The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel were working silently on a plan to establish spy bases on the Yemeni island of Socotra, according to JForum, the official site of the Jewish and French-speaking community. The two countries, which normalized relations earlier last month, have already undertaken steps to install a secret station on Socotra, which is strategically located in the Arabian Sea some 350 kilometers (217 miles) south of Yemen and currently under the control of the Emirates.
According to the report, a delegation of Israeli and Emirati intelligence officers recently visited Socotra and examined various locations for establishing the planned intelligence base. The purpose of such a spy station would be to collect intelligence across the region, particularly from the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a sea route chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the south of Yemen, along with the Gulf of Aden and the Middle East.
The report alleged that Tel Aviv’s surveillance centers would monitor the actions of Houthi militants in Yemen and Iranian naval movements in the region, as well as examine sea and air traffic in the southern part of the Red Sea.
More than normalization
Influence and security considerations have been cited as major reasons for the UAE breaking ranks with its Arab neighbors to normalize ties with Israel, leading to accusations that the Emirati rulers have been cooperating with the Zionist occupying state and the U.S. in diplomatic aggression against the Palestinians.
Despite the UAE’s insistence that the normalization deal prevents further annexation of Palestinian territory, critics have suggested that the agreement does nothing of the sort and instead helps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right to harden their position. Netanyahu has long maintained that he could force Arab countries to reverse the “land for peace” formula – which has been the bedrock of any solution – by normalizing ties with Arab autocrats without giving occupied territory back to the Palestinians.
Importance of Socotra
Known as the “Jewel of the Gulf of Aden,” the island of Socotra, officially a part of Yemen, is the largest of the archipelago of the same name, which consists of four islands and two islets sitting at a strategic location in the Indian Ocean, off the Horn of Africa’s coast, in the Arabian Sea. Socotra’s 60,000 inhabitants have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, almost completely isolated from the outside world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its dragon blood trees, white beaches and unique flora and fauna.
Socotra overlooks the Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Most exports of oil and natural gas from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal or the Suez Canal and Suez-Mediterranean (SUMED) Pipeline pass through the straight. Every day over 3 million barrels of oil travel from the Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
Ships navigating this route travel westward through the Arabian Sea into the Gulf of Aden, then turn north, entering the Red Sea via the narrow pass at Bab el-Mandeb before proceeding on to the Suez Canal.
The island’s strategic location and potential to become one of the most important places in the area has attracted the attention of the expansionist and ambitious UAE government, which is why they have been sending their military there to control it.
Dubai Ports World (DP World) has established a number of docking stations along the Red Sea and has identified Socotra for its future business expansion, hence the recent charm offensive. With a portfolio of 78 operational marine and inland terminals supported by more than 50 related businesses in 40 countries across six continents, the presence of DP World in Socotra could make the UAE one of the most powerful nations on the planet.
Controlling the island
Last June, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized Socotra's capital city of Hadiboh, after fighting off Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s forces, whose government accused the UAE of supporting the separatist STC to serve its own ambitions in the country.
Since the start of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, the UAE, formally a Saudi ally, backed the STC, a Yemeni separatist movement. This changed the balance of power in the area to its favor, successfully turning Socotra into its outpost.
In a tweet, Mukhtar al-Rahbi, the adviser to the minister of information in Hadi’s government, said the UAE intends to separate the province from Yemen and establish military bases there under the pretext of “protecting it from Qatar and Turkey.”
He also accused the Emirates of “seeking full control of the archipelago’s air and sea domains, seizing its natural resources, and transferring the necessary plants, minerals and precious stones to Abu Dhabi.”
For years, the UAE has been seeking to annex the island, and the collapse of the Yemeni state due to years of instability has paved the way for this takeover.
Besides, the Emirati leadership has been slowly taking the upper hand in its diplomatic, military and economic competition with Saudi Arabia as the kingdom has suffered most of the negative consequences of the conflict with Yemen’s Houthis, including direct strikes on its territory.
For the UAE, controlling Socotra means strengthening its commercial and military projection in the Indian Ocean, thus emphasizing its rising interregional prestige, while for Saudi Arabia, reducing the Emirati influence on the island means reaffirming Riyadh’s leading role not only in the military coalition for Yemen but also with regard to the balance of power in the Gulf region.
The Zionist regime has praised the UAE’s actions on the Yemeni island of Socotra.
According to the Al-Alam news agency, Israeli security and military services expressed their satisfaction regarding the UAE's control of Socotra, saying that they were worried that the Houthi movement would dominate the strategic island.
A report published on the website of Hebrew Channel 12 by an expert in Middle Eastern affairs who is very close to Tel Aviv's forces said, “Socotra Island is attracting a lot of attention from the Israeli security services.” The report also said, “The UAE is currently building military bases on the island and is investing to gain the support of people there."
In addition, the report revealed that Tel Aviv's security and military experts were closely monitoring developments on the island by the separatist STC.
An Israeli expert who works as an Arab world analyst on Hebrew television said Israel is ready to assist the STC movement in its confrontation with Iran’s allies.
It is noteworthy that the Houthi movement has emphasized that Israel is seeking a role in the country with the UAE’s help. Daifallah al-Shami, information minister in the Houthi-led Yemeni National Salvation Government, noted that the Zionist regime considers the nation to be a serious threat and is trying to play a role in Yemen by way of the UAE and its allies, including the STC.
Arab and Iranian media allege that in 2016 Israel started building an intelligence-gathering base at the top of Mount Ambassaira, south of the Eritrean capital of Asmara. The station, according to reports, is designed to monitor the conflict in Yemen as well as the naval situation in the region, including the movements of Iranian naval forces.
No one would hazard a guess as to how much the UAE will play a role in the Socotra installation, as obviously, it would be a through-and-through Israeli project since "what is officially projected" is that Tel Aviv will keep an eye on the Houthi rebels.
Two sites on the Socotra have so far been selected for spy bases, namely the Momi region in the east of the island, where the Jamgua Center will be built, and a locality on the west side of the island, where the Katanan Center will be established.
Pakistan and China issues
With its planned intelligent base in Socotra, Israel will not only pursue Iran but also Pakistan's Gwadar Port.
As part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing developed the port in Gwadar so that goods unloaded there could be shipped overland to China.
Last June, the Pakistani government approved a $7.2 billion upgrade to a railway that will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.
The latest move by the UAE and Israel has triggered alarms in the Middle Kingdom as a detailed article published in the South China Morning Post last August expressed China‘s fears about how "the U.S. wants Arab-Israeli support in countering Beijing’s influence over supply routes seen as life-and-death matter for the Chinese economy."
In this context, the Socotra base will allow Tel Aviv to keep an eye on Gwadar Port, which will not only serve the U.S. but also greatly assist India, which is a strong ally of Israel and a rival of China and Pakistan.
Israel, or in this case the U.S., cannot bear having Gwadar Port develop into a strategic business hub. It is trying its best to create obstacles to hinder the entire project, and what can be concluded from all this is that Socotra will from now on neither be for the Houthi rebels, nor for the UAE or Yemen, but under the complete control of Tel Aviv and Washington. This rapidly changing scenario is altering the world's balance of power as never before and Israeli – and U.S. – radars will soon be in the most strategic places in the region.
The security, military and intelligence cooperation that the UAE aspires to establish with the Israelis will ensure the implementation of their policy of expansion and influence over the fates and decisions of other Arab countries in the region, and will dangerously pave the way for Tel Aviv to have extra footholds in the area while also aggressively maintaining its occupation of Palestinian territories.
* Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers
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