European Union Member States apparently want to launch a Red Sea naval mission – within days – to protect ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia.
An EU command structure could be decided upon as early as January 31, said the EU’s de facto foreign affairs and security chief Josep Borrell.
“Not all Member States will be willing to participate but no one will obstruct … I hope that on the 17th of this month [February] the mission can be launched,” Borrell told reporters ahead of an EU defence ministers’ meeting on January 31.
At the time of writing, he said the immediate aim was to pick a lead nation and outline where the mission would be headquartered, who would participate and with what assets.
Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by the Houthis, who control much of Yemen and say they are acting in “solidarity” with the Palestinians as Israel and the Hamas terrorists wage war in Gaza.
The US and other countries in December launched a mission to allay fears that disruption in one of the world’s top trading arteries could hit the global economy.
Some US allies, including a number of European countries, have reservations about the plan, which has seen the US and the UK already launch air strikes on Houthi positions. In addition, many have baulked at the idea of being under Washington’s “command”.
Borrell said an agreed EU operation would be named “Aspides” – meaning “protector” – and its mandate would be to protect commercial vessels and intercept attacks but not take part in strikes against the Houthis.
France, Greece and Italy have reportedly shown interest in leading the mission, with seven countries so far indicating they would be willing to send naval assets, diplomats said, adding that such an operation would be based off existing EU missions in the region.
It would initially see three ships under EU command. France and Italy already have warships in the region and Germany plans to send the Hesse frigate to the area, diplomats added.
Borrell said he was hopeful that later in the day, on January 31, it would be ascertained which Member State would lead an upcoming EU mission to protect vessels in the troubled shipping lanes, emphasising such an operation could be launched before mid-February.
“We have to decide which country will take the command, where the headquarters will be and what navy assets the Member States will provide,” he said before the start of the defence ministers meeting, adding he hoped that “today it will be decided who will take the lead”.