Ethiopia and its local allies will push south from Puntland at the same time as they try to break the encirclement of Baidoa. This may, in turn, spiral into a proxy war; the same UN report that estimated the Ethiopian troop presence at 6000 to 8000 noted ominously that up to 2000 Eritrean soldiers may be in the country fighting on the Islamist side. In addition to Ethiopia’s jitters over the possibility that an Islamist state in Somalia might support domestic insurgencies, its fears of a second front against its long-time regional enemy now seem to be materializing.
And as if this isn’t enough, the possibility of Somalia being torn apart in a regional proxy war has a truly ironic postscript. A report on the fighting in the Independent notes sardonically that “the Palestinians are next in line to take over as head of the Arab League – raising the bizarre prospect of the Somali peace talks (if they are ever restarted) moving from Khartoum to Gaza.” Bizarre this may be, but not necessarily inappropriate. Given the number of contending factions in Somalia, the diversity of their interests, the unlikelihood that they can be persuaded to compromise and the number of foreign countries that want a hand in the outcome, Gaza might be the perfect place for them to negotiate.