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THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF THE BAB AL-MANDAB STRAIT 


BY 



COLONEL STAFF HUSSAIN AL-YADOOMI 
Yemen Armed Forces 


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The Bab al-Mandab Strait's importance as the southern gate of the Red Sea in which maritime 
history began has a significant importance upon today's world order. It is important 
geographically, politically, economically and militarily. Besides these factors, there are 
in the region contrasts and elements of tension due to different political regimes, 
religious and cultural heritages, economic resources and the existence of crisis 
situations. The region is considered a confrontation arena between the superpowers, which 
tried to establish and then promote their military presence and influence there. 

The region's nations have tried to cooperate among themselves to lessen tension and to 
promote peace and security in the region. These attempts still need more effort to achieve 
the hoped for results. 

This paper analyzes the situation in the region focusing on its importance. 


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THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF THE BAB AL-MANDAB STRAIT 
AN INDIVIDUAL STUDY FRQJECT 
by 

Colonel Staff Hussain Al-Yadocmi 
Yemen Armed Forces 

Dr. William Stockton 
Project Adviser 


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release} distribution la unlimited* 


U.S. Army war College 
Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania 17013 
9 April 1991 





ABSTRACT 


AUTHOR: Hussain Al-Yadoomi, COL, Staff, Yemen Armed Forces 
TITLE: Hie Strategic Importance of the Bab al-Mandab Strait 

FORMAT: Individual Study Project 

DATE: 9 April 1991 PAGES: 30 CLASSIFICATION: Unclassified 

Hie Bab al-Mandab Strait's inportance as the southern gate of the Red Sea 
in which maritime history began has a significant importance upon today's 
world order. It is important geographically, politically, economically and 
militarily. Besides these factors, there are in the region contrasts and 
elements of tension due to different political regimes, religious and cultural 
heritages, economic resources and the existence of crisis situations, the 
region is considered a confrontation arena between the superpowers, which 
tried to establish and then promote their military presence and influence 
there. 

The region's nations have tried to cooperate among themselves to lessen 
tension and to promote peace and security in the region. These attempts still 
need more effort to achieve the hoped for results. 

This paper analyzes the situation in the region focusing an its 
importance. 


ii 








TABLE OF CONTENTS 


Page 


ABSTRACT. ii 

CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION. 1 

The Red Sea and the Persian Gulf Map. ... 3 

II. AREA OF STUDY. 4 

Map of the Red Sea. 5 

The Geopolitical Characteristics. 6 

Historical Background . 7 

III. THE POWER SITUATION. 11 

The Arab Block. 11 

The I srael -Ethiop ia Block. 1 • • 13 

IV. THE WORLD PCWERS. 15 

The Western Block. 15 

The French in the Region. 17 

The Soviet Union in the Region. 18 

The Soviet Union in Yemen. 19 

The Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa. . . 21 

The Soviets in Somalia. 22 

The Soviets in Ethiopia. 22 

V. THE YEMEN ATTITUDE TOWARD THE DISHJTE 

BETWEEN THE WEST AND EAST OVER THE 

BAB AIrMANDAB. 24 

The Republic of Yemen's Attitude. 24 

VI. OONCUJSICN. 26 

ENDNOTES. 29 

BIBLIOGRAPHY. 30 



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TOE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF TOE BAB AL-MANDAB STRAIT 


CHAPTER I 
INTRODUCTION 

EXie to the increasing attention given to the Red Sea, as if rediscovered, 
the Red Sea appears to the viewer as if it were a delicious meal that suddenly 
emerged frcm unde r g ro und causing the powers to swarm around it and gain access 
to advantageous ground, where, if they reach over, they can get hold of 
everything. 

The Red Sea is a part of the shortest and fastest waterway between the 
East and the west with considerable geopolitical advantages and 
characteristics that have always made it a main frontal point around which 
revolve struggles, confrontations and maneuvers. It is as well an arena for 
the great powers' competition, for realizing their increasing ideological, 
economical, political and military interests. 

Therefore the history of the Red Sea can serve as an ideal summary of the 
history of international relations which, since early times, has been based on 
the balance of power among influential countries. Such balance deals with the 
analysis of situations in the light of requirements and needs. The treatment 
shall mostly have a geopolitical nature. 

The inportanoe of the Bab al-Mandab Strait comes frcm the importance of 
the Red Sea. The Red Sea is the western gate connecting the Indian Ocean with 
the Red Sea which cuts the water route between Europe and the Arabian 
Peninsula by seven to ten days raved because ships do not have to go around 
east coast of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. 




The purpose of this paper is to indicate the geopolitical importance of 
the Bab al-Mandab Strait and to analyze the situation in the region focusing 
on its importance to western and Eastern countries. Another purpose is to 
indicate the positions of countries in the region. 


2 





THE RED SEA AND THE PERSIAN GULF 



3 







CHAPTER II 


AREA OF STUDY 

The Bab al-Mandab Strait is located at the farthest southwest point of the 
Arabian Peninsula, and across from it is the coast of Africa. The Arabia 
Peninsula and Africa are separated by a distance of only 22 miles. The Strait 
connects the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean and is bisected by Perim Island. 1 

The Bab al-Mandab Strait is bordered by four countries: Yemen on the 
Arabian Peninsula side, and Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia on the African 
side. Somalia is added because it is bordered by the Gulf of Aden, the 
natural entrance to the Red Sea through the Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

From the geopolitical point of view, the Bab al-Mandab Strait looks wider 
than its 22 miles, because its importance it is not limited to the political 
units that border the Strait, but goes beyond this to include the political 
units which are politically, economically, militarily or strategically 
connected in seme way or other to the Bab al-Mandab strait. 

On the other hand, it can be equally said that the industrialized West 
European countries have geopolitical requirements in the Red Sea, because they 
mainly depend on the Gulf petroleum to meet their energy needs. Furthermore, 
a country like the Soviet Union can also be included in the geopolitical range 
of the Rad Sea, because the Red Sea is the shortest route that links its Black 
Sea ports with its fleet in the Indian Ocean, a fleet which plays an important 
role in the Soviet naval strategy. Also, the United States of America is not 
excluded from the Red Sea's geopolitical space because through it passes the 
Gulf petroleum, the production and trading of which are monopolized by the 
American companies. 


4 





THE RED SEA 


...... , Syria 


tc-'jne.m sea 


''Vl _ _ 

liraei^ > 

*) / 

J -'1 


' ** a ' '•at 


/ Jordan 

( ^ "a 


of 

Aqaba 


Egypt 


Saudi 

Arabia 


Naeo’, ■? 

S. 


5^i*rm can Snavan 


*i Gburaaqan v 
3ur Saiaian 


Egypt 


sharm ash 
Shaytth 


Al I . 

W*l** I ^a • U v *tm 




Red Sea 


Scats i i ooo 000 
0 19 Kilamatara 


V.wln 73 

o 


1 , 
s 


S a udi 


Souddary ^ 

r 


# .vadiHat>a f 


Arabia 


O / 


• , M«cea 


, At U « 


v ;; 


Sudan 


. . Al 

, Quntudhan 


jmm Ourm#n i 
*nart©vm^« 


red ii"-j 


Ethiopia 

H.ft.yto 


• ••• V . 

■ 


^araaAA * $ 4 dM j 

\*V \ > • ■ ! 

/.Yeman Arab I 


..mu . I *'«MI 


Taman Arab 
RepuDllc j 

(N. t.manl / 


, L. > <jt 0.MW 
T Ar ea —<a> 
Mita'twaj f iftj 

*tmffl . ^ y 


" \ Rapublic 

/ (N. Yaman) 

■ l * s,n “ 

1 ;s 

; Al 


/P.0.R.Y. ./',■■• - }••;** 

(S Ytmaal -i BfhlOC 


J»t*1 J aAa/ \ 
Zuoar „ i 


£d s ' »*•*«. ' 

>. / ' pdj».t. 


Ethiopia 


r- •• ^ ,«®cw (». ThwiI | 


^ m.t I -,/f 


Oat#. • _ 


Djibouti 


5 c ai# t t 000 000 


: ‘ ■ '■ ( l 

* tan. - ' V 1 


/Djibouti 

j A g' tn 


Scat* t t > 500.000 /Somalia 

0 300 K>l«m«iora 


5 







THE GEOPOLITICAL CHARACTERISTICS 


The Bab al-Mandab Strait represents the bottleneck of the Red Sea. It is 
where its width does not exceed 22 miles. Furthermore, the island of Brin 
Mune (Perim Island) divides the strait into two corridors. The one to the 
east is about two miles wide, and the other one, the western corridor, is 
about 16 miles in width. The eastern corridor is not used for the big ships 
or for international navigation because it is narrow and its depth is about 85 
feet. The eastern corridor is often used by small boats between Thobab port 
in Yemen, and Berbera in Somalia, Djibouti, Assab in Eritrea. 

The western corridor is the main passage of the Bab al-Mandab Strait. It 
is used for international navigation. It is deeper and wider than the eastern 
corridor. Its depth is about 990 feet. The bottom of the Strait is covered 
by rocks, but there is a hill which emerges above the surface of water in the 
form of Perim Island. 

As mentioned before the Bab al-Mandab Strait is bordered by four 
countries. There are seme islands around it in the Red Sea and the Gulf of 
Aden. These islands belong to different countries as shewn in the table 
belcw: 


6 





Yemen 5 Perim, great and small 

Heneish and Zukur in the 
Red Sea and 
Socotra Island on the 
Arabian Sea 

Djibouti 2 Siba and Molela Islands 

on the Gulf of Aden 

Ethiopia 4 Dahlak, Fatmp, Haleb and 

Deaneira Islands on the 
Red Sea 

Oman 2 Masira and Kuria Muria in 

the Indian Ocean 

The water of the Red Sea is distinguished by relatively high temperatures 
compared with other seas, even those which are situated at the same latitude. 
Normally the temperature of surface water (above 600 feet depth) is affected 
by the temperature of contacting air, and the temperature of the deep water 
(under 600 feet) remains fixed as it ranges f ran 18 °C in the north of the 
Red Sea to 23 °C in the south. The temperature of the Strait is very hi^h 
during the sunnier, with ranges between 26.5 °C to 43 °C with high humidity 
and between 19 °C to 32 °C in winter with medium humidity. 


7 





The Red Sea is considered among the most salty bodies of water in the 


world. 


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 

The historical dimension is undoubtedly regarded as a significant part of 
any serious scientific study that deals with any currently established 
geopolitical fact. Without such historical depth, the events relevant to such 
established fact simply become fabricated events that are not subjected to • 

geopolitical analysis, which only deals with recurrent events. 

This is because, if history repeated itself, this will only be through 
geography. Therefore, the follower of the history will immediately notice 
that there are recurrence of many similar significant events. However, if'one 
contenplates such events carefully, he will notice seme kind of difference 
between such events that seem as if repeated, a difference in terms of degree 
not in terms of quality. 

To demonstrate this the role of history in the Bab al-Mandab area can be 
divided into the following phases: 

The First Phase (Early Times—15th century) 

It is the amphibious phase where the Red Sea was siaply an internal sea 
between the Arabian Peninsula and African lands which maintained their 
connection and extensions across the sea. This was usually evident near the 
Suez on the north and on the south between Aden and the port of Berbera in 
Somalia and Djibouti, and also between A1 Mukha in Yemen with Asseb in 
Eritrea. The Red Sea was a principal rcute for trade from the East to the 
west. Trade goods were carried on the Red Sea and overland on caravans to the 
Mediterranean Sea where they were picked up by ships operated by Venice and 
Genova. 


8 








The Second Phase (15th century—1869) 


It is the phase which started the Portuguese discovery of the route around 
Africa to the Indian Ocean, and into the Red Sea through the Gulf of Aden and 
the Bab al-Mandab Strait. That was in the 15th century. This route became 
the main sea route that connected the East and west. This route dominated the 
trade that used to pass through the old route through the Bab al-Mandab. The 
old route became of minor importance, limited to coastal trade. The result of 
this was a great transformation—human movement and the currents of human 
civilization almost ceased to pass through the Red Sea. The value and 
importance of the ports and countries of the Red Sea deteriorated. 

Therefore, this period which followed the discovery of the circum-Africa 
route witnessed increasing interest from France and Britain. France tried to 
revive this route by obtaining a concession stipulating a reduction of custom 
duties on its goods that pass through Egypt. Its interest in this route was 
developed by working on excavating a canal across the Suez from the Red Sea to 
the Mediterranean Sea. England continued to use the old route that linked her 
to her largest colony, India, especially in transporting supplies and 
passengers between India and England while specifying the waterway for 
trading. 

The efficiency of the circum-Africa route increased after the introduction 
of steam ships early in the 19th century. They were more efficient than 
sailing ships which depended on the propelling force of the wind. 

The Third Ehasg (1869-Present) 

The next phase starts with the opening of the Suez ca n al in 1869. This 
canal connected the water routes between the Indian Ocean and the 
Mediterranean Sea through the Red Sea. This meant that the connection between 


9 




the East with the West was greatly shortened. This purely maritime connection 
reoriented the navigational line of communication to the Red Sea. The Red Sea 
became more powerful and important than it had been as an overland route. 

After it had become the shortest and quickest route between the East and West, 
the Suez Canal shortened the distance between them by nearly a half in sane 
instances and by nearly two-thirds in the others. For example, the distance 
between Kuwait and Liverpool was reduced from 13,500 miles around the Cape of 
Good Hope to about 7,000 miles via the Red Sea. The distance between 
Singapore and Liverpool was also reduced fran 15,000 miles via the Cape of 
Good Hope to about 9,100 miles through the Red Sea. 2 

Undoubtedly, this new maritime route contributed to the modem industrial 
and cultural leap which by Western Europe, the Industrial Revolution, until it 
reached overindustrialization. This maritime route brought the distance 
nearer between European countries and the sources of raw material and their 
export markets in Asia and Africa at the cheapest costs and shortest time. 

Since the 1930's, which is the beginning of the flow of petroleum from the 
Persian Gulf, an essential change has occurred in the function of this 
maritime route. It was transformed from a waterway for goods and passengers 
to a primary oil artery through which passes the most important strategic 
commodity in today's wrorld—oil. 


10 







CHAPTER III 


THE POWER SITUATION 

From the geopolitical characteristics, it is evident that all features, 
aspects and characteristics of the Strait, which is the southern gate of the 
Red Sea, also applies to the Red Sea waterway which connects the Indian Ocean 
with the Mediterranean Sea. This strongly affirms the Red Sea’s geopolitical 
identity because of its elongated form, limited width and intermediate 
position the fulfills the linkage. The identity of the Red Sea as a world 
navigation route has imposed itself in spite of negative characteristics such 
as high temperatures, severe draught and the scarcity of deep-water ports that 
serve this navigational route. In the past these negative characteristics' 
handicapped navigation, but they do not at present constitute a major obstacle 
to progress in the technology of sea navigation. 

Moreover, the Red Sea is a first-class sea corridor among world 
navigational routes because of the percentage of oil out of the total of the 
world oil traffic being carried through it in unarmed tankers. One of the 
primary duties of the international community is to act as an alert guardian 
to ensure that the Bab al-Mandab Strait is available to all navigation and at 
all times. 

The Strait is important as the southern gate of the Red Sea, and the Red 
Sea has always been a focus of interest for the different powers. Therefore, 
it is important to study the attitudes of the different powers toward the Red 
Sea, and to distinguish among them in the light of their n eeds and demands. 

THF ARAB HTDCK 

The Arab Red Sea coasts geographically constitute about 90.2 percent of 
the total length of the Red Sea coasts and the Gulf of Aden. The Red Sea is 


11 











almost placed in the midst of the Arab community area whether geographically 
or nationally. It is the main and only sea outlet for many Arab countries, 
especially for Jordan, Djibouti and the Sudan. The Red Sea is the main 

corridor through which Arab petroleum flows to export markets. The economies 
of most Arab countries depend mainly on petroleum exports, which represent 93 
to 100 percent of the total exports of some Arab countries, such as Saudi 
Arabia, Kuwait, (Stan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Bahrein. The 
potentiality of the presence of mineral resources, such as silver, copper, 
iron and lead, on the bottom of the Red Sea, increases the importance of the 
Red Sea both in the geographic and national concepts. That links the 
importance of the Bab al-Mandab Strait with the importance of the Red Sea 
economically through which pass over 40 percent of the total world oil traffic 
tankers. 3 

In spite of the strategic importance of the Red Sea to the Arabs and their 
geographical control of its coasts, there is no clear cut and effective Arab 
strategy toward this area. The foreign and hostile powers were left to 
control the world balance through controlling this important regional area of 
the world. It seems that the negativity of the Arab Community is not limited 
to the absence of a clear cut formula tcward the Red Sea. 

A most telling example for Arab Ccrrianity's negative attitude tcward the 
Red Sea is the end of seme Arab islands of the Red Sea, such as Sanafir, 

Tiran, and Small Heneish which came under the military control of Israel by 
name of Ethiopia (the Yemen and Ethiopia still negotiate the small Heneish 
Island problem). 

The increasing interests and demands of the Arab Community in the Red Sea 
requires that c o m m u nity to adept a unified and clear Arab policy toward this 
important strategic corridor without being simply content with declarations of 





intentions and good wishes. There the need to build a naval fleet to realize 
a balance between the demands and the possibility of achieving them. The 
necessity for adopting an effective attitude toward the struggle over the 
strategic coast of the Horn of Africa, which was regarded as an extension of 
the Middle East struggle between Arabs and Israel. 

THF TSBAFTT / -ETHIOPIA BLOCK 

It can be said that both Israeli and Ethiopian demands in the Red Sea have 
begun to meet and coincide since the call to make the Red Sea an Arab lake as 
part of an Arab strategy to step the Israeli activity in the Red Sea. It 
became clear to both Israel u.u Ethiopia, ttv nly non-Arab countries in the 
Red Sea, that this call represented a direct threat to their national 
interests. 

In spite of the fact that the Israel's coast does not exceed seven miles. 
Israel has strengthened it to serve her as a breathing outlet especially when 
the Suez Canal was closed to Israeli shipping and made its Mediterranean 
outlet unable to carry Israel to the Afro-Asian regions. After controlling 
the Tiran Strait and being allowed to pass through the Suez Canal, Israel's 
main problem regarding the Red Sea normally lay in the Bab al-Mandab Strait 
when the Arab Israel War took place in 1973 and Egyptian and Yemeni forces 
closed the Strait to Israeli navigation. 

As for Ethiopia, the Red Sea is the only outlet that links her to the 
outer world. This sea outlet is represented by ports on the Eritrian coast, 
including Musawa and Assab ports. The danger that threatens Ethiopia lies in 
the demand of the population living on this coast for their independence which 
could mean the separation of the coastal region from the rest of Ethiopia, and 
the return of this Ethiopia to being a landlocked country cut away from the 
outer world. 


13 







Israel's interests meet with the Ethiopian interests when the Arabs become 
the common enemy of both. The Arabs are in this traditional struggle with 
Israel, and the Arabs also support the Eritrian people. The Arabs call to 
make the Red Sea a purely Arab lake. The strategic meeting between Israel and 
Ethiopia manifested itself in various patterns of coordination and cooperation 
against the separation of Eritrea and breaking her ties with the Arabs. This 
means that the Arabs will try to tighten their grip over the Bab al-Mandab 
Strait. 

Israel supports Ethiopia in various economical and military fields 
especially after American arms shipments to Ethiopia ended in April 1977. In 
return, Israel obtained strategic concessions, including the use of Eritrian 
ports for her trade with inland African co u n t ries such as the Congo, Central 
Africa and South Sudan; in establishing naval military bases in the Islands of 
Forma and Haleb, and two bases in the northwest Eritrea and right on the Sudan 
border. Israeli aircraft can take off directly from the bases and fly to 
Israel. Israel uses Dctneira Island for surveillance and reconnaissance. This 
island is situated only 20 miles from Ferim Island. 

Israel seized the Yemeni island of Small Heneish at the entrance of Bab 
al-Mandab. There they built a co mmunication station. The Eritrian situation, 
along with its strategic weight, has led to complicating the geopolitical 
situation in the southern Red Sea area. 

Eritrea's cont r olling strategical position has made the interests and 
attitude of Israel coincide with the attitudes of the Soviet Union and Cuba 
tcward Addis Ababa. 


14 





CHAPTER IV 


THE WORLD POWERS 

THE WESTERN BLOCK 

The Red Sea has remained for a long period of time a Western area of 
influence. It had been a route for spices, until it became an artery for 
crude oil. By virtue of its island nature or semi-island nature it offered 
the west the opportunity to embark at an early time on the field of 
colonialism and gain superiority as a naval pcwer. When traditional 
colonialism withdrew from this area a vacuum existed and offered other powers 
the opportunity to fill it. 

The geopolitical nature of the Red Sea that makes it unfit for stationing 
war ships especially aircraft carriers and submarines which constitute the 
main strike force of the United States' fleet. The West resorted to depending 
on the conservative regimes in the Red Sea as well as the use of petrodollars 
an instrument to achieve Western goals and maintain its interests. This 
undoubtedly forms a hole in the Western strategic network in the region 
because such strategy depends in the first place on political factors and 
elements which are liable to change fran time to time especially since 
existing regimes in the Red Sea area are unstable and always liable to 
national, progressive and radical currents. An example of this was the 
conversion of Addis Ababa, until recently was a fortress for Lybian influence 
to leftist Marxism after the downfall of the conservative regime of Haile 
Selassie and the caning of the progressive regime of Mangisto Haile Mariam. 

The Red Sea in the Western politics is the main artery that carries 
Persian Gulf oil to Western industrialized nations which suffer from an energy 
shortage. They mainly depend on Gulf petroleum to run their factories, warm 
their houses and dir ect their economy by investments of petrodollars. The 


15 








main goal of the American military forces in the region is to ensure an 
uninterrupted flow of oil to Western nations and to safeguard Western 
petroleum companies operating in the Gulf area to guarantee the contributions 
of these companies the balance of payments. 

This underlines the importance of the Bab al-Mandab Strait which has been 
favored with a prestigious position in Western strategy as being an important 
base for control and command of petroleum as well as the route for 
transporting it. Persian Gulf petroleum flows to Western countries through or 
from the Red Sea to Europe and west Asia. In all cases it passes through the 
Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

The United States has stationed a giant naval force in the Indian Ocean, 
Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea, comprising aircraft carriers, destroyers and 
nuclear submarines. It also has several naval and air bases that serve these 
naval units. The bases around the area are as follows: 

o Ma^ira Rase : it is situated in Masira Island opposite to the coast of 
Oman Sultanate on the Indian Ocean. A naval base used to support nuclear 
submarines in the Indian Ocean. 

o Diego Garcia Base : An air and naval base in the island of Diego Garcia 
situated to the south of the Maidive Islands. It ccranands the oil routes 
between the Red Sea and the Cape of Good Hope. It is considered as care of the 
most important bases in the Indian Ocean for the strategic bombers as well as 
being the largest ocm njnication station in the Indian Ocean. 

o caneo Base : Caneo is the largest ccnnunication station in the Red Sea 
even outside the United states. The importance of this station lies in the 
fact that it is situated at a height of 7,500 feet, north of Asmara, the 
capital of Eritrea. Expanding this 1 surge station was a main factor for 
Washington's adherence to continue its alliance with Ethiopia at present. 


16 




o Massawa Rase: it is a giant base for the warships of the United 
States' 7th Fleet. There are as well, facilities in the ports of Hodayda and 
Teddah in the Red Sea. 

The purpose of these bases is to protect U.S. interests in the Kiddle East 
in general and in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea in particular. Their 
strategic interests are basically centered on the use of the naval facilities 
on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean to support military operations either in 
peacetime or wartime. They also support free navigation through the Red Sea 
and Bab al-Mandab, and to make sure of continuing the flow of the Gulf oil to 
U.S. allies in Europe. Soviet influence in the region U.S. to appear in the 
region to counter the Soviets which, threaten its interests and security of 
the waterway for U.S. navigation. 

THE FRENCH IN THE REGION 

Like other West European countries, France has a strong interest in 
freedom of navigation along the sea routes surrounding the Horn of Africa. In 
the past, moreover, France had been heavily dependent on the inports of oil 
from the Persian Gulf. 

Despite the declining importance of the Bab al-Mandab as a conduit for 
France's oil supplies, this strait remains important, since it lies astride 
the fastest route to French territories in the Indian Ocean and the Western 
Pacific. Since the French military presence at Djibouti, France has the 
ability to respond more rapidly to threats in the Bab al-Mandab than any 
other. The French Indian Ocean Squadron is normally based in Reunion, tut 
often visits Djibouti. It usually includes 12 combatant ships and aircraft 
carriers. The French garrison at Djibouti numbers 4,500 troops, supported by 




a squadron of 12 fighters. This concentration of French military power near 
the Strait of Bab al-Mandab is probably more than enough to counter any likely 
threats to the latter's security. 

The French military presence in Djibouti, moreover, appears to be secure, 
for without it, Djibouti would probably cease to exist as independent state. 
Indeed, when Djibouti gained independence in 1977, it was widely assumed that 
without the retention of a French military garrison, Djibouti would become 
engulfed in a war between Somalia and Ethiopia, which have conflicting 
interests in that country. With a population of only 400,000, Djibouti is 
heavily dependent on French budgetary and technical assistance. There are 
over 10,000 French citizens, including 6,300 military personnel and their 
dependents, residing in Djibouti. 4 

THE SOVIET UNION IN THE REGION 

The history of the region around the Bab al-Mandab strait was dominated 
for more than a century by the inperial policy of Great Britain and the 
colonialism of Italy. The infant Soviet state, its ideology reinforcing 
Russian antipathy to British power, looked to revolution in the colonial 
empires as the historically ordained fate of this area, as in so many others. 

A more concrete expression developed toward the end of World War II, when 
Moscow suggested to its allies that the former Italian colonies of Somalia and 
Ethiopia be placed under Soviet trusteeship. 5 

The Soviet Union's initial interest was apparently to challenge British 
inperial influence as colonialism waned. Gradually in the midst of 
consolidating its own inperial ambitions, Moscow assigned this effort added 
importance. Soviet planners understood the potential utility of air and naval 
facilities, and of a military presence in general, lastly the Soviet 
involvement growing in East Africa, Arabia and the Indian Ocean. 


.8 







The value of the region also became manifest, during the war in South eas t 
Asia when Soviet supplies to North Vietnam were shipped through the Red Sea 
passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The closing of the Suez Canal 
between 1967 and 1976, demonstrated the canal's vulnerability to blockade in 
the future. The Soviets still sought assured access to this narrow waterway 
linking the southern end of the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. Increases in 
Soviet presence during the late 1960's-early 1970's coincided with British 
evacuation from the sensitive areas as the Persian Gulf and South Yemen. It 
appears that the importance of the region to Soviet policymakers was limited 
neither to the utility of the maritime route nor to countering British 
influence. 

As early as the late 1950's, U.S. development and deployment of submarine- 
launched Polaris A-3 missile systems was of major concern to the soviet Union. 
Soviet planners realized that the northern sectors of the Indian Ocean 
provided a good location for the deployment of such weapon systems aimed 
potentially at the USSR and China. In addition, Moscow appears to have 
assumed that the People's Republic of China (FKC) regional ambitious in Africa 
and the region would inevitably conflict with Soviet interests. 

THE SOVIET UNION IN YEMEN 

within the framework of its growing interests and involvement in the 
Middle East, the Soviet Union concluded a treaty of friendship with the Imam 
of North Yemen on 1 November 1955. The proponents of Marxism-Leninism in 
Moscow had nothing in ca rm en with the medieval ruler of this impoverished 
state except their mutual desire to expel British influence from the region. 
The Soviets were therefore willing to provide the Imam with arms denied him by 
the West at Britain's insistence. 


19 





During the following two years, in accord with a trade agreement of March 
1956, eight ship loads of small arms, antiaircraft guns and tanks were 
delivered. After the 1962 revolution in North Yemen, which overthrew the 
Imam's regime and established the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), and during the 
Civil War which ensued, Soviet aid increased dramatically, reaching a total of 
$92 million by 1965. In addition, several hundreds of Soviet advisers were 
involved in military training. The USSR competed with the PRC for 
agricultural and industrial aid projects in North Yemen. 6 

After the British departure from its strategic positions, specifically 
from South Yemen, and the emergence there of the radical wing of the National 
Liberation Front as the backing element in the Marxist regime of independence. 
This later became the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PORY). It 
resulted in close ties with the USSR. Indeed, shortly after having 
disappointed the YAR's expectations for military aid, the Soviets, responded 
favorably to some of the PCRY's requests. By mid-1972 they were reported to 
have delivered two squadrons of MIG-17 aircraft and to have trained 60 South 
Yemeni pilots. 

The turning point in USSR-FERY relations appeared to have occurred in late 
1972 during President Salim Rubayyi Ali's visit to Moscow. The meeting having 
been thoroughly prepared in advance by a large high-level delegation, dealt 
with the entire range of bilateral relations including military, economic, 
technical, political and cultural cooperation. The arrival of a large number 
of Soviet military experts in Aden, and a followup visit to Moscow by PERY 
Premier and Defense Minister Ali Nasir Muhanmad were initial indications of 
success. The level of Soviet military aid, which by 1974 was estimated to 
have totaled $114 million, provided tangible evidence that strong relations 
were established. 


20 






The reasons for Soviet involvement became manifest early by a major Soviet 
effort to acquire naval facilities in PERY and to emphasize greater Soviet 
control over the port of Aden and the port of Mukallah. That these had become 
important to the Soviet navy is evidenced by the frequency and duration of 
visits ashore by Soviet personnel to maintain forces and facilities on the 
Island of Socotra, which became the most important naval base for the Soviet's 
fleet on the Indian Ocean. Its airfield provides a potential base for 
reconnaissance and other aircraft, also the Khorraaksar airfield in Yemen and 
others. 

THE SOVIET UNION IN THE HORN OF AFRICA 

The Horn of Africa nominally embraces Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia 
and Kenya, but that part which most resembled a horn is Somalia. It is an 
area of enormous strategic importance forming the southern shore of the Gulf 
of Aden and jutting out into the Indian Ocean at the point part by which must 
flow the majority of the oil routes from the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. 

Thus a grip on the Horn means an ability to cut that route and the lifeblood 
of most of the West and Asia. The Horn has, for centuries, been the scene of 
wars, turmoil and suffering, but it is an area whose significance has not been 
fully understood. It is not appropriate to attempt any historical sketch of 
the countries of the Horn, except in so far as the past contributes to the 
present. 

The Horn of Africa is the region of sane 750,000 square miles and a 
population of about 40 million. Until the late 19th century no clearly 
defined borders separated the various regional entities. Those which were 
finally established perpetuated Ethiopian expansion into the Danakil region, 
Somali territory and a strip of land along the border with Sudan. By that 
time France controlled Djibouti and built a railroad to Addis Ababa, while 


21 





Italy established a colony in what is ncw Eritrea and divided Somalia with 
Great Britain. 7 

THE SOVIETS TN SOMALIA 

The British having been the preeminent regional power until the mid- 
1960's, traditionally sympathized with the Somalia vision of national 
reunification. After being offered western aid in equipping an armed force of 
5,000 men sufficient only for internal security, Somalia accepted a Soviet 
offer of a $32 million loan and assistance in equipping and training a 10,000 
strong armed force, compared with Somalia's total military budget of $3.9 
million in 1964. 8 While the United States was involved in the Vietnam War, 
President Johnson decided to cut off aid to Somalia. Prior to these 
developments, Moscow supported certain Somalia policy positions— 
anticolonialism and opposition to foreign bases in Africa and to aggressive 
military alliances. 

The major involvement in Somalia was undertaken when Moscow's difficulties 
with Sudan and Egypt (leading to the expulsion of Soviet advisers from both) 
as well as increased Chinese competition underlined the importance of a 
friendly progressive regime in Somalia. 

Close Soviet-Scmal ia relations brought about the transportation of 
Somalia's Kismayu train and Barbara port Lite the Soviet Union's main base 
facilities in the region. The investment of Barbera port had been worthless 
since the beginning when the Soviets enjoyed access to port facilities in 
Yemen, and prior to being evicted from their Egyptian bases on the Red Sea. 

THE SOVIETS IN ETHIOPIA 

The Soviet's involvement in Ethiopia began after the cap against Enperor 
Haile Selassie headed by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam in February 1977. 

Since that time the country became known as a Democratic People's Republic. 


22 





The Soviet Union, however, was already anticipating major internal changes in 
Ethiopia, the tangible evidence of Soviet anticipation was that Soviet media 
carried on an almost daily basis detailed reports of demonstrations and 
strikes in Addis Ababa and the countryside. 

When the inevitable coup materialized, Moscow lost no time in expressing 
enthusiastic approval and in pointing out the historical significance of the 
revolution. After the revolution took over the Soviets supported the new 
leadership. Ethiopia's response was a few days later when it was announced 
that Ethiopia would turn to socialist countries for its arms and to improve 
relations with the USSR. 


23 






CHAPTER V 


THE YEMEN ATTITUDE TCMARD THE DISHJTE BETWEEN THE 
WEST AND EAST OVER THE BAB AL-MANDAB 

The geographical location of the Bah al-Mandab Strait, and its importance 
as the southern gate of the Red Sea increased world attention to it and like a 
delicious meal caused world powers to swarm around it. The growing 
geopolitical importance of the Bab al-Mandab, and to the important location of 
the Republic of Yemen, geographically and politically, put it in a position of 
causing the powers to swarm to gain access to it as important ground at the 
Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

Historically, Yemen had been a primary target for many nations since the 
15th century. Yemen, as have other countries around the Red Sea, especially 
around the Bab al-Mandab Strait, has been involved in many conflicts because 
of the strait, and faced many occupations. Since the 15th century until the 
present many international powers tried to gain control of this strait to 
protect their interests from the others, as we have discussed before. 

THE REHJBI.Tf: OF YEMEN'S ATTITUDE 

The ROY is doing its best to enhance its relationship with all countries 
around the Red Sea region, especially those countries which share the Bab al- 
Mandab Strait, in order to establish the security of the strait and separate 
it from international conflicts. 

On the other hand, the ROY appreciates the conflicts on the Horn of 
Africa. It tries its best to participate in solving these problems by 
arranging agreements with all concerned countries within the framework of 
international law. However, Yemen tries to secure the strait since it is the 
strategic passage in southern Red Sea, which connects the East of the world 


24 








with the West of the world which will result in political, economical and 
military advantage to all nations. 

The ROY is concerned if the Red Sea or part of it, especially the Bab al- 
Mandab Strait becomes occupied by an outside force. Such occupation will 
affect the security of Yemen as well as all other countries around the region. 
Yemen has a specific military advantage because this strait is considered as a 
part of its territorial waters, and in fact, it affects its security. For 
that reason Yemen tries to coordinate its military efforts with all countries 
sharing the strait with it, and also with the countries that have interests in 
the Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

The policy of Yemen is defined in Article Number Five in the first chapter 

of the Yemen Constitution which says, 

The government ensure to function in accordance with the 
United Nation's charter and universal announcement of the 
human right and under the charter of the Arab League and 
the international law that in general recognized. 

As far as economic goals are concerned, Yemen wants to establish 
facilities for all ships crossing the strait in order to enhance its economic 
resources. These facilities are essential to heavy ships crossing the strait 
to Asia, Africa and Europe. 

Yemen's political interests are that as Yemen considers the strait as very 
iirportant in the sense that it connects it with all outside countries, 
especially the industrial countries and superpowers, which no dcubt want 
freedom of navigation through the Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

According to Yemen policy as a member of the nonaligned countries, it does 
its best to keep the Strait of Bab al-Mandab outside any international or 
regional conflicts, and to prevent any side from using it for military 
purposes against others, as is agreed by all countries which share the use of 
the strait. 


25 







CHAPTER VI 


CONCLUSION 

The Bab al-Mandab Strait had been important in trade between India and 
Europe as the transit checkpoint, but since the opening of the Suez Canal and 
connection of the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, it has become very 
important to all international countries as a southern gate of the shortest 
and quickest waterway that links the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea, 
the Eastern and Western parts of the world. The increasing attention given to 
the Red Sea, an arena of the great powers' competition, attention given to the 
Strait of Bab al-Mandab as the southern entrance to the Suez Canal which is 
the northern entrance to the Red Sea. 

As the Arab-Israeli conflict continues, Israel will still be concerned 
with having free navigation in the Red Sea, in particularly through the Bab 
al-Mandab, which is the only outlet through which Israel can go to its markets 
in Africa and Asia. After the Israeli tanker Coral Sea was attacked in the 
strait in 1971, and the blockade on the Bab al-Mandab Strait in 1973 in front 
of the Israeli navigation by Arabs during the October war, Israel will pay 
particular attention to its interests in this area. 

The Soviet Union has paramount interests in the region. These interests 
are multiple, and sane of then are essential to the Soviet national security. 
The region is the Soviet's southern sea route which is the shortest waterline 
of coranunication opened the navigation route between its European ports in the 
Black Sea and Indian Ocean, where it has its naval fleet, instead of going 
through the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean and around Africa. The 
Suez route makes it easier for the Soviets to support its nervy and air force 
in peacetime and during the wartime. 


26 








The Soviet Union also has its trade relationships with other countries in 
Africa and Asia, and it wants to preserve that waterway for its trading ships. 
On the other hand, the Soviets want also to control the navigation on the Red 
Sea against the West especially the Europe to which the oil flews from the 
Gulf countries for Europe's energy and industry, whenever the Soviets feel it 
is important to them. Finally, the USSR's interest is to counter U.S. and 
European influence in the region. 

However, the United States also has its interests in the region like 
others. The United States' strategic interests are basically centered on the 
following objectives: 

o First, the use of facilities ashore to support US military operations 
in southwest Asia and the Indian Ocean in peacetime and in wartime 
contingencies; 

o Second, freedom of international navigation through the Red Sea and the 
Bab al-Mandab Strait; 

o Third, continuing the flew of the Persian Gulf oil to allies in Europe 
through the Bab al-Mandab; and 

o Finally, countering the Soviet influence in the region and securing the 
waterway against the Arab radical ism for changing the Red Sea to an Arab lake. 

In addition, Western European states have a strong interest in freedom of 
navigation through the Red Sea. According to some estimates about 40 percent 
of the Persian Gulf oil that is earmarked for Western Europe is shipped 
through the Bab al-Mandab Strait. 

The states in the area do not approve of the presence of foreign bases or 
forces on their territories because they see double danger in such an action 
which makes the area an arena for international conflict between the two great 






powers. The presence of one party's forces on their territories will 
consequently antagonize the other. It may also lead to elements allied with 
that party to stir up disturbances, instabilities and revolutions. 

Therefore, sane states prefer to keep away from such pacts and not to fall 
under a foreign hegemony foreign military presence was eliminated and the 
Middle East area was freed from foreign military bases. 


28 







ENENOTES 


1. Mordechai Abir, Sharm al-Sheikh- Bab al-Marriab: Ihe Strategic Blance 
and Israel's Southern Approaches, p. 7. 

2. Ministry of Defense Military Researches Authority: Egypt and Middle 
East, An Overview on Contemporary Problems, Part 1, p. 134. 

3. Abdel Majid Farid: Ihe Red Sea, p. 108. 

4. Naval War College Review, Vol. XL111, Nr. 4, Sequence 332, Autumn 
1990, pp. 21-22. 

5. Nimrod Novik: On the Shores of Bab al-Mandab, Soviet Diplomacy and 
Regional Dynamics, p. 1. 


6. 

Ibid., 

p. 4. 

7. 

Ibid., 

p. 23. 

8. 

Ibid.. 

p. 24. 


29 








BIBLIOGRAPHY 


Abir, Mordechai. sharm al-sheikh-Bab al-Ma ndeb: T he Strategic Balance and 
Israel's Southern Approaches . March 1974, Jerusalem. Jerusalem Papers on 
Peace Problems, No. 5, p. 29. 

Farid, Abdel Majid (ed.). The Red Sea: Prospects for Stability . 1984. Arab 
Research Centre, Jordan, Crocm Helm, New York, St. Martins Press, p. 173. 

Military Researches Authority. Egypt and Middle East: An Overview__on 

Contemporary Problems , Part 1. Guide for Military Missions, 1982-1983. 
Ministry of Defence, Arab Republic of Eqypt, p. 246. 

Novik, Nimrod. On the Shores of Bab al-Man dah; so viet Diplomacy and 

Regional Dynamics . 1979. Foreign Policy Resea r ch Institute, Monograph 
No. 26, Philadelphia, p. 83. 

Remnek, Richard B. The Strategic Incortance of the Bab al-Mandab and the 
Horn of Africa. Autumn, 1990. Naval war College Review. 


30