A United States-led initiative aimed at deterring attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea, named Operation Prosperity Guardian, has encountered challenges in garnering broad support since its launch on December 19. Despite its mission to protect commercial shipping and uphold freedom of navigation, key partners remain hesitant to publicly declare participation, according to sources.
According to the US, the coalition was expected to include 20 participating countries; however, nearly a month into its launch, nearly half of the supposed parties have refrained from confirming their involvement. The initiative’s objective aligns with international law’s founding principles but faces skepticism over its political framing.
Tobias Borck, a senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, highlighted that the lack of support does not stem from disagreement with the mission’s logic, which emphasizes safeguarding global trade and navigation. Instead, concerns revolve around the framing of the Houthis, the armed group in Yemen, and the geopolitical context surrounding the initiative.
Mr. Borck emphasized that the issue affects every nation due to its impact on global trade, garnering strong support. The key point of contention, however, lies in the framing of the Houthis’ actions. While some liken them to Somali pirates obstructing free movement, others argue they are attempting to enforce a ceasefire in Gaza.
The reluctance to join the coalition is not rooted in the US leading the initiative, as it has historically protected commercial shipping. Instead, the reluctance stems from the potential perception of supporting Israel’s military operations. Bahrain, hosting the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, is the only Middle Eastern nation that has publicly declared support.
Mr. Borck explained that nations fear being drawn into another western conflict in the Middle East, contributing to the hesitation among Arab nations to openly endorse the operation.
However, with recent Houthi militant attacks impacting up to $225 billion in trade, urgency for a solution is mounting. Some reports suggest that shipping lines are in negotiations with the Houthis to secure safe passage.
Despite Houthi claims of targeting only Israel-linked ships, evidence suggests otherwise. The crew of a Japanese vessel en route to Italy has been held captive by the militia for over 40 days, challenging the credibility of Houthi assurances.
The situation is reminiscent of the 2019 Iranian attacks on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden, where the EU refrained from joining a US retaliatory effort. Mr. Borck noted that the US has expressed a willingness to use force, even hinting at potential strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen to prevent further rocket attacks.
In a separate development, the Iraqi Islamic Resistance claimed responsibility for a missile attack on Israel’s Haifa Port on Sunday. The evolving situation in the region adds complexity to the already challenging diplomatic efforts to secure international shipping in the Red Sea.
Sources: ShippingWatch, The LoadStar