Normalization with Eritrea has become more important than ever before.  US national security interests in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula are at stake.

Back in December 2013, I wrote an article for “African Arguments” that called for the international community to “bring the State of Eritrea in from the cold.”  I argued that UN sanctions should be lifted, and that Eritrea and Ethiopia need to be reconciled for the economic benefit of both nations.

In view of current events in Yemen, my recommendation has become increasingly relevant and urgent.  United States Special Forces have been evacuated from Yemen.  They were there to support the legitimate government in Yemen that was facing a major threat from al-Qaeda insurgents operating in the eastern part of the country.

Since October 2014, Yemeni Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, have gained the upper hand in their fight against the government. These rebels are supported by Iran.  Their victories in the capital Sanaa forced the US to evacuate their troops who were there as advisers. At the same time, the American Embassy in Yemen has closed because the American personnel could no longer be protected.

So, how are we to observe what is going on in Yemen? In addition, how are we to take action in Yemen, if necessary? Certainly, about 2,000 US military personnel in the Republic of Djibouti across the narrow Bab-el-Mandeb strait opposite southwest Yemen are performing important intelligence functions, as well as occasional anti-terrorist functions.  But even in Djibouti, there is a terrorist threat that forced the temporary closing of the American Embassy in that country.

Eritrea, on the other hand, has a long coastline across the Red Sea from Yemen.  Eritrea’s internal security is total. It is a country with a population that is 50 percent Christian and 50% Moslem. But there is no internal terrorist threat.  Eritrea would serve as an ideal platform for US intelligence and other operations in Yemen. We have had military facilities in Eritrea before 1973.

The first step in normalizing relations with Eritrea would be to lift UN sanctions that were imposed in 2011 because Eritrea was allegedly assisting the al-Shebab Islamist insurgency in Somalia. These allegations have never been substantiated.  As of today, in 2015, there is total agreement that Eritrea has no involvement in Somalia.  Twelve out of thirteen Security Council members are ready to vote to lift sanctions against Eritrea. Only the United States is preventing the lifting of sanctions by threatening to veto any resolution to do so.  This US policy makes absolutely no sense. The US military would like very much to take advantage of Eritrea’s geographic situation opposite Yemen.  We cannot move on this issue because of a high level policy blockage in the White House that is adamant that Eritrea will remain a pariah.