Israeli tourists in Yemen’s Socotra on holidays illegally run by UAE

The UAE is continuing to operate direct flights and tours to the Yemeni island of Socotra despite not having the permission of the government.

According to local sources, hundreds of foreign tourists have arrived on the archipelago over the past few days using visas granted to them by Abu Dhabi, from where weekly direct flights started in March.

Earlier this month an adviser to the Ministry of Information, Mukhar Al-Rahbi, said the island had “become violated by the UAE, which has planned to control it for years.”

“Today [the UAE] has become the primary controller in Socotra. Even the tourist delegations take permission to enter Socotra from the UAE,” he said.

Images of foreign tourists have circulated recently across social media, with many activists claiming most are Israeli. Reports emerged last month after an image purporting to show a group of Israeli tourists accompanied by Emirati security officers and their assistants on the island.

The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council militia which effectively controls the island after seizing its capital last year are also said to be preventing the entry of Yemeni citizens from the mainland under the pretext of preventing the spread of coronavirus.

The arrival of Israelis on the island comes months after normalization agreements between Israel and along with the UAE and Bahrain were signed in September last year. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways has already begun offering direct flights to Tel Aviv. The first flight carrying Israeli tourists to the UAE’s Dubai took place in November. Bahrain’s Gulf Air is set to start flights to Israel next month.

Israel stealing resources on Socotra

In early February, the Minister of Transport in Yemen’s Houthi-led government, Zakaria Al-Shami, has claimed that Israel is looting natural resources belonging to the strategic island of Socotra, and has been enabled by the UAE.

“The Zionist regime, under the cover of the UAE, is operating in Socotra, looting and plundering its natural resources, and taking advantage of its geographical location, crude oil as well as medical and tourism capacities besides its other riches,” he said during a meeting in the capital Sanaa on Saturday.

Al-Shami also called for more protection of the archipelago which has been recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site since 2008 and known for its rich and unique biodiversity.

Last year UAE-backed separatists affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of the island in what the internationally-recognized Yemeni government viewed as a coup.

Following the normalization between Israel and the UAE last August, it was reported that both countries were working to establish a spy base on Socotra with the purpose of gathering intelligence across the region, especially from Bab El-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden.

Despite developments related to the power-sharing Riyadh Agreement on the southern mainland between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the STC, the UAE is still setting up military bases on Socotra.

UAE and Israel reportedly to establish spy base in Socotra

In late August, JForum, the official sites of the Jewish and French-speaking community, reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel are working on a plan to establish a spy base in the Yemeni Island of Socotra,

According to JForum, the two countries which normalized relations earlier August 2020, undertook steps to install a spy base on the island strategically located in the Arabian Sea some 350 kilometers south of Yemen.

Israel and the Emirates are making all logistical preparations to set up intelligence bases to collect information throughout the Gulf of Eden Bay from Bab Al-Mandab on the island of Socotra, in southern Yemen, which is under the control of the Emirates, reported JForum citing Yemeni sources. It was suggested that the co-operation to build a spy base was down to the two country’s normalization of ties.

According to the report, a delegation of Israeli and Emirati intelligence officers arrived on the Socotra Island very recently and examined various locations for establishing the planned intelligence bases. The purpose of such a base would be to collect intelligence across the region, particularly from Bab Al-Mandab and south of Yemen, along with the Gulf of Eden and the Horn of Africa.

The report alleged that Tel Aviv’s surveillance centers monitor the actions of Houthi militants in Yemen and Iranian naval movements in the region, as well as examining sea and air traffic in the southern region of the Red Sea.

Security consideration has been cited as one of the major reasons for the UAE breaking ranks with its Arab neighbors to normalize ties with Israel, leading to accusations that the Emirati rulers had colluded with the Zionist state and the US in diplomatic aggression against their Palestinian brothers.

Despite the UAE’s insistence that the normalization deal prevented further annexation of Palestinian territory, critics have suggested that the deal does nothing of the sort and instead helps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right to cement their position.

The Likud leader has always maintained that he could force Arab countries to reverse the “land for peace” formula – which has been the bedrock of any solution – by normalizing ties with Arab autocrats without giving an inch of occupied land back to the Palestinians.