US allies reluctant on Red Sea task force

US President Joe Biden planned to show a robust international response to Yemen’s Houthi attacks on Red Sea trade by forming a new marine force, but a week later, many allies are refusing to be connected with it, officially or otherwise.

Italy and Spain, two of America’s European allies who were identified as donors to Operation Prosperity Guardian, released remarks that appeared to disassociate themselves from the naval force.

The Pentagon says the force is a defensive coalition of more than 20 nations to ensure billions of dollars’ worth of commerce can flow freely through a vital shipping chokepoint in Red Sea waters off Yemen.

But nearly half of those countries have so far not come forward to acknowledge their contributions or allowed the U.S. to do so. Those contributions can range from dispatching warships to merely sending a staff officer.

The reluctance of some U.S. allies to link themselves to the effort partly reflects the fissures created by the conflict in Gaza, which has seen Biden maintain firm support for Israel even as international criticism rises over its offensive, which Gaza’s health ministry says has killed more than 21,000 Palestinians.

“European governments are very worried that part of their potential electorate will turn against them,” said David Hernandez, a professor of international relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, noting that the European public is increasingly critical of Israel and wary of being drawn into a conflict.

The Iran-backed Houthis have attacked or seized a dozen ships with missiles and drones since Nov. 19, trying to inflict an international cost over Israel’s campaign, which followed the Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel by Hamas militants that killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage.

The navies of the United States, Britain and France have each shot down Houthi-launched drones or missiles.

A person familiar with Biden administration thinking said the U.S. believes escalating Houthi attacks call for an international response separate from the conflict raging in Gaza.

The Rea Sea is the entry point for ships using the Suez Canal, which handles about 12% of worldwide trade and is vital for the movement of goods between Asia and Europe. Houthi attacks have seen some ships rerouted around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, substantially increasing sailing time and costs.

Denmark’s giant container firm Maersk said on Saturday it would resume shipping operations in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. But Germany’s Hapag Lloyd said on Wednesday it still believes the Red Sea is too dangerous and will continue to send ships around the Cape of Good Hope.


While the U.S. says 20 countries have signed up for its maritime task force, it has announced the names of only 12.

“We’ll allow other countries, defer to them to talk about their participation,” U.S. Major General Patrick Ryder told reporters last week.

The EU has signaled its support of the maritime task force with a joint statement condemning the Houthi attacks.

Although Britain, Greece and others have publicly embraced the U.S. operation, several mentioned in the U.S. announcement were quick to say they are not directly involved.

Italy’s defense ministry said that it would send a ship to the Red Sea following requests from Italian ship owners and not as part of the U.S. operation. France said it supports efforts to secure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea but that its ships would remain under French command.

Spain has said it will not join Operation Prosperity Guardian and opposes using an existing EU anti-piracy mission, Atalanta, to protect Red Sea shipping. But on Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he was willing to consider the creation of a different mission to tackle the problem.

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates earlier proclaimed no interest in the venture.

Public anger over Israel’s Gaza offensive helps explain some of the reluctance of political leaders. A recent Yougov poll found that strong majorities of Western Europeans – particularly Spain and Italy – think Israel should stop military action in Gaza.

There is also the risk that participating countries become subject to Houthi retaliation. The person familiar with the U.S. administration’s thinking says that it is this risk – rather disagreements over Gaza – driving some countries to steer clear of the effort.

That appears to be the case for India, which is unlikely to join the U.S. operation, according to a senior Indian military official. An Indian government official said the government worries that aligning itself with the U.S. could make it more of a target.

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Sydney Okafor

I am so passionate about this my profession as a broadcast journalist and voiceover artists and presently a reporter at TV360 Nigeria

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