In mid-April, satellite imagery revealed that construction work was underway on Mayon Island, a volcanic island off the Yemeni coast.
The photos showed how the construction of an air base with a helipad and several hangars was nearing completion.
A little over a month later, new satellite images of the island showed that work is nearly complete, but still no one admits to building it. According to the Guardian.
Pointing to the Emirates
However, the list of suspects is short.
The island belongs to Yemen, but the internationally recognized Yemeni authorities accuse the UAE of being behind the construction work.
They are supported by independent experts, who point to the fact that the UAE has also previously tried to build a base on the island. The UAE also controls another Yemeni island, Socotra, off the Horn of Africa.
The United Arab Emirates was part of the Saudi military coalition in the war against the Houthi militia in Yemen, but it officially withdrew in 2020.
“The world is a small village thanks to the press, and everyone knows that you are still in Yemen,” Muhammad Jizan, the Yemeni deputy information minister, wrote on Twitter earlier this month. ifølge Middle East Al Ain.
The Guardian wrote that in 2015, when the UAE expelled the Houthi militia from Mayon Island, they began operating at the air base for the first time. The following year, work began on the airstrip, which is over three kilometers long. In 2017, work was halted, before starting again in February of this year, according to the newspaper.
In the face of these accusations, neither the central authorities in Abu Dhabi nor the UAE embassy in Washington want to respond.
Jeremy Penny, Middle East editor at Jane’s, a private intelligence organization that publishes magazines and books, says the alleged base building of the UAE on the island could serve both short-term and long-term goals.
This appears to be a long-term strategic goal of establishing a permanent presence. It’s possible not just about the war in Yemen, says Benny, but one should also see shipping as an important piece here.
For Mayon Island is not located anywhere.
The small island is located a few kilometers south of the southernmost point of Yemen, in the strategically important Bab al-Mandab strait. Here the Gulf of Aden meets the Red Sea. To the north, the Suez Canal connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea.
The shipping lane is extremely important to global trade, and about nine percent of all tanker oil passes through the strait. ifølge Middle East Al Ain.
This is actually in line with the way the UAE has been operating in recent years, Joe Jacobsen, a Middle East expert and professor at NTNU, tells Dagbladet.
– The key to everything
He says the UAE has “increasingly acted as a regional superpower” in recent years. Jacobsen says the country has a strong economy, and “very strong commercial and geopolitical interests” in the region in question.
Strong economic interests lead to geopolitical interest. In addition to financial interests in trade and shipping, the UAE has made significant investments in port areas in the region, says Jacobsen.
The professor believes that in addition to securing its financial interests, the UAE also has other motives behind building the base.
Control, being a player in this field, is important for the Emirates. It is important to monitor and respond to any threats. The UAE does not want there to be certain types of groups, the Islamists, to control this region, because the security threat to the Emirates will be greater. With a military presence in the area, they want to keep what they see as a security threat under control.
Jacobsen says peace in this region also serves Norwegian interests, and points out that Norway has many economic interests in keeping the shipping lane open and safe.
For Norwegian shipping, these areas are the key to everything. For Norway, it is important that this security risk is brought under control, and therefore Norway has also been militarily present in these areas, in cooperation with the European Union and NATO, to ensure the movement of ships, says the professor.
This is the struggle
While Saudi Arabia and the UAE support the internationally recognized Yemeni authorities in the civil war in Yemen, Iran supports the Houthi militia.
The civil war began in 2014 when the Houthi militia took control of the Yemeni capital and its largest city, Sanaa, and demanded the resignation of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Al-Radi.
The government resigned and fled, and in 2015 Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, attacked the Houthi militia. Then Hadi returned to the city of Aden in Yemen.
Since then, more than three million people have been forced to flee, and the war has caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
The Armed Conflict Location and Events Data Project (ACLED) estimates that more than 112,000 people have been killed in the war, according to the NTB.
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