Iran’s activity in East Africa
The Horn of Africa and the entrance to the Red Sea.
1. Africa is an important target for Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s ambitious foreign policy. In recent months Iran has shown increasing interest in Africa, following its efforts to establish its presence in Latin America, the United States ‘ back yard. In February 2009 Ahmadinejad visited several East African countries (including the Comoro Islands , Djibouti and Kenya ). During his visits he stressed Iran ‘s willingness to help African countries strengthen their independence and to form a united front to oppose "Western oppression.” Various Iranian figures repeatedly spoke of the future of Iran ‘s political relations with African countries and the many economic and political opportunities those relations might present.
2. Iran is particularly interested in relations with East African countries, especially those in the Horn of Africa and lying along the Red Sea , primarily Sudan . It regards East Africa as fertile ground for its political, military and economic activities. East Africa is part of Iran ‘s overall strategy, which aspires to hegemony and the status of a major power in the Middle East (in key locations such as the Persian Gulf, 1Syria and Lebanon , Iraq and the Palestinian arena) and in countries in Latin America, 2 the African continent and Asia . In practical terms, Iranian strategy in East Africa, the Horn of Africa and neighboring countries and those lying along the Red Sea has the following objectives:
To establish its political influence as part of the anti-West axis of the third world countries it is trying to set up to lessen Western – primarily American – influence.
To promote its economic interests , in view of the sanctions harming Iran on other continents.
To export the Islamic revolution through Iranian Islamic organizations or cultural centers which distribute Shi’ite propaganda, and to recruit the local population by exploiting the potential in the Muslim countries and in the Muslim communities living in East Africa .
To establish a physical Iranian presence on land and at sea in countries and ports capable of threatening vital sea lanes during a crisis, especially at the entrance to the Red Sea .
To create naval and continental corridors leading to Iran ‘s central arenas of confrontation in the Middle East , which can be used to smuggle weapons and terrorist operatives . Particularly important to Iran is Sudan , which can be used as a broker to transfer military equipment through Egypt to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip .
3. Important weapons in Iran ‘s arsenal for achieving political influence are expanding economic ties and oil diplomacy. Iran attempts to establish economic ties with East Africa (and Africa in general) and offers various projects in agriculture and energy, and by building dams, roads, housing, etc. It exploited its political influence in Sudan to build a center for directing subversive and terrorist activities . Its targets are North Africa in general and Egypt in particular, and Iran ‘s rivals in the Middle East ( Israel and the pro-Western Arab states ). Another important Iranian weapon is subversion . One obvious example was the Hezbollah network which operated in Egypt , which Iran used to transfer weapons from Sudan to Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, and which tried to encourage terrorist attacks in Sinai and Israel .
4. The sea is an important component in Iranian policy . At its southern access to the strategically important Red Sea , Iran has strengthened its naval relations with Yemen . In June 2009 an agreement was signed allowing Iranian battleships to anchor in the port of Aden , part of an Iranian task force to fight Somali pirates. They are expected to join the six Iranian battleships already patrolling the Somali waters to protect Iranian cargo ships. Tehran is also strengthening its ties with African countries lying on the Red Sea, among the Sudan , Eritrea and Djibouti (See map below) to enable it to establish an active naval presence in the Red Sea leading to the Gulf of Eilat and the Suez Canal . Iran is liable to exploit its use of the ports in those countries for terrorist and subversive political activity against Israel and moderate Arab countries and to respond, should its nuclear facilities be attacked.
5. This document includes the following sections:
i) A general description of Ahmadinejad’s African policy
vi) The Comoro Islands , Djibouti and Tanzania
The Horn of Africa and the entrance to the Red Sea .
1 For further information about Iran ‘s activity in the Persian Gulf, see our July 19, 2009 bulletin " Iran tightens its security collaboration with Persian Gulf countries in an attempt to secure regional hegemony. It also strives to moderate the tension with its neighbors and to prevent them from being used as a launching pad for attacks against Iran.” http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/iran_e009.pdf .
2 For further information about Iran ‘s activity in Latin America, see our April 19, 2009 bulletin " Iran increases its political and economic presence in Latin America, defying the United States and attempting to undermine American hegemony. It also foments radical Shi’ite Islamization and exports Iran’s revolutionary ideology, using Hezbollah to establish intelligence, terrorism and crime networks, liable to be exploited against the United States and Israel” at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/iran_e006.pdf .