A reader of this web site sent me various articles to put my earlier post about Iranian activity in Eritrea into perspective. The reader doubts this report, attributing it to anti-government sources in Eritrea, but I think the increasing Eritrean-Iranian ties made the report worth mentioning, and I do not believe in discrediting reports simply because a source has a certain political position. More proof, of course, is required before making a firm determination on what Iran is up to in Eritrea.
That being said, the reader provided some good historical context about Eritrea’s current troubling activity (like acting as a base for the radical Islamic Courts Union group in Somalia), attributing it to a desire to counter Ethiopian influence in the country. Ethiopia and Eritrea, although both have had some strong U.S. ties in the past, have fought a vicious border war that resulted in over 90,000 deaths and their conflict is far from settled.
After 9/11, the relationship between the U.S. and Eritrea was very warm, with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld publicly saying that the U.S. could learn from Eritrea’s long-term experience in fighting terrorism.
Former UN ambassador John Bolton lamented the decision by the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs to award land to Ethiopia, in defiance of a U.N. commission that had settled the dispute. It was a very rare moment of Bolton wanting to side with the U.N., which emphasizes how widely accepted the ruling was. Click the link for the whole story about how the U.S. chose to back Ethiopia over Eritrea, which the reader contends exasperated the conflict and caused Eritrea to embrace Iran.
The war in Somalia also pushed the U.S. to back Ethiopia, which had sent forces into the country to fight the Islamic Courts Union backed by Eritrea. The U.S. even looked the other way as Ethiopia bought arms from North Korea.
I’m not taking a position on who is right in the border dispute, but the history of U.S. relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea is interesting and helps explain the dynamic in Somalia and Iran’s recent effort to build relationships in Africa (it should be mentioned that there are reports that Iran also backs the radical Islamic militants in Somalia).
Whether you agree or disagree with U.S. policy, it should be agreed upon that Eritrea must not be supporting radical Islamic forces anywhere. East Africa and Somalia will become more and more of a hotspot in the War on Terrorism in the coming months and years. The early signs indicate a confrontation between two blocs: Ethiopia, Egypt, the U.S., and Kenya against Somalia (now being overrun by radical militants), Sudan, Iran and Eritrea. Additional actors will become involved, but these may well be the principal players in this upcoming clash.