Spain has maneuvered behind the scenes against the international military mission that the United States wants to lead in the Red Sea against the Yemeni rebels. But she is not alone: France He refuses to place himself under the command of Washington, and on his own protects his ships in the Red Sea from attacks by the Houthi militias. The same happens with Italy. And all, despite the fact that, in its initial statement announcing the mission, the White House included those three countries in the initial official list of participants. Other traditional allies of the United States such as Saudi Arabia do not want to contribute either. What’s going on?
Given the lack of detail in the official explanations, analysts point to several possible reasons. And they all agree on one thing: the Joe Biden Administration is giving political and military support to Israel in its attacks against Gaza, and placing the ships next to its own represents a risk and inconsistency. Tel Aviv leads a punishment operation against Hamas in the Palestinian Strip that has already killed more than 10,000 children. Few want to be seen in a joint mission with who sends thousands of bombs to carry out those attacks. Especially Mediterranean countries.
“I think that Spain does not join the United States mission in the Red Sea out of coherence, because you cannot pressure Israel over Gaza and at the same time participate in an operation directed from Washington,” he says for this newspaper. Leyla Hamad, specialist in Yemen and author of the book “Yemen. “The Forgotten Key of the Arab World.” “The message to Arab countries would be confusing“, and the best role that Spain can play today is as a mediator, since it enjoys credibility within the Arab world.”
Public anger over the bloody Israeli offensive in Gaza is also a factor that explains the reluctance of the leaders of many countries to join the mission, notes the Reuters agency, citing a recent Yougov survey in which a vast majority of Western Europeans (especially in Spain and Italy) think that Israel should stop its offensive against the Strip.
“European governments are concerned that part of their potential electorate turns against them“, assures the same agency David Hernández, professor of International Relations at the Complutense University.
A risky mission
The US administration also points to fear of the risks inherent to the mission itself. The Yemeni rebels have hijacked or attacked a dozen ships in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait since last November 19, in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza.
“Right now there is a desire to distance oneself from Israel and USAthey do not want to be seen as a belligerent party, but it is also possible that countries are trying maintain the chain of command in risky missions that require ships with anti-aircraft defenses,” Jesús Manuel Pérez Triana, Security and Defense analyst, points out for this newspaper.
Precisely at this point is where Spain’s blockade of the EU expanding the Atalanta mission to send ships to the Red Sea is justified. Operation Atalanta fights against piracy in the Indian Ocean. Spain contributes with old frigates, which They have practically no anti-aircraft defensesessential if you want to defend yourself from an attack with drones or missiles.
On October 26, the frigate Victoria relieved the Navarra in this mission. These are ships from the eighties, of the Santa María Class, equipped with the basics: a 76 mm cannon, two side positions with two 25 mm cannons, machine guns and the possibility of carrying a combat helicopter. To fight against the Somali pirates for whom this mission was designed, the analyst points out, they are enough. But the Yemenis use drones (remains of an Iranian Shahed have recently been found on an attacked ship) or ASEF anti-ship missiles (versions of the Iranian Fateh 313), with 400 kilometers of range, or other so-called Tankeel (versions of the Iranian Zohair), which reach up to 500 kilometers. With them the Houthis can reach ships in the Red Sea, as well as parts of the Gulf of Aden.
To defend itself, the most modern frigates would be necessary. “It would be necessary to send a frigate with anti-aircraft defense capabilities. We have five frigates of the Álvaro de Bazán F-100 Class specialized (with powerful radar and a defensive missile system)”, points out Pérez Triana. “But the top seed is more than 15 years old and they had to have entered shipyards to update software. In other words: the mission was going to catch us with the frigates already mature.”
This line of argument coincides with that expressed by the President of the Government himself this Tuesday. Pedro Sánchez has justified his blocking in Brussels of the expansion of the Atalanta mission to send ships to the Red Sea for “pure common sense”, because “the framework of the operation is not the same” and “the risk and nature of the challenge are different,” he said.
The president has not ruled out or confirmed whether Spain would participate in a new mission, not linked to Atalanta. “Spain does not oppose the creation of any other operation in the Red Sea. We are willing and open to the operation being considered by the allies, whether from the EU or NATO, but not within the framework of Operation Atalanta.” He spoke about this with the president of the United States, Joe Biden, but neither the tone nor the content of the conversation has transcended.
Allies do not adhere to Biden’s strength
On December 19, the White House announced a international mission with twenty countries to guarantee maritime traffic in the Red Sea, after the most important shipping companies and the oil company BP announced that they were stopping using that route through the Suez Canal. They would surround Africa, which increases the costs by more than a million euros and the crossing in ten days. It affects 12% of global maritime traffic.
Washington released a statement from Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin, according to which Operation Prosperity Guardian brought together “several countries, including the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, ItalyNetherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain“.
Spain immediately denied with a statement from the Ministry of Defense, and pointed out that any Spanish participation had to be under the umbrella of NATO or the EU. Italy sent a similar note: the Ministry of Defense of the Government of Giorgia Meloni assured that it was going to send a ship to the Red Sea at the request of the Italian merchant owners, but not within the US operation. France has said it supports efforts to secure navigation in the Red Sea, but that its ships will remain under French command. One of them has already shot down a Yemeni attack drone.
So, at the moment, only 12 countries of the 20 mentioned by the Pentagon have confirmed participation in the mission. The United Kingdom and Greece have publicly joined forces, but other allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they have no interest.