Somalia-Iran Foreign Relations
In 2006, the Somali government accused Iran of attempted to supply the Somali insurgent Union of Islamic Courts militia with weapons, including machines guns, surface-to-air missiles, rocket launchers, and land mines, in exchange for the right to utilize Somalian uranium deposits. Although a United Nations panel of experts agreed that Iran had supplied the insurgent groups with military aid in violation of a 1992 embargo, the Iranian government denied it sent any arms to or received any uranium from Somalia.
Iran has an indirect economic relationship with Somalia. One of Iran’s primary shipping routes runs through the Arabian Sea and by Somalia via the Gulf of Aden. In late 2008 and early 2009, piracy was rampant in the Gulf of Aden and in July 2009, Iran sent two warships to Somalia’s coast and the Gulf of Aden in an attempt to protect Iranian commercial and oil cargo ships.
Relations between Iran and Somalia were hampered for several years as a result of Iranian support of anti-governmental insurgent groups in Somalia. In 2006, Somali Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi accused Iran of providing support to the Union of Islamic Courts militia, an Islamist insurgent group that had seized control of southern Somalia. According to a United Nations Security Council report that year, Iran had supplied three shipments of arms to the insurgents between July and September 2006. The report detailed that the Iranian government supplied the Union of Islamic Courts militia with three consignments of ammunition, medical supplies, and doctors during that period in violation of a 1992 United Nations arms embargo on the region.
Despite these difficulties, Iran and Somalia have explored political ties in recent years. In July 2008, Iran and Somalia discussed Somali political developments and bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Days later, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki offered to mediate an ongoing Somali political conflict involving several internal Somali political factions.
In April 2009, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki joined representatives from the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other international donors to discuss Somali security and humanitarian issues. At this gathering, Iran said that outside involvement from various countries has intensified a 19 year-old internal conflict in Somalia. Mottaki said that Somali stability will come from internal political reconciliation. Mottaki also pledged Ian’s support in establishing peace and security in Somalia.
Aside from direct political contact, Iran and Somalia have indirect military exposure given their mutual security and shipping interests off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden. Following the emergence of pirates conducting ambushes in the Gulf of Aden in 2008, Iran directed warships near the Somali coast and engaged in exercises simulating potential naval conflict. In May 2009, Russian authorities handed over several Somali pirates, detained by the Russian Navy in the Gulf of Aden, to Iranian representatives. In response to Somali pirate activity, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations presented a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in May 2009 outlining Iran’s intention to send two warships to the Somali coast and the Gulf of Aden to confront the pirates and protect Iranian commercial interests. In July 2009, Iran deployed two warships to the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian merchant ships; the deployment was a response to previous attacks on Iranian oil tankers by Somali pirates.
Iran’s diplomatic relationship with Somalia has recently focused on drawing international attention to regional and strategic concerns presented by Somali insurgents and pirates. In November 2009, the commander of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari stated that Iran’s warships will maintain their presence in the Gulf of Aden for as long as necessary to contain Somali piracy. The Iranians have sent four fleets of warships to the Somali coast to protect Iranian shipping lanes.
In December 2009, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued an official condemnation of a suicide bombing in Mogadishu that occurred early in the month. The December 4 attack killed 23 people at Banadir University, including Somalia’s Education Minister Abudullahi Wayel, Health Minister Qamar Aden, and Higher Education Minister Ibrahim Hassan Adow. Iranian officials articulated their support for the legal Somali government and said that successful counterinsurgency relied on a peaceful diplomatic process. In late December 2009, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met with his Somalian counterpart Ali Ahmed Jama Jangeli in Tehran to discuss the terrorist activities carried out by Somali groups both within the African country and around the region. Mottaki asserted the need for regional and wider Islamic cooperation in containing Somali terrorism and further stated that Iran would be willing to participate in the reestablishment of peace and security in Somalia.
In March 2010, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attended a four-way meeting between Iran, Kenya, Somalia and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to raise regional and global awareness about Somalia’s political situation. This diplomatic gesture comes after the February 2010 launch of Iran’s first domestically manufactured destroyer. According to a report released by the Iranian government, the vessel Jamaran has a displacement of around 14,000 tonnes and is equipped with modern radars and electronic warfare capabilities: "Jamaran, a multi-mission destroyer, can carry 120-140 personnel on board and is armed with a variety of anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles with a top speed of up to 30 knots and has a helipad. The vessel has also been equipped with torpedoes and modern naval cannons." It will be the flagship of the Iranian navy and charged with the responsibility of protecting Iranian shipping in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.