Pentagon launches operation to protect ‘prosperity’

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A US-led coalition has come together to respond to Houthi rebel attacks that have disrupted Red Sea shipping

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 and oil major BP from the key maritime route.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the coalition’s initiative on Monday, saying 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 southern tip of Africa, in recent weeks amid the Houthi attacks, which came in response to the Israel-Hamas war. At least five major maritime carriers, including Maersk, CMA CGN, and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), have steered clear of the area. MSC announced its decision on Saturday, a day after one of its container ships was attacked in the Red Sea.

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The disruptions have added days or weeks to transit times. MSC said its suspension of Red Sea routes would last until the passage was made safe again.  The USS Carney, a guided-missile destroyer, thwarted an attack on Saturday morning, according to the US Central Command (CENTCOM), shooting down 14 Houthi drones in the Red Sea.

UK oil giant BP announced on Monday that it will temporarily stop sending tankers through the Red Sea because of the dangers posed by the attacks. “We will keep this precautionary pause under ongoing review, subject to circumstances as they evolve in the region,” the company said. Brent crude prices, a leading international crude benchmark, rose nearly 3% on the news.

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 the country, saying such vessels are legitimate targets as long as West Jerusalem carries out “ugly crimes … against our brothers in Gaza and the West Bank.”

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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.” Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani told reporters, “Nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance.” 

Yemen’s military spokesperson added, “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.”

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