Combating Houthi Aggression

In a recent strategic move, U.S. President Joe Biden aimed to orchestrate a robust global reaction to the Houthi insurgent aggression impacting maritime routes in the Red Sea. This initiative, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, was intended to be a new naval coalition. However, a week post-launch, it’s evident that numerous allies are hesitant to publicly endorse or participate in the coalition.

Despite initially being named as contributors, European nations like Italy and Spain have made declarations that seem to withdraw their involvement from the initiative.

The U.S. Defense Department describes the coalition as a defensive alliance encompassing over 20 countries, committed to safeguarding the free flow of commerce through a critical Red Sea juncture near Yemen. Yet, as of now, nearly half of these nations have refrained from publicly acknowledging their support or allowing the U.S. to do so on their behalf. Contributions vary significantly, from deploying naval vessels to simply providing personnel.

Fair Weather Allies

The reluctance among U.S. allies to associate with this effort is partly due to the divisive nature of the conflict in Gaza. President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel amidst rising global condemnation has contributed to this hesitancy. European governments are particularly concerned about potential backlash from their citizens, who are increasingly critical of Israel and cautious about being drawn into another conflict.

This tension has been exacerbated by aggressive actions from the Iran-supported Houthis, who, since November 19, have targeted or captured a dozen vessels using missiles and drones, seeking to internationalize the repercussions of Israel’s military campaign. This escalation has prompted responses from the navies of the United States, Britain, and France, who have intercepted several Houthi-initiated threats.

The Importance of the Red Sea

The importance of the Red Sea as a maritime passage is underscored by its connection to the Suez Canal, a crucial conduit for approximately 12% of global trade. The Houthi assaults have forced some ships to alter their routes significantly, opting for the longer journey around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, which increases both transit time and costs.

While the U.S. asserts that 20 nations have joined the maritime task force, only 12 have been officially named. Countries like Denmark have signaled a return to Red Sea operations, while others like Germany’s Hapag Lloyd maintain that the area is too perilous for navigation.
Internal and external politics continue to influence the commitment of various nations to the maritime coalition. Public opinion, particularly in Western Europe, largely disfavors Israel’s actions in Gaza, adding another layer of complexity for European leaders considering participation in the coalition. Furthermore, the potential risk of Houthi retaliation is a significant concern for countries contemplating their involvement.