The Pentagon has turned to the UK, France and other allies to help secure shipping traffic through the Red Sea after a series of missile and drone attacks launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels scared away major transport operators from the key maritime route.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the coalition’s initiative on Monday, stating Operation Prosperity Guardian would work to ensure freedom of navigation through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” he said in a statement, adding that the group would bolster “regional security and prosperity”.
Other members of the coalition include Canada, Norway, Bahrain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Seychelles. The group springs from the Combined Maritime Forces, a 39-nation partnership that collaborates to secure maritime traffic through key international shipping lanes. About one-sixth of the world’s commercial shipping traffic typically passes through the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait, from the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden.
Dozens of ships have been rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope, at the tip of South Africa, in recent weeks amid the Houthi attacks, which came in response to the Israel-Hamas war. Several major maritime carriers have steered clear of the area.
The Houthis have defended their strikes as justified retaliation for “the oppression of the Palestinian people”. They have vowed to “prevent the passage” of any ship headed to Israel or otherwise connected to Tel Aviv, stressing such vessels are legitimate targets as long as West Jerusalem carries out “ugly crimes … against our brothers in Gaza and the West Bank”.
The US, UK, and France have already worked together to shoot down Houthi missiles and drones in the region.
Iran cautioned the US against attempting to flex its muscles in the area and threatened to bring about “extraordinary problems”. Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani told reporters, “Nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance.”