In 2013, American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Rubin wrote, “With successive US administrations and European governments effectively ignoring Africa, Tehran sees many of Africa’s 54 countries as diplomatic easy picking in a zero-sum game for influence.” The United States now has a fourth successive administration ignoring Africa, save the engagement from the Department of Defense. As the United States Executive Branch goes, so goes the media, which is to say most of the Western world ignores Africa much to the delight of despotic regimes like Iran.
If this course goes unaltered the Western world will regret it.
Vice, with their giant HBO budget, had a very good piece on migrants from the Horn of Africa crossing a narrow point of the Red Sea into Yemen through its 1200 miles of coastline, to find work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Vice was exposing the horrible conditions inside the camp where migrants were being held and Godspeed to them in their endeavor. The documentary featured good reporting that required bravery on the part of the Western journalist who covered it and is well worth watching.
But whether the people of Vice know it or not, they have seriously harmed Iran’s narrative and mission in Yemen. How? Iran’s biggest deflection from Yemen is to say “we aren’t smuggling weapons in” or rather “you can’t prove it” with a shitty wink at the end. It is a difficult thing to prove, but Vice has given researchers and analysts a very good place to start.
At this point, this is a theory. Not a conspiracy theory, but one based on logical deduction. There are only so many ways to logistically get something from Iran into Yemen. Taking it past the American 5th Fleet stationed in Bahrain or through an airspace controlled by Saudi Arabia seems like a pretty stupid way to go, so, that leaves only an approach from the Horn of Africa.
This is where open source intelligence, which is a really fancy way of saying everything available on the internet, comes into play. Open sources, like social media posts or business articles, are not classified and it isn’t information designed to expose or conceal anything. Social media deserves the bad rap it gets, but it isn’t completely useless. Social media was actually what exposed Russia’s involvement in Ukraine so this is not a crackpot theory.
The problem with the Horn of Africa is it has far less technological infrastructure than the Middle East and Eastern Europe; which is to say there are not as many smartphones posting information and the media coverage is sparse if existent at all. It’s there, it just requires an intrepid set of nerds to sift through the data or a major media outlet to open up its checkbook and pay for the research on the ground.
There’s plenty of reason to hone in on Iran in Africa. “The CIC’s (Council on Islamic Courts) purported political moderation was placed further in doubt during the autumn of 2006 by reports that strengthened the “Taliban and Iraq” analogies. In mid-November 2006, reports surfaced that 720 CIC Somali fighters had been sent to Lebanon to do battle with Hezbollah against Israel during the July-August 2006 war in Lebanon, and that Hezbollah had subsequently sent a small number of military advisers to Somalia. Moreover, the November 2006 UNMGS report detailed three illegal Iranian arms shipments to the CIC that occurred in late July. Reportedly, Tehran offered to provide more weapons to the CIC in exchange for uranium (small amounts were purportedly located in areas under the control of the CIC), presumably for use in Iran’s nuclear program.”
This is my plea to the media: if we want to stop the wars in the Middle East then shut up about Donald Trump’s tweets and follow the money that fuels these wars. It is not cheap and there is very little profit to be gained.
Yemen has a 1200 mile coastline with almost no navy patrolling it and if impoverished Ethiopians can get through imagine how well the Iranians, with money and connections, could exploit this situation. They are well organized and well- connected throughout most of Africa. If Vice can find the smuggling routes so can anyone seeking to make a case against Iran.
The media can do better. It has to do better.