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Issue 422 -- Feb. 27- Mar 05, 2010
Iran, Israel’s Naval Bases, Somaliland’s Recognition: Port Berbera—Bargaining Chip
By Dalmar Kahin
A Somali warrior poet once said, "Rag hadaad colaad leedihiin, ciidanse u waydo, waxkastood ku ciil bixi kartaa kuu cawo aduune...or if you are embroiled in a hostile war with other men but don't have a counter attack force, anything that could alleviate your pain serves as luck on your side."
Taking the advice of the poet, if Somaliland cannot escape from its isolation and mobilize the resources needed to break through the formidable concrete walls encompassing it, engaging with any nation that could alleviate Somaliland’s ordeal is a fair game: be it Israel or Iran, or an alien republic in Mars.
Form 1991 to present, Somaliland remains an independent but unrecognized state, alienated by none other than the Arabs who Somalilanders consider brothers and sisters. Worse still, as if alienation and economic holocaust towards Somaliland could not deliver the final blow, among others, Somaliland remains in the midst of a turbulence sea, yet no end to its miseries. To top it up, never before has Somaliland faced relentless terrorist attacks from none other than Southern Somalia’s extremist groups, namely: Al-Shabaab. See terrorist attacks details: http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/137149
Now, despite building an impressive democratic system (a dream in many parts of Africa; unthinkable in the Arab world), despite establishing a peaceful state, and despite combating piracy, terrorism, and human trafficking in Horn of Africa, Somaliland is awarded with sanctions including livestock ban, using its passport, and barring its leaders from attending Arab, African, as well as International conferences.
Traditionally, chocking the lifeline of a country is something reserved for a rogue regime which supports terrorisms and bent to spur mayhem in the International community. But ironically, self-destructive autocratic regimes receive better treatments than the democratic state of Somaliland does. Why?
Much of the hostilities and isolations towards Somaliland stems from its refusal to budge on Arab demands. That is, coercing Somaliland to accept another gunshot marriage with Somalia. Now, the Arab world instead of first providing Somaliland an economic incentive to mediate Somalia’s warring factions, and then convincing Somaliland to have a dialogue with Somalia, Arab rulers opted to suffocate Somaliland first, then rebuild Somalia. Without a doubt, at times, as its mouth fell open, Somaliland desperately grasped for a breath of air but because of its determination it remains defiant.
However, recently the Arab rulers´ attitude towards Somaliland has softened up; for instance the livestock ban has been lifted. Now, the rulers changed their hearts not because they finally have mercy for Somaliland but because of other factors: for one thing, Somalia remains drowned in a sea of blood and its Oceans infested with pirates. Also, its leaders have gone from tribal warlords to religious warmongers. They just changed shirts. Surprise!
For another, two of the most powerful countries in the Middle East: Israel and Iran are now flexing their muscles over East Africa, specifically, Somaliland’s strategic port Berbera. They both want to use the port as a naval base. But the problem is Arab leaders perceive Iran and Israel as archenemies of Arab states, a threat to the Middle East monarchies. Now for the Arab states to have either of their natural adversaries in port Berbera, which has strategic importance, is unthinkable.
During the cold war, port Berbera served as a naval base for the Soviet forces first and later for the U.S. marines. The city also has one of the longest runways in Africa; that is, in the event of emergency landing, the Space Shuttle Discovery could descend on the city’s airport. But more important, its airport could be used as the springboard for a military operation to stamp out terrorism in East Africa and piracy in the Golf of Aden.
But for the Iranians and Israelis, their mission has little to do with curbing terrorism or eradicating piracy and has more to do with: out competing against each other as well as edging out the Arab countries.
Now, the U.S. which has its forces in Djibouti will resolutely oppose establishing an Iranian naval base in Berbera. But the U.S. may not necessarily oppose Israelis. Arab rulers, on the other hand, consider both Iran and Israel’s presence in Berbera as undesirable.
Meanwhile, port Berbera is evidently the bargaining chip for Somaliland to achieve its goal. Currently, Somalilanders couldn’t care less whether it is Iranians or Israelis, or aliens from Mars that establish a naval base in port Berbera as long as they recognize Somaliland. Will Iran and Israel’s competition for East Africa trigger Somaliland’s recognition?
Depending who offers the bigger economic and military incentives, both Israel and Iran are welcomed in Somaliland. Doubtlessly, if executed properly, Somaliland has two Ace cards to play with.
Arabs and Iran: if Israelis gains the competitive edge, Arab countries and Iran need to wake up and smell the coffee. They should iron out their differences with Somaliland to avert an Israel influence in East Africa.
U.S., Israel, and Arab countries: if, however, Iran puts all its eggs in one basket as to win the hearts and minds of Somaliland people which could be achieved easily since Somalilanders view Iran as a Muslim nation, U.S., Israel, and Arab countries will have no choice but give Somaliland what it wants so that Iran doesn’t base its naval forces in port Berbera. U.S. should offer huge economic incentives to Somaliland while Arabs end isolating it economically and politically. This is not too much to ask, is it?
Ultimately, no matter how the dice is rolled, one thing is clear: Somaliland will look after its interest. Be it with Iran or Israel, Somaliland is open for business—first come, first served.Email: email@example.com