The United Arab Emirates (UAE), founded in 1971 and comprising only 1.4 million citizens, has not only been described by national security experts as the United States’ “Little Frankenstein” in the Middle East but also a wannabe colonial empire, hellbent on dominating the region, both militarily and economically.
Now boasting one of the region’s most sophisticated militaries thanks to the influx of US, Israeli, and Chinese arms, weapons platforms, and intelligence gathering systems, the UAE has inserted itself into conflicts in Yemen, Libya, and Somalia to advance its overarching geopolitical strategy—the conquest of foreign lands to extract valuable resources.
When I spoke with Yemeni journalist Mohammed al-Rumim earlier this year, he said, “The UAE is no friend of Yemen. It’s interested only in colonization. It controls all the seaports and oil wells and is stealing from the people of Yemen.”
“The UAE is no friend of Yemen. It’s interested only in colonization. It controls all the seaports and oil wells and is stealing from the people of Yemen.”
It now also controls the strategic Yemeni island of Socotra, which was seized in June 2020 by UAE backed militias – known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC) – from forces aligned with Yemen’s internationally recognized government. It should not be overlooked that the UAE shamelessly supports said government in its war against the rebel Houthi militias, thus making it a “civil war within a civil war.”
Known as “the Jewel of the Gulf of Aden,” Socotra is located off the Horn of Africa, overlooking the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea to both the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. The Emirate Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MbZ) seeks “full control of the archipelago’s air and sea domains, seizing its natural resources, and transferring the necessary plants, minerals and precious stones to Abu Dhabi,” according to Mukhtar al-Rahbi, the adviser to the Minister of Information in Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
Last month, the UAE sent another tranche of weapons and military equipment to the island in what constitutes a clear violation of the Riyadh Agreement. For the accord, the UAE and its STC forces had agreed to rescind their demand for self-rule in Yemen and implement a power-sharing deal brokered by Saudi Arabia in November 2020.
In a Facebook post, Socotra’s Governor Ramzi Mahrous called out the UAE for its “flagrant defiance of the legitimate government and local authorities,” describing the Emirate state’s military build-up to be “clear evidence of the activities taking place in the island to destabilize security, create chaos and undermine the governorate’s sovereignty with foreign support.”
An unnamed Yemeni source in Socotra told Arabi21.com, “These UAE military vehicles were sent to be used against civilians and the local population, under the pretext of providing humanitarian aid.”
On March 6, the STC sacked the Yemeni Director of Socotra Port for repeatedly rejecting the unlawful entry of UAE ships to the port, including a vessel affiliated with the Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar, and replacing him with someone known to be loyal to the UAE and STC, as reported by Middle East Monitor.
“The island’s strategic location and potential to become one of the most important places in the area has attracted the attention of the expansionist and ambitious UAE government . . .”
“The island’s strategic location and potential to become one of the most important places in the area has attracted the attention of the expansionist and ambitious UAE government, which is why they have been sending their military there to control it,” observes Najla M. Shahwan for the Daily Sabah. Shahwan rightly notes that the UAE presence in Socotra along with the other 78 operational marine and island terminals in 40 countries across six continents it controls “could make the UAE one of the most powerful nations on the planet.”
Last year, a report published by the French Jewish site JForum revealed the UAE has partnered with Israel to establish a joint military intelligence base on the island to collect information across Yemen and throughout the Gulf of Eden and Horn of Africa, particularly against Iran.
“Socotra island is attracting a lot of attention from Israeli security services,” an Israeli military analyst told Israel’s Channel 12 recently. “The UAE is currently building military bases on the island and is investing to gain the support of people there.”
Controlling Socotra also allows the UAE to project military force further away from its borders and deeper into the Indian Ocean, an opportunity that would never have materialized had Houthi rebels not ousted the Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and had the UAE not joined Saudi Arabia in a war against the rebels.
Thus, a new era of colonialism and resource extraction in the Middle East and Africa has begun and is being led by one of the world’s least likely imperial forces – the tiny statelet that is the United Arab Emirates.