An Octopus in the Gate of Tears?

Israel’s role in wider conflict in the middle east is often overlooked. Recently, it attacked Damascus airport, a part of Syria’s civilian infrastructure. This was not an isolated incident, as the Jerusalem Post explains:

Over the years, Israel has carried out thousands of strikes in Syria and beyond its borders by land, sea and air – and also used cyberkinetic attacks, according to foreign reports – to prevent Iran from achieving regional hegemony and becoming a nuclear state. Over the 13 years of Mabam, Israel’s targets have included weapons convoys and shipments and military infrastructure, including advanced weaponry and personnel. The campaign was not limited to Syria but extended to Iraq and Yemen, according to foreign reports.

A newly announced strategy in its conflict with Iran, and what it deems as Iranian proxies, talks of attacking the head of the Iranian ‘octopus’ rather than its tentacles. The new ‘Octopus strategy’ seems to be really a continuation of the – war between the wars – ‘Mabam strategy’, intervening in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to strike what it identifies as Iranian aligned forces or assets. In this article, I sketch out what we might call tentacles of an ‘Israeli octopus’, largely in relation to the role it has been playing in the international struggle for control and influence over strategically located Yemen.

Yemen, of course, has resources such as oil to exploit and competition for access to those resources has obviously been a factor driving the war there (for example, France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stand to profit from Total’s Balhaf oil installations). More importantly though, its proximity to major world shipping routes means world powers vie to gain a hand there. After the construction of the Suez canal, the Bab-al-Mandeb (Gate of Tears) straits at the southern entrance to the Red Sea gained in geostrategic significance. It had become a potential choke point on world trade, as the Israelis were to learn in the wars with the Arabs. In 1973 Yemen closed the straits, blocking shipping through the Red Sea to Israel.

Having direct maritime access to the Red Sea from its southern port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba and much economic interest in trade with the east, Israel’s strategic interest in the Red Sea is clear. It is known to use an Eritrean island in the Red Sea for electronic monitoring in the region. Its navy now patrol those waters south of Suez, including its most potent missile subs. Long concerned that its enemies should not control the Bab-al-Mandeb, it has pledged to join military action if the straits are closed again. The Israeli Defence Force makes no secret that it considers Yemen a threat and it deploys its military intel capabilities to monitor ‘the houthis’.

The Israeli enemy sees Yemen as a threat to it, explained the National Salvation Government Information Minister Dhaifalla Al-Shami, “especially in its strategic location, so it has worked to find a foothold in Yemen through the UAE’s role.(Middle East Monitor)

When reports of the, previously planned, installation by the Emiratis of a runway and military infrastructure on Yemen’s Mayyun (or Perim) island in the straits became public, pro-Iranian media sources were quick to suggest the likely involvement of Israel alongside the US and UAE. By 2019 the Red Sea had become a theatre of conflict in the shadow war between Israel and Iran, involving seizures and attacks on commercial shipping interests. A pretext Israel cites for its involvement in the area is the threat of Iranian drones or missiles being fired from Yemen. That the Yemeni armed forces have their own technical capabilities independently of Iran often seems to be condescendingly overlooked in western commentaries.

Of course, Washington, London and Paris have their own geostrategic interests in the region, working closely with their allies in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv they don’t wish to see forces that maintain their independence of the centres of global capital, in control the Yemeni coast. The Chinese also have a presence in the contested region with a base on the other side of the straits, in Djibouti.

Naval bases in the region according to Debka file

During the cold war period the Port of Aden in the south of Yemen was an important centre of global commerce. After gaining independence from the British in 1967 South Yemen became loosely aligned with the Soviet bloc. The two separate states of the Islamic North (governed from Sana’a) and the Marxist South (Aden) unified to become the Republic of Yemen only in 1990. Access to the southern coast is strategically desirable as oil from the Arabian peninsula can be shipped on routes that avoid vulnerable passage through the straits of Hormuz or the Bab-al-Mandeb. As an expansionist regional player the UAE, now advances its interests in the south, caring little for the integrity of the Yemeni state. It has been a major player in the coalition attacking Yemen from 2015.

Despite announcing a pull-out in 2019, the Emirati regime backs the Southern Transitional Council (STC) a coalition which seeks independence from the north. The STC leadership has apparently signalled their openness to future friendly relations with Tel Aviv. Some commentators see such relations as having parallels with Israeli support for the Kurds in Syria and its previous recognition of Somaliland, aspects of a wider strategy to fracture and weaken Arab states unfriendly to it.

Many undersea fibre optic cables run past Socotra (Source)

That Israel and the UAE cooperate closely on ‘security’ is in no doubt, especially since the so called ‘normalization agreement’. This can be seen in a few interesting developments:

  • 2015: Reports of Colombian mercenaries fighting against the ‘houthis’ and funded by the UAE. With later reports of their involvement in the coalition’s 2018 advance on Hodeidah, after receiving Israeli training in the Negev desert.
    • The cooperation between the security states of Israel and Colombia is long standing. Israel has shaped the training and brutal tactics used against the FARC leftist rebels over decades.
  • Since 2020 allegations based on local reports have circulated that UAE and Israel and are developing signals intelligence bases and other military infrastructure on the seized Yemeni islands of Socotra and on Perim in middle of the Bab-al-Mandeb straits.
    • Although these local reports are hard to verify, they have strong circumstantial corroboration and were accepted by Israeli open source analysts. Israel’s signals intelligence capability is known to be highly developed and aggressive. Israeli tourists now fly to see spectacular Socotra via the UAE, the only commercial aviation route that now reaches the island. The UAE had essentially seized control of Yemen’s Socotra archipelago of islands that lie off the Horn of Africa between the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. With their proxies the STC taking over control from the governor of the ‘internationally recognised’ (Western & Saudi puppet) regime in June 2020. A world heritage site for its unique ecology, Socotra was historically a strategically valuable position for monitoring communications. The Soviets had a listening base there when friendly relations existed between Marxist South Yemen and the USSR.
  • 2022: After Yemeni missile forces hit the UAE with drone strikes Israel offered its ‘Iron Dome’ air defence system to the Emirati princes. It is now reported that Israel has already installed radar systems in the UAE and that its air defence systems in friendly Gulf Arab states are now active.

Having traced out some traces of the game Israel has been playing in relation to conflict in Yemen, I must point out that an other state has undeniably played a far more extensive part in the war. The state-corporate interests of this country can be seen to overlap with Israeli ones. To take one example, Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms manufacturer has contracts with the British military and has set up factories in the UK to better fulfil its orders. According to the Canary:

The UK government has been working with Israel on UAV technology since 2005 in a deal worth at least £1bn. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a contract with UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS). This is a “joint venture” between UK-based Thales and Israeli arms company Elbit Systems

The companies are reported as promoting a British version of an Elbit Hermes UAV to Saudi Arabia. Perhaps more significantly, one of Britain’s largest and politically influential industrial concerns, BAE Systems provides service personnel to maintain the Saudi’s Eurofighter Typhoon fleet for their bombing missions over Yemen. Whilst, the Saudi ‘Operations Room’ commanding their missions has included British officers, said to provide “training, supervision and evaluation”. Additionally, the Royal Navy has supported the blockade of Yemen. The blockade has resulted in ongoing starvation, epidemics and fuel shortages. It has become apparent that not only do British companies and their investors profit through the war, but even that British forces are active participants in the conflict.

Commonly acknowledged as the poorest country in the middle east and suffering the world’s worst humanitarian situation, Yemen is being held back from peace and independence not only by the House of Saud, but also in Washington, London, Paris, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv.

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