On today’s episode of “Our Middle East” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, president Dan Diker tackles the role of Eritrea and the Horn of Africa in Iran’s hegemonic aims, in addition to the role of Eritrean refugees in Israel, with his guest—Eritrean refugee to Israel Habtom Mehari, a doctoral candidate at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Eritrean Refugees and Israel
About 17,000 Eritrean refugees live in Israel. Earlier this month, this sector was in the media spotlight when rival refugee groups were filmed rioting near the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv. Mehari said that as a result, thousands of refugees returned home after being under the temporary protection of the Israeli government, which began in 2008.
Are some of the Eritrean refugees Jewish?
The antiquity of the Tigrinya civilization, with an ancient alphabet and a unique Judeo-Christian religion that calls the Torah “Orit”, is similar to the Aramaic term “Oraita” used in Judaism, explains Mehari. He also notes that Tigrinya Christians feel a deep connection with the Jewish people and Jerusalem, and support Jewish self-determination as justified for indigenous Jews in the Land of Israel.
The Importance of Eritrea and the Horn of Africa
Diker and Mehari discuss the importance of Eritrea’s location on the Red Sea, a strategic waterway with cargo vessels traveling between the Mediterranean and Indian oceans every year. Both China and the United States and smaller regional powers, such as Sudan and Somalia, vie for naval proximity. Diker takes note of Iran’s “floating terror bases” in the Red Sea that have targeted Saudi Arabian and Emirati ships.
Mehari says that in addition to the perception that the United States is abandoning the Middle East, it is also abandoning Sudan and Ethiopia.
He recommends that Israel “fill the vacuum” of power in the Horn of Africa and partner with the relatively stable Eritrea, which in his view is a prime location for Israeli investment and cooperation. He adds that Israel’s non-expansionist approach doesn’t threaten regional players there and that its skill in counterterrorism is needed, especially as Iran works to influence African nations.