African studiesSecurity studies

Impacts of the Israeli Conflict on Gaza in the Horn of Africa


According to an article co-authored by Jeffrey Feltman, the administration’s former envoy to the Horn of Africa, “the Horn of Africa is increasingly becoming an integral part of the security landscape in the Middle East”, accompanied by the emergence of a new awareness of the integration of the two shores of the Red Sea, and the interplay of diverse political, security, and economic influences between the Red Sea and Middle East environments.

In light of this, this paper attempts to examine some of the repercussions of the Israeli war on Gaza that broke out on October 7, 2023, where we note its effects on many political, security, and humanitarian aspects, whose interactions may constitute future turning points in the course of events in East Africa.

Rapid support extended in Sudan


Sudan is one of the most affected by the Israeli war on Gaza, as its outbreak led to distracting the attention of the international community politically and in the media from many hot international files and centering around them, which increased the slow international effective handling of the Sudanese crisis originally absorbed in the Russian war on Ukraine until the Sudanese situation was described by many observers as a “forgotten war”.

In conjunction with the escalation of the war in Gaza, paramilitary forces launched a campaign in the west of the country to take control of the city of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, on October 26, 2023, after which three more states fell in less than a month, leaving North Darfur state only in the hands of the Sudanese army .

The most important breakthrough was the ability of General Hemedti’s forces to extend their control over Gezira state in the center of the country, on December 18, which was considered a prominent turning point in the course of the conflict in Sudan as a result of the state’s strategic location, as it allowed the Rapid Support Forces to reach the states of eastern Sudan and protect their forces in Khartoum, causing a resounding moral defeat for the Sudanese Armed Forces .

This progress has led to a change in the balance of power on the ground, which necessarily complicated the political scene and placed more obstacles to reaching a negotiated political settlement in light of this reality, as this progress gave the RSF confidence in the possibility of imposing its presence by force, while the army seems to be seeking to adjust the balance of power to enter into negotiations in a more favorable field situation.

In light of all this, the international absence was the largest present, which lost diplomatic efforts a lot of momentum capable of pressuring the parties to the conflict and external allies to stop the course of the war, as this is reflected in the escalation of criticism of the performance of the US administration in the Sudan file and its absorption in the wars in Gaza and Ukraine .

The escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan


The aforementioned progress was accompanied by a continuous escalation of violations by both parties to the conflict, especially the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), as the UN expert report on Sudan accused the aforementioned forces and their allies of committing systematic violations of international humanitarian law, which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including mass killings, ethnic targeting and obstruction of humanitarian assistance .

As the war in Gaza became the focus of international media attention, images of these crimes and media coverage were absent from major media outlets, which contributed to their expansion and weakened opportunities and initiatives to curb them, prompting Sudanese activists to organize campaigns on social media to highlight the deteriorating conditions in their country.

Relief organizations operating in Sudan also faced a severe lack of funding to continue their activities in the country witnessing the largest wave of displacement in the world, as the outbreak of war in Gaza led to a decline in the response of donors and non-governmental organizations to the Sudanese crisis , while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that it had received from donors only 39% of the total amount it needs to cover the humanitarian needs of those affected by the war inside and outside Sudan .

Increasing the militarization of the southern Red Sea


The Houthi targeting of Israeli interests through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden led to an unprecedented increase in the militarization of the region, as the United States sent advanced warships to operate within the theater of operations of the Fifth Fleet, which includes the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, including the destroyer “USS Carney” and the destroyer “USS Mason”, and Washington announced the launch of a maritime security alliance called “Guardian of Prosperity” .

In the context of the response to the Houthi attacks, Washington and London targeted sites inside Yemen, which opened the door to a cycle of response and counter-response that threatens the security and stability of the southern Red Sea, while these repercussions represent a dangerous indicator for the countries of the Horn of Africa that have refrained from joining the aforementioned maritime coalition.

The fears of the countries of the Horn of Africa about the spread of confrontations to their territories are reflected in Djibouti’s rejection of Washington’s request to deploy missile launchers on its territory to target the Houthis, stressing that it considers the Houthi attacks a legitimate relief for the Palestinians , which can be explained in part by the desire to avoid turning them into an arena of revenge for the Houthis, as Djibouti includes the largest US military base in Africa.

Increasing competition in the region


The increasing militarization of the shores of the Horn of Africa is one of the feverish international rivalries that have taken place over the past decade.

The latest chapter of this competition revolves around the transformation of the region into an arena of conflict between Washington and Tehran through its Houthi ally, as it falls within the objectives of the Western alliance to block the way to Iran’s maritime aspirations, which insists that the Red Sea is an integral part of its maritime space, which means that it can support armed violent groups in the region and supply them with suicide drones, which have become the most dangerous weapon at the present time .

This U.S. buildup is also aimed at besieging China’s growing influence in the region that houses China’s only offshore naval military base in Djibouti, and the Horn of Africa is a key communication node for China’s giant Belt and Road Initiative, branching out into Africa and north into Europe across the Red Sea.

These US moves were rejected by Beijing, whose foreign minister declared that “the Security Council has not authorized any country to use force against Yemen,” considering that “it is necessary to avoid pouring oil on the fire in an already tense situation” .

The emergence of the phenomenon of piracy again


In the midst of the security repercussions resulting from the Israeli war on Gaza and the resulting developments, the phenomenon of piracy has returned to the security scene in the southern Red Sea since last November, with the hijacking of many ships and attacks on others.

This development is due to a combination of factors, including the preoccupation of active countries in the region with Houthi attacks and directing their forces and resources to confront the Houthis, in addition to the relaxation of anti-piracy measures as a result of the sharp decline in pirate operations in recent years .

The resurgence of this activity and the possibility of its escalation in the future, in addition to its serious security repercussions, threatens transit shipping routes in the region, increases insurance and shipping costs, and is an indication of the flourishing of other clandestine criminal activities such as arms and human smuggling.

An American turn towards Eritrea


The Qatari-US strategy document towards Eritrea, issued on November 17, 2023, outlined positive changes in the US approach to a country that has long been hostile, stating that the Ethiopian peace process and Asmara’s reduction of its military presence in its major neighbor provide “an opportunity to reshape bilateral relations with Eritrea to a more productive end” . She added that the Washington embassy in Asmara will seek to open lines of communication to establish common denominators that serve the interests of the peoples of the two countries, and to listen to Eritrean views on regional and international issues .

Although the new strategy, issued on November 17, 2023, did not cancel the US sanctions on Asmara , it carried different positive trends, which are more evident when looking at some of the amendments made to its original version, dated May 22, 2022, as it omitted in the updated version what was previously described as the main US strategy’s goal of “developing the next generation in Eritrea and preparing for the post-[Eritrean President] Asias [Afwerki]” .

These changes appear to reflect the US attempt to address the security turmoil in the southern Red Sea region, where the Houthis’ targeting of Israeli interests in the Bab al-Mandab area led to repercussions that threatened shipping and supply chains, and cast a shadow on the global economy, in which dependence on maritime transport has increased over the past years by more than 400% .

Washington’s new strategy towards Eritrea emerges as an attempt to prevent the Bab al-Mandab from turning into an area hostile to US interests, as Eritrea, with its view of the West Bank of the sensitive corridor, has a very serious security importance, while reports have previously circulated accusing it of passing Iranian weapons to the Houthis in Yemen before 2015, which Asmara denied at the time .

Given the potential for the situation in the region to deteriorate into a regional war, the U.S. move represents a preemptive effort to prevent Tehran and Asmara from regaining warmth in their relations, which have cooled since the latter granted the UAE a military base to attack Yemen as part of its participation in Decisive Storm in 2015, and an attempt to curb Eritrea’s escalating growth in relations with both Moscow and Beijing.

Ethiopia’s claim to a port on the Red Sea escalates


The state of turmoil that the political arena is going through globally as a result of a number of pivotal events, such as the Russian war on Ukraine and the Israeli war on Gaza, fueled Ethiopian demands for a sovereign sea port on the Red Sea, which reached its highest degree in the speech of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, before his country’s parliament, on October 17, 2023 ), and in the subsequent signing of a memorandum of understanding with the separatist Somaliland region, under which the latter grants Addis Ababa a sea port and a military base in exchange for its recognition of its independence.

Taking advantage of the international preoccupation with the course of the Israeli war on Gaza, Ahmed declared that obtaining a sea port is an “existential matter” for his country, waving the resort to force to achieve this end , while a statement issued by the Ethiopian Government Communication Authority stated in its explanation of the merits of the memorandum of understanding that Ethiopia’s transformation into a landlocked state was the result of a legal and historical error and that the Ethiopian government has been working for years to correct it .

Although obtaining access to the Red Sea has always been one of Ethiopia’s concerns, the recent escalation represented by the demand turning into a sovereign outlet on the one hand, and the threat of recognition of Somaliland, cannot be separated from the current moment that the region is going through in light of the repercussions of the Israeli war on Gaza.

On the one hand, this is not the first time that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has taken a sudden step in light of the world’s preoccupation with pivotal events, as this happened with the outbreak of the Tigray war, in November 2020, where all eyes were focused on the US elections and the crisis caused by former President Donald Trump, which did not end until the new administration took over the reins of the White House in January 2021.

On the other hand, the insecurity in the southern Red Sea as a result of the Houthis’ targeting of Israeli interests in Bab al-Mandab has led many regional and international parties to seek to play a role within a new security system aimed at curbing and besieging the activity of Tehran and its allies in the region.

In this context, the Ethiopian memorandum of understanding with the separatist Somaliland region, which includes the establishment of an Ethiopian naval military base for the first time, falls within Addis Ababa’s endeavor to present itself to Western countries as an ally guaranteeing the security and stability of the region from the naval window this time, after this was a traditional role played by Ethiopia in the framework of the US war on terrorism beginning with its invasion of Somalia in 2006, as it represented at the time an opportunity for the Ethiopian regime to regain “international trust and legitimacy” after the dramatic 2005 elections. controversial .

This Ethiopian ambition to play the role of policeman in the Horn of Africa again can be understood in some aspects in light of the gains achieved by Addis Ababa by engaging in the US war on terrorism on more than one level, as one study links the doubling of US aid to Ethiopia in 2008 to exceed the barrier of one billion dollars, with Addis Ababa’s invasion of Somalia. Ethiopia gained more U.S. military and security support in the form of “means such as exchange and training, logistics, intelligence sharing, military bases and support for peacekeeping operations” .

The importance of restoring this lost role is evident in light of the effects of the war on Tigray on the Ethiopian economy, represented in the enormous costs of the military machine on the one hand, the destruction of infrastructure and economic facilities in more than one region, and the great damage to the image of Ethiopia and its Prime Minister as a Western security ally, as a result of the divergent positions of the two parties on the Addis Ababa alliance with Asmara and the position on the course of the war on Tigray.

Within this framework, the Ethiopian attempt to reposition itself within this system is welcomed by Tel Aviv, where the Ethiopian ambassador to Israel stated that the latter’s position on the memorandum of understanding with Somaliland “is not neutrality, but rather shows us a supportive gesture,” and that it considers “Ethiopia’s establishment of a naval force in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea an opportunity to cooperate in achieving stability in the strategic and volatile region” .

Former British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson expressed “tremendous sympathy” for the cause of Somaliland independence after meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron , considering that this step can contribute to resolving the Houthi crisis in the Red Sea .

Conclusion


The Israeli war on Gaza represented a political and security earthquake whose repercussions spread to the Horn of Africa, which turned into the immediate vicinity of one of the hot arenas of confrontation in the southern Red Sea.

The repercussions of this war were a contributing factor in increasing tension in a region already suffering from high political and security fragility, as the advance of the Rapid Support Forces complicated reaching a political solution in Sudan, while the Ethiopian claim to a sovereign sea port led to an unprecedented state of tension between it and Mogadishu, while Asmara and Addis Ababa are living in a state of estrangement not seen since 2018.

Although the U.S. shift toward Eritrea carries a positive dimension in terms of easing hostility between the two sides, it also includes Washington’s relative retreat from supporting Eritrean efforts to pursue political reforms within the country, casting a dark shadow over the future of Eritrea’s desired democratic transition and escalating international competition with Beijing and Moscow for a strategic foothold in the highly sensitive geopolitical country.

The transformation of the southern Red Sea into a hotbed of high-risk security tension affects the countries of the region and leads to increased regional and international competition over the region, which has negatively affected over the past years the countries of the Horn of Africa, turning them into arenas for settling various power conflicts, which portends worse scenarios in light of the current escalation of tension, and in light of the profound transformations expected as a result of the war on Gaza.

On the other hand, the continued preoccupation of the world’s major powers with the war in Gaza and before it Ukraine leads to marginalization and slow response to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the raging war in Sudan and the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa, which exacerbates the humanitarian tragedy in the region and threatens to have very serious health, societal and security repercussions on its peoples.

References

  • Feltman, Jeffrey and Knopf, Payton, Ethiopia’s Worsening Crisis Threatens Regional, Middle East Security, USIP, January 13, 2021, (Seen: 4 February 2024)
  • El-Bendary, Mohamed, Sudan—the World’s Most Abandoned Conflict-Affected Country, Newsweek, January 09, 2024, (Seen: January 29, 2024)
  • Stien, Chris, ‘Why are they forgetting about us?’: Sudan watches allies turn from war to aid Ukraine and Gaza, The Gaurdian, 24 December 2023, (Seen: 29 January 2024),
  • final report of the panel of experts on sudan, January 2024,
  • Stien, Chris, ‘Why are they forgetting about us?’: Sudan watches allies turn from war to aid Ukraine and Gaza, The Gaurdian, 24 December 2023, (Seen: 29 January 2024),
  • UNHCR, an unimaginable humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Sudan, 7 November 2023, (Seen: 29 January 2024)
  • Miliken, Emily, Will the Houthis Target U.S. Troops in Djibouti Next? National Interest, 20 January 2024, (Seen: 29 January 2024)
  • Department of State, Integrated Country Strategy (ERITREA), 17 November 2023, p.3.
  • African News, Red Sea: Ethiopia “will not assert its interests through war”, assures Abiy Ahmed, 26 October 2023, (Seen: 9 December 2023),
  • FDRE Government Communication Service, A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) For Partnership and Cooperation has been Signed between The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Somaliland, 3 January 2024, (Seen: 4 February 2024),
  • Mulat, Yonas Ketsela, Domestic sources of international action: Ethiopia and the global war on terrorism, African Journal of Political Science and International Relations, Vol. 10(11), 2016, P. 137.
  • Mulat, Yonas Ketsela, ibid, pp. 138-139.
  • Endris, Yesuf, Israel shows positive gesture to Ethio-Somaliland port deal: Ambassador, The Ethiopian Herald, 27 January 2024, p.1 & p.3.
  • Madox, Daved, Lord Cameron ‘sympathetic’ to making surprise diplomatic move to fix Red Sea Houthi crisis, Express, 2 February 2024, (Seen: 4 February 2024),

SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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