US to unveil enhanced safeguarding measures for Red Sea maritime traffic.

Reassurance to shipping companies suspending use of Red Sea due to Houthi attacks from Yemen is the aim of the response received.
An expanded maritime protection force involving Arab states is set to be launched by the US in order to combat the frequent Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, will announce the provisionally titled Operation Prosperity Guardian during his visit to the Middle East, which includes the fifth fleet stationed in Bahrain. This larger protection force, similar to Task Force 153 operating in Bahrain, aims to provide reassurance to commercial shipping companies that they will be protected against Houthi attacks, ensuring the safety of the Red Sea for commercial shipping.

Due to the attacks carried out by the Houthis in protest against Israeli efforts to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, five major shipping companies have suspended the use of the Red Sea. Lt Gen Osama Rabie, the chair of the Suez Canal Authority, revealed that 55 ships have been redirected around the Cape of Good Hope, resulting in a journey that is two weeks longer compared to passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait south of the Suez canal. Over the past months, more than 20 ships have reported incidents, mainly occurring in the narrow Bab al-Mandab Strait that separates the Arabian peninsula from Africa.

The latest shipping company to announce a suspension is the Hong Kong-based OOCL, joining others such as the French CMA CGM, the Danish Maersk, the German Hapag-Lloyd, and the Italian-Swiss-owned Mediterranean Shipping Co, the largest shipping company in the world. The decisions made collectively by these companies, if sustained, will have a significant impact on the Egyptian economy and global transport costs. In 2022-23, the Suez Canal generated $9.5bn for Egypt.

Although the US had been trying to persuade China to join the enlarged maritime protection force operating out of Bahrain, some US officials believe that the involvement of Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, and Bahrain has been secured.

The first ship to be captured by the Iranian-backed Houthis, the Galaxy Leader, is still in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah after being seized on November 19. Since then, attacks have continued. On Saturday, the USS Carney intercepted and shot down 14 one-way drones sent by the Houthis towards Israel.

So far, the French, British, and US navies have been intercepting and destroying Houthi-controlled drones and missiles. The Houthis have stated their intention to target all ships heading to Israeli ports, regardless of nationality.

While the US-led Combined Task Force 153 has primarily focused on countering Somali piracy in the Red Sea, it has also dealt with other threats.

During her visit to Israel, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna emphasized that the Houthi attacks should not go unanswered.

There had been concerns about whether Saudi Arabia, which is seeking a peace deal with the Houthis to end the eight-year civil war in Yemen, would participate in the protection force.

Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani expressed skepticism about the feasibility of a multinational task force protecting shipping in the Red Sea, stating that such a move by the US would face significant challenges. He said, “If the US makes such an irrational move, they will encounter extraordinary problems. Nobody can take action in a region where we hold dominance.”

The spokesperson for the Yemeni military stated, “If the US succeeds in establishing an international alliance, it will be the dirtiest alliance in history. The world has not forgotten the shame of remaining silent about previous genocidal crimes.”

Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi movement, has cautioned that he will retaliate if certain red lines are crossed, including direct US intervention in Gaza.

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