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EU aims to launch Red Sea naval mission by mid-Feb

January 31, 2024 at 11:44 am

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell speaks in Guatemala City on January 13, 2024 [JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP via Getty Images]

EU member states want to launch a Red Sea naval mission by mid-February to protect ships from attacks by Yemen’s Houthis, Reuters has reported. According to foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the bloc could decide its command structure on Wednesday.

Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by the Houthis, who control much of Yemen and say that they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians as Israel’s military offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza continues. The Houthis insist that they are only targeting merchant vessels connected to Israel in an effort to stop what many believe is a genocide happening in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“Not all member states will be willing to participate but no one will obstruct,” Borrell told reporters ahead of a European Union defence ministers’ meeting. “I hope that on the 17th [of February] the mission can be launched.”

He added that the aim on Wednesday is to pick a lead nation, and outline where the mission would be headquartered, who would participate and with what assets.

The US and other countries launched a mission in December to allay fears that disruption in one of the world’s top trading routes could hit the global economy. However, some US allies, notably European countries, have raised reservations about the plan, which has seen the US and Britain launch air strikes on Houthi positions, and baulked at the idea of being under Washington’s command.

Borrell said that the EU operation would be named Aspides — “Protector” — and its mandate would be to protect commercial traffic and intercept attacks, but not take part in strikes against the Houthis.

France, Greece and Italy have shown interest in leading the mission, with seven countries so far indicating that they would be willing to send naval assets, said diplomats. They explained that it would be based off existing EU missions in the region. The operation would initially see three vessels under EU command. France and Italy already have warships in the region, and Germany plans to send the Hesse frigate to the area, they added.

READ: EU urges members to impose ‘consequences’ on Israel