US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrival in Djibouti Sunday, April 23 coincided with Egyptian President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi’s landing in Riyadh. Both capitals are pivotal for the Arab face-off with Iran over control of the strategic Red Sea, which is of overriding concen to both visitors.
Mattis was the first US defense chief to visit Djibouti since 2005. America’s only African base at Camp Lemonnier is important for the former French colony’s geographic location on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between Djibouti and Yemen and as a springboard for offensive US operations on Al Qaeda jihadists (AQAP) in Yemen and Al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab in Somalia. The Trump administration’s drive to crush terrorism in its main arenas has shifted from defense operations to “additional precision fire”
For El-Sisi, the Red Sea is an essential component of Egypt’s national security. He recently sent Saudi King Salman an offer of 40,000 Egyptian troops to man the kingdom’s southern border against Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi insurgent attacks. The monarch spurned the Egyptian offer. He has no wish to allow the Egyptian military forces a foothold on Saudi soil, but would rather see them fighting in Yemen alongside Saudi and United Arab Emirate troops (including a large number of Sudanese and Columbian mercenaries) who are now engaged in a drive to capture the port of Hudaydah on the eastern Red Sea coast of Yemen.