US Sec Def Announces Coalition to Defend Shipping Against Houthi Attacks

Austin’s announcement came after 12 major shipping companies said they were suspending operations in the region, because of the Houthi attacks.
The USS Carney in the Mediterranean Sea in October 2018 (Photo: Ryan U. Kledzik/US Navy/File)
The USS Carney in the Mediterranean Sea in October 2018 (Photo: Ryan U. Kledzik/US Navy/File)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced on Monday that the U.S. was forming a ten-nation naval task force to protect international shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, where ships have come under repeated attack from the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Austin released a written statement on the new force and also mentioned it in a press conference in Tel Aviv, before heading on Tuesday for Bahrain, where he is holding a ministerial meeting. 

Some 12% of the world’s maritime shipping, and 30% of its cargo container shipping, passes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Fees for transit through the canal are an important source of revenue for the Egyptian government.

Austin’s announcement came after 12 major shipping companies announced they were suspending operations in the region because of the Houthi attacks. 

Instead, they will either hold their ships in place and wait for the situation to stabilize or take the much longer route around Africa’s southernmost point, the Cape of Good Horn. That would add some ten days to the journey.

Such developments have a negative impact on the international economy. After BP, the British oil giant, announced that it, too, was suspending shipping through the dangerous waters, oil prices rose some 3 percent.

Austin’s Announcement

“The recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen threatens the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners, and violates international law,” Austin’s statement began. 

Characterizing the Houthi attacks as “an international challenge that demands collective action,” Austin stated, “Today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian.” 

That is the name of what Austin described as “an important new multinational security initiative.” It will be based on the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is headquartered in Bahrain.

Austin also identified the ten countries that have already committed to participate: the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain. 

Al Jazeera suggested that Egypt and Jordan might join as well. Egypt’s interest is clear—maintaining a safe and secure flow of traffic through the Suez Canal. 

Jordan also has a strong interest. It is almost entirely landlocked, except for a small piece of territory on the Red Sea—at the port of Aqaba. Thus, the Houthi attacks threaten all shipping to Jordan, potentially reducing it to a land-locked country.

Houthi Claims

The Houthis say they are attacking Israeli-linked shipping in support of Hamas in its war with Israel.

But much of the shipping the Houthis are attacking has nothing to do with Israel. For example, on Monday, they attacked a Norwegian-owned ship, the Swan Atlantic.

However, the owner of the ship, Inventor Chemical Tankers, denied any link to Israel, as Arab News reported.  “The ship was carrying biofuel feedstock from France to Reunion Island.” 

The Houthis lack the ability to attack such shipping on their own, and they require Iranian support. As Washington’s highly-regarded Institute for the Study of War has said, “Iran and its so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to support their objective of expelling US forces from the Middle East.”