January 31, 2024 | Flash Brief

EU Announces Mission to Protect Red Sea Shipping Against Houthis

January 31, 2024 | Flash Brief

EU Announces Mission to Protect Red Sea Shipping Against Houthis

Latest Developments

The European Union (EU) announced on January 31 that it is inaugurating a mission in the Red Sea to defend commercial vessels from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the operation will hopefully be approved at the next meeting of foreign ministers on February 19. EU officials told the Associated Press that seven EU member states have already committed to providing ships or planes for the mission. France, Italy, Belgium, and Germany, among other countries, would contribute ships for the mission, while France, Italy, and Greece are reportedly vying to lead the mission. Borrell added that the mission, dubbed Aspides, or “shield” in Greek, would be for defensive purposes only and not participate in any attacks against the Houthis.

Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden have trade implications for many EU-based businesses, as the route is the primary link between Europe and Asia through the Suez Canal. The trade route is responsible for 10 to 15 percent of global commerce. Houthi attacks have caused many commercial shipping companies to reroute around the Horn of Africa, adding time and expense. Borrell said that this increased expense was contributing to inflation.

Expert Analysis

“The EU wants to distance itself from the American and British offensive strikes in Yemen. But it also wants to avoid the perception of being missing in action as the Iran-backed Houthis wage an extraordinary assault on European economic interests and freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. Once the EU’s foreign ministers approve the mission, all the public statements are issued, and the additional European vessels and aircraft actually show up, this EU effort should be integrated in practice with Operation Prosperity Guardian, which is explicitly and solely defensive in nature.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“I’m glad to see European navies committing to the defensive fight to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. This will be a much more meaningful contribution if the EU agrees to properly integrate these forces with existing U.S. and UK naval forces in the region. Defensive forces such as these will not be enough to end the scourge of Houthi attacks, but fortunately, the United States and the UK remain committed to conducting the necessary offensive cost-imposition operations.” RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, FDD Senior Fellow and Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation

Houthis Undeterred Despite U.S.-led Task Force and Airstrikes

The Houthis have launched nearly 40 attacks against international shipping in and near the Red Sea since November 19. On January 30, the group launched an anti-ship cruise missile at the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Gravely. The destroyer intercepted the missile, sustaining no damage or injuries to its crew. On January 31, U.S. forces destroyed a surface-to-air missile in Houthi-controlled territory that was prepared to launch.

The EU’s mission mirrors the U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, which Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced on December 18. This international initiative, which seeks to protect commercial shipping, includes more than 20 countries — with some providing military assets and others providing logistics and support staff. Apart from this operation, the United States and the United Kingdom conducted two joint strikes against military targets in Houthi-controlled territory on January 11 and January 22, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands. U.S. forces have also conducted unilateral strikes on Houthi targets.

10 Things to Know About the Houthis,” FDD Insight

China Urges Iran to Halt Houthi Attacks in Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S., UK Forces Bomb Houthis’ Advanced Weapons,” FDD Flash Brief


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