Sailing Troubled Waters: Dissecting Complex Dynamics Surrounding US-led Naval Coalition In Red Sea – Analysis


In a significant move recently, the United States announced the formation of a naval coalition named “Operation Prosperity Guardian” aimed at safeguarding commercial vessels progressing through the Red Sea. Initially, the plan included participation from 10 countries. However, concerns promptly arose about the absence of major Arab naval powers in the coalition. This development follows a series of Houthi attacks on ships passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait since mid-November, escalating tensions in the region.

On November 19, the Houthi rebels hijacked the Galaxy Leader, a cargo ship co-owned by an Israeli businessman. Subsequent attacks involved drones, with one ship being briefly boarded. Most incidents occurred in the strategically crucial Bab el-Mandeb Strait, disrupting major shipping operations and leading to the suspension of services by several prominent shipping companies.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait, known as the “Gate of Tears” in Arabic, holds critical importance as a strategic connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Situated between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, a region marked by enduring violence and instability, this narrow passage has become a focal point for various international incidents, highlighting its significance in global maritime trade.

The strait plays a crucial role in facilitating 30 percent of global container traffic. Nevertheless, significant corporations such as Maersk Tankers, Maersk Line, Evergreen, and BP have reportedly redirected their vessels away from the Red Sea, opting for routes around the Cape of Good Hope. Under normal circumstances, approximately 12 percent of worldwide trade passes through the Suez Canal. Consequently, these attacks pose a tangible threat to the operational integrity of the Suez Canal route connecting Europe and Asia, reminiscent of the disruption caused by the Ever Given grounding in 2021. The incident took days to resolve, claimed a life, and resulted in extended disruptions.

The Houthi rebel group in Yemen has been actively targeting ships in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, employing rockets and drones. A senior Houthi official stated on social media that these actions would persist until “crimes of genocide in Gaza” cease and essential supplies are permitted into the besieged population. Analysts argue that the Houthi-Israel enmity is a strategic posture, asserting solidarity with the Palestinians and presenting Israel as a common enemy to the Muslim and Arab world.

The proposed US-led naval coalition, Operation Prosperity Guardian, has invited all 38 members of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to participate. As of now, only nine countries, including Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the Seychelles, and the UK, have publicly committed to joining. Notably, questions surround the absence of significant Middle Eastern nations from the coalition.

Egypt, a key player in the region for the Suez Canal, has refrained from openly criticizing Houthi attacks or participating in the naval coalition. Despite potential economic losses due to disruptions in the Suez Canal, Egypt’s proximity to the conflict and regional sensitivities likely influence its cautious approach. Besides, Saudi Arabia, a member of the CMF and a key player in the Yemeni civil war, has not joined the naval coalition. Recent peace talks with the Houthis and efforts to improve relations with Iran contribute to Saudi Arabia’s cautious stance.

Experts suggest that joining the coalition could jeopardize peace negotiations and even risk Houthi attacks on Saudi oil depots. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), though not part of the naval coalition, is known for advocating a more robust approach against the Houthis. Differences in approach between the UAE and Saudi Arabia regarding the Houthi problem are evident. The UAE’s dissatisfaction with the perceived weakness of Washington’s security response and concerns about Houthi attacks on UAE oil fields contribute to its nuanced position.

The complexities surrounding the US-led naval coalition, coupled with the ongoing Houthi threats, pose significant challenges to regional stability. The potential consequences of major Middle Eastern nations abstaining from participation raise questions about the effectiveness of Operation Prosperity Guardian. A prolonged crisis in the region could have far-reaching implications for maritime security, economic activities, and diplomatic relations.

As the situation in the Red Sea continues to evolve, the dynamics of the US-led naval coalition and the response of key regional players remain uncertain. Navigating the troubled waters of geopolitical tensions, economic interests, and security concerns requires careful analysis and diplomatic efforts. The outcomes of Operation Prosperity Guardian will undoubtedly have an impact on the future of maritime security in the region and influence broader geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East.

Syed Raiyan Amir

Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *