Gulf of Aden - which links the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea - is an important energy corridor, particularly because Persian Gulf oil is shipped to the West through the Suez Canal.

© 2012 Fars News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

Israel maintains military assets in Eritrea to spy on Iran: report
Xinhua News Agency
December 12, 2012

JERUSALEM, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Israel has set up military bases in Eritrea to monitor Iran and other hostile activities in the Red Sea, Stratfor Global Intelligence reported Wednesday.

The U.S.-based strategy consultancy firm quoted “diplomatic sources” as saying that the Israeli military presence is comprised of docks and small naval units in the Dahlak Archipelago and Massawa, and a listening post on Mt. Amba Sawara.

“Israel`s presence in Eritrea is very focused and precise, involving intelligence gathering in the Red Sea and monitoring Iran`s activities,” Stratfor said.

According to the report, the East African nation has become an arena of operations for both Israel and Iran, with both vying to bolster their influence in the Horn of Africa.

The Israeli operations in the area are believed to mainly focus on tracking Iranian arms smuggling to militants in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Ships loaded with rockets and other munitions travel through the Red Sea to Sudan and Egypt, from where the cargo is then transferred via land routes to Gaza or placed on ships bound for Syria and Lebanon.

The Israel Air Force has reportedly attacked arms convoys in Sudan several times in the past, and is widely credited with the October bombing of the Yarmouk munitions plant near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum where Iran had presumably planned to set up a workshop for manufacturing long-range missiles.

Though Israel kept mum on the affair, an Israeli official told The Sunday Times last month that Iran has built a “strategic arm” in Gaza.

“Regardless of the ceasefire agreement (with Hamas), we will attack and destroy any shipment of arms to Gaza,” he said.

According to Stratfor, in addition to Israel, Eritrea accommodates Iranian military operations “relevant to Tehran`s larger goal of controlling the Bab el-Mandab Strait and the water route to the Suez Canal.”

“In exchange for resources, possibly including modest amounts of cash and weapons, Eritrea has exhibited a willingness to become a base of support for Middle Eastern powers,” the report analyzes Asmara`s decision to nurture relations with the two rival nations.

It said Eritrea seeks to befriend Israel for “numerous security and political reasons,” such as Israel`s “close ties with Washington... and to acquire better air defense capabilities to defend against a possible attack from Ethiopia,” as well as “ balancing its controversial relationship with Tehran.”

Eritrea is not the only base for Israeli military operations abroad.

Earlier this month, The Sunday Times reported that numerous reports over the past year have claimed that Israel is maintaining a military presence in Azerbaijan, where it deploys unmanned Predator drones to preemptively strike Iranian missile sites in the event of a war.

According to other reports, Israel has purchased an abandoned airfield in the country from which it could launch a strike on Tehran`s nuclear facilities.

© Copyright 2012. Xinhua News Agency. All rights reserved.

President Isayas says no foreign military base in Eritrea
BBC Monitoring Africa
May 06, 2009

Asmara, 5 May: President Isayas Afewerki underscored that the establishment of alliances and eagerly looking for them that undermine respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity is not the political culture of Eritrea at all. And as such, the setting up of any foreign military base in Eritrea on the part of any party is totally unacceptable, he elaborated.

The president made the remarks in an interview he gave to the Arabic service of Al-Jazeera Television. He pointed out that the rumours being disseminated recently through media outlets alleging that there exist Israeli and Iranian military bases in Eritrea is but part and parcel of the concerted media, diplomatic and economic campaign resorted to and sponsored by the succeeding [US] Administrations in Washington designed to tarnish Eritrea`s image. And if at all there is any party that wishes to confirm this, Eritrea opens its doors to anybody to personally come and prove through travelling to any place at any time at the expense of the Eritrean government, he added. The president said that Eritrea has been exposing the repeated sheer lies of authors who have been concocting such slander.

Replying to a question on allegations that Eritrea is viewed as a `hostile entity` in the region, President Isayas noted that a party that has gone through war does not long for it, and indicated that the problem Eritrea had faced over the past 18 years emanated from acts of provocation and external interference aimed at undermining its sovereignty, and thus was compelled to confront it. In this respect, he explained that the declaration of war in 1998 against Eritrea by the ruling regime in Ethiopia with the backing of the US constitutes a naked invasion in a bid to escape from internal problems. Stating that Eritrea`s foreign relations strategy is based on promoting secure environment, the president underlined that it is ready to work closely with all countries in the region towards achieving this goal.

As regards the Somalia issue, President Isayas pointed out that Eritrea`s concern is the Somali issue and not that of individuals and groups, and hence if at all a lasting solution is to be achieved to the prevailing turmoil and instability in the country, the reconstitution of Somalia should be ensured with the participation of all Somali nationals, and thus assume its rightful role in both regional and international forums.

He further indicated that imposing so-called “government” from the outside and acts of interference through servants only complicate matters rather than bring about a solution. In this connection, the president stressed the need for creating conducive atmosphere and ground for the Somali people to resolve their issue themselves. To this end, President Isayas asserted that Eritrea along with other concerned parties is striving to play modest role.

Source: Shabait website, Asmara, in English 6 May 09

© 2010 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


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