Ranjit B Rai

The object of this post is to analyse a major strategic sea change that has stealthily taken place in the last five  years in the Western Indian Ocean Region (IOR)  where United Arab Emirates (UAE)  with a modern military flying potent planes and sailing warships (many  trained by India and Pakistan), with deep pockets and as India’s largest trading partner (Indian investments and workers)  has quietly  become a MARITIME Power in Western IOR with bases in Socotra and Aden in Yemen, and Berbera and Djibouti and Assab in Somaliland/Eritrea Ethiopia  and an air base in Somaliland.  Indian Navy OR media has not commented.

UAE has a spanking new French Naval base near Abu Dhabi. France is  a IOR riparian power supporting the QUAD and UAE has helped Saudi Arabia in Yemen against Houthis so Shia Iran is not its friend.  France and Saudis  support UAE for business too and scratch backs and  as an expert said the ruler of UAE Sheikh Zayed Al Nahayan,  is a strategist unlike the Saudi Princes and UAE is worth a visit as a shining example of stability and has invested a Sovereign Fund in India. Malyalam is spoken by many Arabs and leaders know what its founder had said,  “Be obedient to Allah and use your intelligence instead of resorting to arms,” he used to counsel when fellow Arabs went to war, and they are at war. Israel has a say in US Politics.

IDF got a whiff of this maritime interest of UAE at a piracy conference in Dubai few years ago where   DP  world was the generous host and had also become  owners of P&O. They  became   de-fault Middle East agents of Waterman Steamships where one worked, hence the invite. Clyde & Co also friends in shipping presented and companies offered Security Guards and discussed new Rules for Anti-piracy by IMO as the main subject. Chinese were there too and exuded confidence that their PLA(Navy)was the main three ship task force on patrol in the Horn and co-operated with the lone  Indian Navy ship, a subject not discussed. Navies work far away from eyes ! What happens at sea is at sea !

At Dubai in his presentation the Chinese Ambassador to UAE spoke in fluent Arabic and IDF learnt he was an Arabic interpreter earlier for the Foreign Ministry so surmised China picks the right person for a job as long he loyal to the Party and Deng  learnt this from Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP.

 At Dubai  IDF clearly learnt  DP world was investing in Somaliland/Puntland and politicians from there were invited and met them in the Speakers Room. But the message was weak as one heard UAE wanted to invest in minerals and fishing but Somalia was in a mess with Al Sahabab. IDF presented what Indian Navy and Coast Guard and India could do with UAE for Somalia as had done in IOR and must have been useful in UAE’s  plans.  Many ransoms to release Pirated ships were secretly done through UAE which has no tax and black money is white, and even Turkey by Indians. But a penny dropped  early this  year when Economist announced what UAE was doing in West Asia.

The background is also that  on  16th  of  June a very interesting discussion on West Asia  was engaged by three  outstanding former Indian IFS hard core  Ambassadors over three hours who have served in West Asia (Iran, Syria,  Saudi Arabia and more than once)  and a West Asia researcher  and a Vice Admiral (who missed becoming Chief as CNS Admiral Joshi threw in the towel)  at United Service Institution (USI).   IDF congratulates all  on the dais speaking frankly with solutions and  illuminated the audience  on the issues that have created an unstable West Asia area and these were  not far to see and are summed below after a brief on what President Trump has been up to.

President Trump’s off the cuff statements to make ‘USA Great Again’ and actions  at the helm of the American ship of state as  it’s Captain. He  is altering course very often to ensure USA’s supremacy. USA is falling in its power and EU  is  rising to oppose it’s policies especially on Iran.  Trump  is  trampling all the nations in West Asia and the world there  looks less stable  with Israel being favoured and Palestine trampled. Trump is also  set to upset  China’s, “peaceful  rise and plans for a harmonious world”, with India’s support and a flare up in West Asia could be disastrous for India’s economy and China’s too,  both dependent on West Asia for oil.

At USI the state of Iran by an ex Ambassador and its relation with Russia and support to Syria and hate Israel attitude and its battle with USA was explained along with its difficult relation with Turkey. Funnily Iran was painted as nation that does not necessarily want a nuclear bomb and its economy is in trouble. Few realize IRCG is the force under the Supreme Leader Khomeini who calls the shots so Iran is clever and like India makes clever statements.  India too went nuclear that way. That’s the strategy of Iran’s nuclear bomb by design or default.

The Ex twice  Ambassador to Saudi Arabia fluently gave what is happening there and how much power the Crown Prime MBS has. He explained the complicated relations  between Saudi Arabia ( To hit North Syria rebels ) and please Russia and China   and elevate the Shia Sunni fight with Iran. The ex Ambassador to Syria explained ISIS in detail and the West Asia expert gave a full review. Adm Satish Soni covered IOR IONS and IORA very briefly  well and so the later discussion turned  on Security structure in IOR and it was music to hear from Ambassadors IONS must merge with IORA which is under Iran currently and also that China and India must co-operate. IDF feels PM Modi’s secret game is just  that with visit to Wuhan,   and also aware of UAE’s  moves in West Asia  but it was only brought up by a discussant brought it up and a long explanation by Ambassador Talmiz acceptance of the  UAE’s moves in details.

In part two IDF explains more but the UAE has  taken  full advantage of regional fragmentation throughout Yemen, Somaliland and Puntland to strike long term commercial deals, and encroached  upon the sovereignty of Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen over commercial disputes and taken  control of regional ports through its investment arm  Dubai Ports International (DPI) which was founded in 1999. Its first project was at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, collaborating with  local partners as its modus operandi  on the management and operation of the South Container Terminal (SCT). DPI then went on to develop operations at the ports of Djibouti and Vishakapatnam in 2002 and moved into India and USA and  purchased the fourth largest ports operator in the world, the P&O for £3.9 billion ($7 billion). The US and Indian story is long but UAE knew it had maritime attributes and expanded its ports and moved in with bases.

In August 2006, DP World signed an agreement with the Port Qasim in Pakistan and later  was  to win the Gwadar concession, but withdrew from the bidding on China’s signals and PSA (Port of Singapore Authority) moved in  March 2007 and China came in few years ago.

UAE took advantage of the tensions between Somalia’s Federal Government (FGS) and Somaliland’s Republic of Somaliland not recognized by many, the Dubai-based company DP World helped  the Ethiopian government, based on DP World’s management of a port in Berbera. The revenue agreement, finalised on 1 March 2018,  after Somaliland’s previous administration signed a 30-year contract with DP World to manage the port in 2016. Under the agreement, DP World retains 51 percent of generated revenues, Somaliland, 30 percent, and Ethiopia – a major recipient of imports – 19% percent of the total. A base followed.

In Yemen, the UAE has been a key ally to Saudi Arabia fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and bombing them and took over Aden with separatists. However, the UAE has made a recent tactical action  and  integrated the national government of Yemen, with its capital in the northern city of Sanaa. As a Indian Ocean gateway to Bab El Mandab UAE has taken over Socotra which Soviets had in reply to Diego Garcia so India will have to take note as UAE is in competition with Chahbahar and China will have to be brought in to the security architecture for pollution, aid and security as it has a base in Djibouti and see Picture of its ambitions in Africa or India has to fill that gap. Shan Na Varuna.

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