Hanish Islands conflict

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Hanish Islands conflict
Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa
Map of the Hanish islands
Date 15 December 1995–17 December 1995
Location Greater Hanish, Zukur-Hanish archipelago
Result Eritrean military victory. Occupation of islands till 1998. Handed back to Yemen.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration determined that the archipelago belonged to Yemen, while some islands belonged to Eritrea.
Supported by:
(Yemeni claim)[1]
Commanders and leaders
Eritrea Sebhat Ephrem Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh
unknown About 200
Casualties and losses
None 15 killed
185 captured[2]
17 Yemeni civilians captured

The Hanish Islands conflict,[3] was a dispute between Yemen and Eritrea over the island of Greater Hanish in the Red Sea, one of the largest in the then disputed Zukur-Hanish archipelago. Fighting took place over three days from 15 December to 17 December 1995. In 1998 the Permanent Court of Arbitration determined that most of the archipelago belonged to Yemen.


The archipelago is on the southern side of the Red Sea near Bab-el-Mandeb (Mouth of the Red Sea). The Red Sea is about 30 miles (50 km) wide at this point. Since the British occupation of Aden the islands had generally been regarded as part of Yemen.

After being granted independence and membership of the United Nations, the new Eritrean government started negotiations with Yemen over the status of the archipelago. Two rounds of talks had taken place before the invasion:

Gutmann [French mediator] produced an Agreement on Principles, which Eritrea and Yemen signed on 21 May. The two sides agreed to resort to arbitration, to refrain from using force, and to abide by the verdict of an arbitration tribunal. The French mediation effort almost collapsed when, on 10 August, Eritrean forces occupied Hanish al-Saghir. With Yemen threatening to take military action, the UN Security Council ordered Eritrean troops off the island. Asmara withdrew its forces on 27 August.... The renewed threat of conflict prompted Eritrea, at the end of August, to begin deploying along its coastline Russian-made SAM missiles acquired from Ethiopia.

—Lefebvre [4]

On 22 November 1995, Yemen's Foreign Minister Adb al-Karim al-Iryani met in San'a' with three Eritrean officials to discuss the problem. Iryani, heading a Yemeni delegation, then attended a meeting in Eritrea on 7 December. There, both sides agreed to resolve their dispute over maritime borders through negotiations, which they scheduled for February 1996. If those negotiations failed, both sides agreed to take the case to the ICJ at The Hague.

—Lefebvre [5]

Greater Hanish (or Hanish al-Kabir) is one of three main islands in an archipelago, and until 1995 was inhabited only by a handful of Yemeni fishermen. In 1995 a German company, under Yemeni auspices, began building a hotel and scuba diving centre on the Island. The Yemenis then sent a force of 200 men to guard the construction site. Eritrean officials thought that the construction work on Greater Hanish was an attempt to establish facts on the ground before the negotiations scheduled for February started. "Prompted by concern over the Yemeni construction project on Hanish al-Kabir, Eritrea's Foreign Minister Petros Solomon delivered, on 11 November 1995, an ultimatum giving San'a one month to withdraw Yemeni military forces and civilians from Hanish al-Kabir".[6]

Armed conflict[edit]

When the Eritrean ultimatum ran out and the Yemeni military forces and civilians had not withdrawn, Eritrea launched an operation to take the island by force. The Eritreans used all seaworthy vessels that they had to land ground forces on the islands. Some Eritrean troops landed in fishing vessels and a commandeered Egyptian ferry. The Eritreans also used aircraft to ferry troops to the island. Eritrean forces attacked the Yemeni contingent and overran the entire island within three days of combat. During the fighting, a Russian merchant ship was damaged by Eritrean gunfire after being mistaken for a Yemeni naval vessel.[7]

Alleged foreign involvement[edit]

The Eritrean attack on the Hanish islands was said by Yemenis to be supported by Israel.[8] According to Yemeni sources, the Eritrean operation may have been directed by Israeli officers. Sources close to the office of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh claimed that "several Israelis" had directed the operation, including a Lieutenant-Colonel named as Michael Duma. This claim was based on several coded messages in Hebrew allegedly intercepted by Yemeni intelligence.[7] Despite this, Yemen made no formal complaint to Israel.[9]

According to Steven Carol, in light of Yemeni military humiliation in the battle for Great Hanish island, the proposed allegation of Israeli involvement was nothing more than an attempt of Yemen to "save some face".[9]


As no resolution to the problem could be reached in bilateral talks, the status of the archipelago was placed in front of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the Netherlands. At the conclusion of the proceedings, both nations acquiesced to the 1998 decision which said sovereignty should be shared.[10]

On 1 November 1998 "Yemeni Defence Minister Mohammad Diefallah Mohammad raised his country's flag over the island of Greater Hanish as Yemeni army and navy troops took up positions on it. At the same time, Eritrean troops departed on board a helicopter and a naval vessel."[11]


  1. ^ Stansfield, G. R. V. (2001): The 1995/96 Yemen-Eritrea conflict over the Islands of Hanish and Jabal Zuqar: a geopolitical analysis., Working Paper. University of Durham, Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Durham. (PDF, 4,72 MB), Retrieved 26 June 2014
  2. ^ globalsecurity.org: Hanish Island Conflict Retrieved 26 June 2014
  3. ^ Other names:
    • Eritrean-Yemeni border conflict (Air University Library Publications)
    • Hanish Islands dispute (Schofield (cited by Dzurek))
    • Eritrea-Yemen dispute (Dzurek)
    • Hanish Islands crisis (Wertheim. p. 1033)
    • Odd War (Younis)
  4. ^ Lefebvre References page 381, (Quoted by Saleh AA Younis References)
  5. ^ Lefebvre References page 373 (Quoted by Saleh AA Younis References)
  6. ^ Lefebvre References page 372-373
  7. ^ a b Brian Whitaker: Clash over islands Retrieved at al-bab.com on 26 June 2014
  8. ^ Stansfield, G. R. V. (2001): The 1995/96 Yemen-Eritrea conflict over the Islands of Hanish and Jabal Zuqar: a geopolitical analysis., Working Paper. University of Durham, Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Durham. (PDF, 4,72 MB), Retrieved 26 June 2014
  9. ^ a b Carol, S. P363
  10. ^ "Flights back on between Yemen and Eritrea". London: BBC. 1998-12-13. Retrieved 2006-06-07. 
  11. ^ United Nations and international organizations page Michigan State University. November 1, 1998 Yemen flag raised overGreater Hanish


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Eritrea-Yemen Arbitration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague, The Netherlands: