Is Djibouti Saudi's bridge over troubled waters to Yemen?

Is Djibouti Saudi's bridge over troubled waters to Yemen?
3 min read
13 Mar, 2016
Saudi Arabia looks set to be the latest power to build a military base in Djibouti as the East African country moves closer to Riyadh's orbit of influence.
Djibouti is home to militaries from across the world [AFP]
Reports that Saudi Arabia is planning to build a military base in Djibouti have been a hot topic of discussion on both sides of the Red Sea.

Lying on the Horn of Africa and in some of the world's most troubled waters and poverty-stricken lands, Djibouti's strategic location is its gold.

A long list of foreign countries have built military bases in Djibouti, which sometimes leads to the ironic situation of militaries of mortal enemies being figuratively speaking, parked next to one another.

Israel is said to have a secret military presence in the East African country, and they might be there to eavesdrop on regional foe Iran whose navy is said to drop in at Djibouti's Red Sea ports from time-to-time.

Meanwhile, established western powers US and France have bases in the country, but could be soon joined by Asian superpower China, which also has plans to set up a camp in the Horn of Africa.

Not wanting to feel left out, Saudi Arabia is the latest country planning to build a station in the African nation, according comments from Djibouti's ambassador in Riyadh.

"The agreement will cover cooperation in all terrestrial, marine and aerial military aspects," said Dhia-Eddin Bamakhrama.

The ambassador promised that the two countries would ink the deal shortly, and reveal more details about the military bases.

Saudi has not confirmed the plan but state news did say that Riyadh and Djibouti had agreed on closer military cooperation.
Djibouti, which once held a relatively non-alligned foreign policy, is already showing signs that it is moving into Riyadh's orbit.

During the recent political fracas between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Djibouti followed to lead of Riyadh's Arab allies and withdrew its ambassador from Tehran.

Iran scoffed and said it was not too concerned about Saudi Arabia's attempts to isolate it, even if the plan was backed by "the great country of Djibouti".

A new base in East Africa could help it secure its hold over Yemen but analysts are sceptical about its importance.

"I can't see much military benefit to a Saudi base in Djibouti, given Djibouti's proximity to Saudi," said
James Spencer, a Syria analyst.

However, Saudi has provided financial support to Djibouti and the country recently joined the Riyadh led Islamic military coalition, which organised a massive war game excercise in northern Saudi Arabia this week.

"If it follows the pattern of other countries in the [Islamic] coalition, Saudi's investment in Djibouti is a quid pro quo for the latter's participation. Somalia was given $50 million; $5 billion was deposited into Sudan's central bank, which was also involved in breaking ties with Iran."

Riyadh military intervention against Houthi rebels in Yemen is also viewed by many analysts of stubbing out any potential Iranian threat on the kingdom's southern borders.

It could also help it secure control over the Bab al-Mandeb checkpoint which is a crucial transit point for Gulf oil to Europe. 

Yemen's side of the strait was recaptured from the Houthis by Saudi-led military forces in October, and a military base in Djibouti would guarantee Saudi's dominance of the waterway.