Red Sea Task Force Faces International Reluctance As Allies Distance Themselves

Joe Biden was hoping to present a firm international response to the Houthi attacks on the Red Sea shipping by introducing a new maritime force. A week following its launch, several allies do not want to remain associated with it. Two of the European allies of America who had been listed as the contributors to Operation Prosperity Guardian — Spain and Italy — issued statements seeming to distance themselves from the maritime force.

The Pentagon states that the force is a defensive coalition of over 20 nations to make sure billions of dollars worth of commerce can freely flow via a critical shipping chokepoint in the waters of the Red Sea, off Yemen. But almost half of those nations have so far not come forward and acknowledged the contributions or permitted the U.S. to do so. The contributions may range from dispatching warships to simply sending out a staff officer.

The reluctance of some of the U.S. allies to associate themselves with the effort reflects partly the fissures that resulted from the conflict in Gaza, which has seen Biden maintain its firm support for Israel even as the international criticism rises over the offensive, which the health ministry of Gaza says has taken the lives of over 21,000 Palestinians. The European governments are highly worried that part of the potential electorate will turn against them, mentioned David Hernandez, a professor with international relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, observing that the European public is critical of Israel and is also wary of getting drawn into a conflict.

Red Sea
Image for representation purpose only

The Iran-backed Houthis have seized or attacked a dozen vessels with drones and missiles since 19 November, trying to inflict an international cost over the campaign of Israel, which followed the 7 October rampage in southern Israel by the Hamas militants that claimed the lives of 1,200 individuals and took 240 as hostage. The navies of the US, France, and Britain have shot down Houthi-launched drones/missiles. An individual who is familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking stated that the U.S. firmly believes escalating the Houthi attacks further calls for an international response that’s separate from the current conflict raging in Gaza.

The Red Sea is the entry point for vessels sailing via the Suez Canal, which tackles nearly 12% of global trade and is essential for the movement of goods between Europe and Asia. Houthi attacks have seen some of the vessels rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope, increasing the costs and sailing time substantially. Denmark’s giant container major, Maersk, stated on Saturday that it would resume its shipping operations in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. However, Hapag Lloyd mentioned on Wednesday it believes that the Red Sea is highly dangerous and will continue sending vessels in and around the Cape of Good Hope.

THE DISCORD OVER GAZA
As the U.S. mentions 20 nations have reportedly signed up for the maritime task force, it further has declared the names of just 12. They will permit other countries to defer to them to talk about the participation, U.S. Major Gen. Patrick Ryder informed the reporters last week. The EU has reportedly signalled its support of the maritime task force with a joint statement that condemned Houthi attacks. Even though Greece, Britain, and others have publicly embraced the U.S. operation, several mentioned in the U.S. announcement were quick to say that they are not involved directly.

Italy’s defence ministry mentioned that it would be sending a vessel to the Red Sea following the requests from Italian vessel owners and not as part of the U.S. operation. France mentioned that it supported efforts for securing freedom of navigation in the Red Sea but that its vessels would be under French command. Spain said that it will not take part in Operation Prosperity Guardian. Besides, it also opposes using an EU anti-piracy channel, Atalanta, to safeguard Red Sea shipping.

On Wednesday, PM Pedro Sanchez said that he was ready to consider the creation of a separate mission to handle the issue.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier claimed no interest in the venture. Public anger regarding Israel’s Gaza offensive aids explains the reluctance of political leaders. A YouGov poll discovered that the strong majority of Western Europeans — especially Italy and Spain — think Israel must prevent military actions in Gaza. There is also the risk that the participating nations become subject to the Houthi retaliation. An individual who is familiar with the U.S. administration’s thinking mentions that it is this risk — instead of rather disagreements regarding Gaza — driving some of the nations to steer clear of the effort.

That appears to be the case for India, which is more unlikely to be part of the U.S. operation, per a senior Indian military official. An Indian government official mentioned that the government worries that getting itself aligned with the U.S. could make it more of a target. One of the European diplomatic sources downplayed the concerns about cohesion in the coalition and said that the effort was taking shape and not in jeopardy of falling apart. The source clearly stated that Washington’s allies had understood the issues confronting Biden with regard to the Israel-Gaza war.

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT NEEDED
Several European as well as Gulf nations participate in one of the several U.S.-led military groups in the Middle East, including the 39-nation Combined Maritime Forces (abbreviated the CMF). The EU’s Atalanta operation cooperates in what is referred to as a reciprocal relationship with the CMF, per a spokesperson with the group. That means that some of the nations not formally joining the Red Sea maritime task force could yet coordinate the patrols with the U.S. Navy.

For instance, while Italy — one member of Atalanta — hasn’t said that it will join the Operation Prosperity Guardian, a source associated with the Italian government informed Reuters that the U.S.-led coalition is satisfied with Italian contribution.
The source mentioned that the idea to send out a naval frigate as a part of pre-existing operations was one way to speed the deployment and didn’t need parliamentary authorization. The U.S. efforts to draw international support for the Red Sea security push come as the US encounters pressure on multiple fronts from the Iranian military proxies in the region. Beyond the Houthis in Yemen, the Iran-backed militia has been attacking the U.S. troops based in Syria and Iraq. So far, the US has carried out restricted retaliatory air strikes against the militia in Syria and Iraq, but it has stopped that in Yemen.

Michael Mulroy, one of the former deputy assistant secretaries of defence associated with the Middle East under the Trump administration, mentioned that the Pentagon’s goal with the new maritime coalition appeared to be to make future Houthi attacks an international issue to divorce it from the Israel-Hamas war. Once the military vessels in Operation Prosperity Guardian start safeguarding commercial shipping and become part of a direct attack, (the Houthis) will be attacking the coalition, not merely the U.S., Mulroy mentioned.

Reference: Reuters

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Marine Insight News Network is a premier source for up-to-date, comprehensive, and insightful coverage of the maritime industry. Dedicated to offering the latest news, trends, and analyses in shipping, marine technology, regulations, and global maritime affairs, Marine Insight News Network prides itself on delivering accurate, engaging, and relevant information.

About Author

Marine Insight News Network is a premier source for up-to-date, comprehensive, and insightful coverage of the maritime industry. Dedicated to offering the latest news, trends, and analyses in shipping, marine technology, regulations, and global maritime affairs, Marine Insight News Network prides itself on delivering accurate, engaging, and relevant information.

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