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Socotra, The Hidden Island

HomeHistory, Travel Review › Posted by , 26/10/22


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Socotra, The Hidden Island

Socotra, the island located between the Red Sea. The Gulf of Aden and East Africa is now under control of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is building more than just military bases though. Since 2018 they have been involved in many infrastructure projects on Socotra including docs, hospitals and communications networks. But why? Let’s find out.

What’s so Special About Socotra?
Socotra is an ecological gem of uniquely isolated evolution that Darwin would no doubt have fantasized over. But it is also an incredibly strategic geopolitical location. It sits just past the mouth of the Gulf of Aden which connects to the Red Sea. The Red Sea connects to the Suez Canal which then connects to the Mediterranean. This makes subculture incredibly useful. Both in terms of trade routes and as a strategic jumping off point for exerting influence in countries along this route. Such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen. It’s no surprise then that the United Arab Emirates has opportunistically swooped in to take defector control of the islands. In doing so Abu Dhabi is playing a complicated and dangerous game of finders keepers. One with intertwining tenuous and quickly changing alliances that could lead to even more instability in an already devastated region.

A Humanitarian Crisis
The tragedy and devastation wrought during Yemen civil war cannot be overstated. It is one of the worst ongoing humanitarian crises in the world. So far an estimated 233,000 people have died. Over 10,000 of which have been children. More than 20 million people whopping 71% of the population rely on humanitarian aid for their survival. The war has caused massive food shortages. Which have led to widespread famine. Hospitals have been destroyed and health services are nearly nonexistent in many areas. Compound that with the pandemic as well as the outbreak of other diseases like cholera which have led to the deaths of thousands more and Yemen seems on the verge of total collapse.

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Two Yemen’s
But to fully understand what’s going on with Yemen now and to see how the UAE is managing to worm its way onto Socotra. We need to go back a bit farther into the past. Yemen was once two countries South Yemen and North Yemen. South Yemen became independent in 1967 after a revolution supported by the Soviet Union ended British rule in the region. More unrest followed between the North and South. With the civil war erupting in 1986 in south Yemen which led to thousands of deaths. In 1990, North and South Yemen were unified though it was a very fragile unification. With the authoritarian Saleh have now taken power. The fighting was not over. There was another civil war in 1994. And the northern and southern armies were never fully integrated. In fighting and disagreement continued to fester. This made Yemen susceptible to the influence of al Qaeda which led to the United states launching a series of drone strikes between 2009 and 2012. A move that drew international criticism for killing innocent civilians and ominous sign of things to come.

Divide and ConQuer: The UAE Moves in
Within this North-South dispute the southern transitional council was born. The STC began as the southern movement in 2007. It calls for the south succession from Yemen. A move that would essentially time travel the region back into the pre 1990s North Yemen South Yemen dynamic. The STC was formally declared in 2017. And it’s members include the governors the five southern states who claim to rule most of the territory in southern Yemen. The UAE has been actively supporting the STC in southern Yemen for years. And while Abu Dhabi claims much of the help is humanitarian in nature. The strategic advantages the UAE stands to gain from a partnership with the south are unavoidable. Through it’s partnership with the STC the UAE has been able to gain access to southern humans valuable ports. And has managed to all the control the airport on subconscious made island. On which it has been building a series of military bases in recent years. In June of 2020 the STC to control of the island aided by the UAE. Things get complicated here though as the STC imposes the internationally recognized Yemen government. Which is backed by Saudi Arabia and supposedly the UAE. This has put Abu Dhabi and Riyadh at odds. Leading to tensions as each the rich nation tries to project it’s own influence in the region. What’s more just one month after the STC seized Socotra. It signed an agreement to unify with the Yemeni government. This seems to only apply to the mainland however as Socotra remains an STC stronghold.

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Building Bases
The UAE is playing a tricky game. Exporting a war within a civil war to increase it’s influences on these strategic islands despite formally withdrawing most of its troops from Yemen’s mainland. The UAE continues to build military bases on Socotra. There is also another island mayhem. Which is farther West in the mouth of the Red Sea. And mysterious air base is being built here and while no nation has publicly announced that they are responsible many believe it’s an emirate project. Mayhem is another valuable strategic post. As it sits on a choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. And emirate air base there gives the UAE the ability to monitor ship traffic and exert yet more influence in the region.

A Biblical Accord
This whole situation of wars within wars and conflicting alliances has become even more complicated recently. The UAE has allegedly teamed up with Israel to help propel it’s plans for Socotra assisting the Israelis and building their own military base on the island. There is a lot of uncertainty about just what is going on with many media outlets reporting a spy plot between the UAE and Israel. And others saying it’s a more benign collaboration. It’s a partnership came about after the Abraham accords. A series of meetings facilitated by the trump administration in 2020. Which normalized relations between Israel and several relations between Israel and several Muslim countries in the region including the UAE. The accords were not received well by Iran. Who has been at odds with Israel since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran sees Israel’s newfound coziness with the UAE as an opportunity for the Israelis to move closer towards Iran’s borders. And Socotra is definitely closer to Iran’s borders.

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Global Ramifications
The theater playing out on yamens coast has some big implications for the rest of the world. Animosity continues to build between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Over the emirate power place on Socotra, Iran and Sunni Muslim nation of course doesn’t want the Houthi rebels the weather in Yemen. The reports tend to downplay arrest direct influence in Yemen. Through the Abraham accords the United states is hoping to expand its own network of allies in the region. And use it as a kind of proxy trade war with China. China gets most of it’s oil through the shipping routes that run through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. And Beijing has had plans for a maritime route through the Red Sea as part of it’s ambitious belt and road initiative spell erode initiative.

The tragedy of Yemen civil war is unavoidable. People in Yemen continue to starve to die of preventable diseases to be bombed indiscriminately. Unfortunately nobody seems to be able to agree on anything. And stalemates and failed peace agreements have dragged this war on for more than seven years now. A complicated series of alliances international disagreements and a history of internal conflict with Yemen have all combined to create a massive humanitarian crisis. The UAE certainly seems like an opportunistic actor looking to capitalize on chaos for it’s own self-interest. But then again who isn’t it’s a messy situation with no clear end game inside.


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