U.S. naval coalition’s efforts to defend Red Sea shipping against Houthi attacks off to rocky start
12/29/2023 // Cassie B. // Views

Yemen’s rebel Houthis have been carrying out increasingly serious attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea, and the U.S. has set up an enhanced naval protection force in response. Known as Operation Prosperity Guardian, it has attracted support from 20 countries. However, cracks are already forming, and some of the U.S.’s closest allies are balking at the terms of the coalition.

The coalition seeks to deal with the attacks that have been launched in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder described it to the media, saying: "The forces assigned to Operation Prosperity Guardian will serve as a highway patrol of sorts, patrolling the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to respond to and assist as necessary commercial vessels that are transiting this vital international waterway.”

The situation in the region is growing increasingly worse. Energy giant BP has put a temporary halt on oil and gas shipments in the Red Sea due to the uptick in attacks, while shipping giants like Maersk and Evergreen have suspended their shipping operations off the Yemeni coast.

Not all of the nations that are participating in the coalition are willing to publicly acknowledge it. Some of the countries that are said to support it include Greece, Australia, the UK, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, France, the Seychelles and Bahrain. However, only a fraction of these members have agreed to supply ships and other major assets that can help them carry out their mission; many of them are only going to send limited personnel.

On top of that, Spain, France and Italy have refused to comply with demands by the U.S. that their vessels be subject to U.S. Navy command while they are deployed as part of the operation.

Spain has said it will only agree to an operation led by the EU or NATO, while France has said it plans to participate but won’t let its vessels fall under American command. Italy will be deploying its Virginio Fasan frigate to the region, but it will not be there as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian. This leaves the coalition with a worrying lack of capable warships to conduct its mission.

Threats to shipping are broadening their reach

Although setting up these types of operations can be challenging, the resistance from some of the U.S.’s closest allies is being seen as a significant setback. The timing couldn’t be worse as threats to shipping are beginning to extend beyond the area the coalition intends to protect.

A chemical tanker with ties to Israel carrying a Liberian flag was struck by a drone last week while sailing in the Indian Ocean near the Indian port city of Veraval. The drone ignited a fire when it struck the stern of the ship. Although the crew was not injured, the vessel sustained structural damage and took on water. At 1,200 miles from the shore of Yemen, the incident has served as a warning to the world that the Houthis and their Iranian backers are ramping up their attacks.

White House National Security Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said that Iran is closely involved in the attacks on commercial ships. She stated: “We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. This is consistent with Iran’s long-term materiel support and encouragement of the Houthis’ destabilizing actions in the region."

If Iran takes on a greater role in these attacks, it will make it even harder to protect naval traffic, particularly as the areas they attack expand. If Operation Prosperity Guardian is unable to strengthen its defenses, the economic well-being of countries around the world could face a major threat.

Sources for this article include:



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