Bottom Line Up Front
Training, supplies, transportation, and other logistics support are provided by Eritrea to al-Shabaab in Somalia. Why would Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and General Te'ame Goitom, Eritrea's external intelligence operations chief in the horn, go through the trouble and expense of imposing taxes on its expats? According to the chart at NationMaster.com ranking countries by income per capita, Eritrea is ranked 164th out of 170 nations with an average income of $145.39 per person. If I was at the head of a country with that kind of income I would push for expat workers to send something back, too.
But, why spend what little money they get on war and a proxy war with Ethiopia? The two countries have been fighting since 1963. Eritrea is currently a 50/50 split on religion, Christianity and Islam, being the two major beliefs. I do not think that is really at the base of the issue. I believe that, since Iran has shown interest in uranium (which is available in the Horn of Africa) and sees an opportunity to impact how trade is shipped (control one end of the Red Sea and you can effectively shut down the Suez Canal), the continuance of this decades old conflict is being fueled by Iran.
Where Iran sees a chance to get some cash and have a wider influence, Afwerki sees a partner in unseating Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi. How can fueling conflict in Somalia unseat Zenawi in Ethiopia? If Zenawi spends enough resources and time in Somalia propping up the fragile government there, Eritrea can conduct easier and more effective border skirmishes with Ethiopia.
More and more nations are recognizing that Afwerki has been sending plane loads of weapons and aid to al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia in violation of UN bans and international agreements.
With the addition of a new naval base at Jask at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, and new basing at Assab in Eritrea, Iran can exercise a decisive military presence on multiple shores astride the pivotal oil sea lanes.
Iran has been, for several years now, strengthening its diplomatic and economic ties to several African nations including, but not limited to, Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Uganda, and Sudan. With stronger ties and, presumably, a correspondingly stronger presence around Africa, Iran stands to gain regional influence that is likely to threaten, or at least severely degrade, security in the European southern coastal regions and the Western Hemisphere. I believe that such a relationship will not significantly degrade, but rather spread, piracy like that which is being seen in Somali waters.
With Iranian aid going to both Shabaab and the Somali government, how does US aid fit in? Where is the line between supporting the corrupt and weak Transitional Federal Government and supporting terrorist groups? How is it that we can operate alongside a country which has been and is still under international legal sanctions for overtly and covertly supporting terrorism?