2019/06/02 – Saudi Arabia stumbled to the finish line in 2018. Its war in Yemen got messier. Its reputation was severely damaged by the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Its regional rival Iran solidified its power in Syria. But as the old year gave way to the new, the desert kingdom could count at least one success: the joint naval maneuvers known as Red Wave 1.
These exercises, conducted in the Red Sea by Saudi Arabia and six other countries, were the first tangible product of a new Saudi-led alliance designed to encourage regional cooperation around the sea – and project Saudi power into the Horn of Africa.
Though they garnered little attention, the military maneuvers were the kingdom’s latest bid at establishing its dominance in a region – and a body of water – increasingly fractured by regional rivalries.
The killing of Khashoggi, which was widely blamed on the kingdom’s leaders and spurred its worst diplomatic crisis since the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, has strained relations with its once-reliable ally in Washington.
That has pushed Saudi Arabia to turn to the Horn of Africa to protect its western flank and develop its own security doctrine.
Working in concert with the United Arab Emirates, it has joined the scramble for influence in Africa, where the two Persian Gulf partners have built multiple military bases, portents of how they intend to project power in the future.
Those considerations have become more urgent as Saudi Arabia’s rivals – Iran, Turkey and Qatar, not to mention global powers such as China – have engineered their own footholds in countries ringing the Red Sea and especially in the Horn of Africa region.
Saudi Arabia’s then-foreign minister, Adel Jubeir, said as much during the initial announcement last month of the Red Sea alliance with Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen.
« The more cooperation and coordination that you have among the countries of this region, the less negative outside influence will be on this region, » said Jubeir, without naming the source of this outside influence.
« This is part of the kingdom’s efforts to protect its interests and those of its neighbors and … to stabilize the region that we live in and to try to create synergies between the various countries. »
As it stands now, the alliance does not include Eritrea, with its approximately 715 miles of Red Sea coastline, or Ethiopia, which, though landlocked, is the Horn of Africa’s economic heavyweight. (Both are expected to join future exercises.)
By NABIH BULOS / Los Angeles Times
Sahel-Elite – Photo: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir attends a briefing in Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 29, 2018 ALEXANDER SHCHERBAK/TASS/ABACA PRESS/TNS