A Saudi border guard patrols near Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, along the beach on the Red Sea, near Jizan. (Reuters)

By Habib Toumi

December 15, 2018

A new regional security entity to protect the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden is being established to boost cooperation between seven Asian and African countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The Arab and African Coastal States of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (AARSGA) is expected to add a new dimension to the strategic area vital to regional security and stability and to global shipping.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen met in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss the initiative that will be reviewed by experts from the seven countries at a meeting in Cairo at a later stage.

The ministers reportedly discussed “the prospects for cooperation between countries and the role of the Arab and African countries in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in promoting security, stability, trade and investment in the region.”

The foreign ministers agreed on the importance of establishing this entity which is a step aiming at enhancing security, stability, trade and investment in the region, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said in remarks following the meeting.

In Cairo, an Egyptian foreign ministry statement said the encounter in Riyadh “comes in the framework of a series of meetings held by Arab and African countries bordering the Red Sea to review means to activate cooperation and coordination.”

“This vital waterway is considered one of the most important for global commerce between the East and West, in addition to being a channel for civilisational communication between its riparian countries,” the statement said.

The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean that lies between Africa and AsiaImage Credit: Getty Images

“Egypt’s participation is in the framework of its interest in cooperation between countries bordering the Red Sea. Cairo hosted the first meeting of triparian countries on December 11-12, 2017. During this meeting, there was an agreement on the fundamental principles of cooperation between Red Sea riparian countries. It was the first step in setting a basis for cooperation between Red Sea riparian countries in the political, economic, and cultural fields.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Choukry said that “the countries have recently exerted efforts to combat piracy in the Horn of Africa.”

Turmoil impact

“We should consider the foreign agendas as well as the political and security turmoil in the region, including the Yemeni crisis, which affect the economic conditions of the Red Sea countries,” he said.

The entity is a strategic move that is an integral part of broader efforts to ensure security and stability in the region and to thwart attempts by Iran and other countries to expand their sphere of influence into areas considered of crucial importance to regional security and stability.

“Although the reports about the meeting focus on security and economic cooperation, there is also a strategic and geopolitical dimension to the new entity as it aims to ensure that the region is not used by Iran to penetrate further into the region and influence the stances and orientations of its leaders,” Mohammad Jaber, a Bahraini analyst, said.

Exploitation of poor countries

“There is so much at stake for Saudi Arabia and the region if there is a vacuum, it could be filled and exploited by other countries with expansionist plans. Under claims of promoting social, economic and development cooperation, they step in deeply and consequently hold the region hostage to their designs.”

Some countries in Africa are in deep need of economic assistance and development aid and thus become vulnerable to exploitation by other states, especially if it done in a subtle way, he added.

“That is why such an entity is highly significant for Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the region. They must protect themselves from all forms of intrusion and they should also play an active role in solving disputes between countries in the region to ensure conflicts are not used as a pretext to allow malign forces to step in.”

Growing importance of Saudi Arabia

This summer, Saudi Arabia and the UAE accomplished an outstanding feat by achieving a momentous rapprochement by Eritrea and Ethiopia that put an end to a disastrous border conflict that had lasted about two decades.

The exploit, unimaginable months earlier, also sent a strong signal to other countries about the growing importance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the region and the erosion of Iranian influence in the Horn of Africa.

Iran has often issued threats to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf countries and block navigation through the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on Tehran.

It has also warned that the high-value Red Sea would not be secure for navigation.

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure for the presence of American [military] … The Quds force and I are your match. We don’t go to sleep at night before thinking about you,” Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani said in July as he hit back at US President Donald Trump’s threats against Tehran.

Map of the Red SeaImage Credit: Gulf News

In Manama, Bahrain welcomed the announcement about the establishment of the entity and hailed “the initiative to develop joint Arab action, establish security and promote development in the region and across the world.”

The statement issued by the foreign ministry said that Bahrain “commended the Saudi move that reflects the great importance of providing security and protection for the region that is strategic and important for international navigation and trade.”

The establishment of this entity will enhance cooperation and coordination between the Arab countries along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at all political, economic and security fields, the statement added.

“The entity will also promote the interests of the member countries and support the efforts to reinforce regional and international stability.”

The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean that lies between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab Al Mandab strait and the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez (leading to the Suez Canal).

The Red Sea is about 2,250 km (long and, at its widest point, 355 km wide. It has a maximum depth of 3,040 m and an average depth of 490 m. Its surface area is roughly 438,000 square kilometres.

Gulf News

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.