Hanish Island Conflict
The Hanish Islands were formed from a series of volcanic vents along a NE-SW trend, and include the Holocene Great Hanish [Hanish al Kabir], Little Hanish, and many other small islands and submarine shoals. Spatter cones, cinder cones, and ash cones line the crest of the 20-km-long Great Hanish island. Short lava flows reach the coast on both sides of the island. As with the Zukur group to the north, initial eruptions were phreatic. Subsequently basaltic cinder cones were formed, and spatter cones produced fluid lava flows.
Eritrea briefly controlled Greater Hanish Island (13.72°N 42.73°E), located 100 miles north of the Red Sea's Bab al-Mandab strait, while Yemeni forces held Lesser Hanish and Zugar Islands. All of the islands lie astride major oil shipping routes as well as near offshore oil exploration acreage held by foreign companies such as Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum.
Oil heading westwards by tanker from the Persian Gulf towards the Suez Canal or Sumed pipeline must pass through the Bab al-Mandab. Located between Djibouti and Eritrea in Africa, and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, the Bab al-Mandab connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Any closure of the Bab al-Mandab could keep tankers from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed Pipeline complex, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa. This would add greatly to transit time and cost, and effectively tie up spare tanker capacity.
The Bab al-Mandab could be bypassed by utilizing the East-West oil pipeline. However, southbound oil traffic would still be blocked. In addition, closure of the Bab al-Mandab would effectively block non-oil shipping from using the Suez Canal, except for limited trade within the Red Sea region.
Early in 1995, a Yemen-German company was granted a license to operate a scuba diving school on Greater Hanish Island, and Yemeni troops were sent to guard the company's equipment. Eritrea protested Yemen's move.
In December 1995, Yemen fought a brief battle with Eritrea over Greater Hanish Island, located just north of the Bab al-Mandab. At dawn on December 16, a clash between the forces erupted and within two days Yemeni forces were defeated. The crisis erupted into an air and sea battle in which 12 Eritrean and 15 Yemeni soldiers were killed. Eritrean forces captured an estimated 185 Yemeni soldiers, but released them after two weeks.
On 15 February 1996 Yemen accepts a France-brokered proposal to end the conflict between Yemen and Eritrea over Greater Hanish Island in the Red Sea. Press reports state that the French proposal would allow both countries to station troops on the disputed island. On 03 May 1996, following French diplomatic initiatives, Yemen and Eritrea agreed to form an arbitration panel to solve their territorial dispute over the three islands.
On 24 August 1996 the UN Security Council ordered Eritrea to leave Lesser Hanish Island. Yemeni officials said Eritrea had used Falashas to occupy Lesser Hanish Island.
According to Eritrea, at the time of the military confrontation in late 1995, which resulted in an Eritrean military occupation of Greater Hanish and some of the small surrounding islands and the Republic of Yemen's military occupation of Zuqar Island, Eritrea wished to seek a determination of all respective Eritrean and Yemeni claims, either by international arbitration or adjudication. Yemen would not agree to such a submission, insisting instead, as Eritrea relates it, on limiting the scope of the dispute to Eritrea's alleged illegal occupation of Hanish Island. Because neither Party wanted this disagreement on scope to prevent the conclusion of the Agreement on Principles and subsequent Arbitration Agreement, they agreed to leave the determination of scope to the Tribunal.
After three years, in 1998 the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the Hanish Island belonged to Yemen. The Yemeni flag was raised over Hanish Island as Yemeni army and navy troops moved onto the Island.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|