Greece to join naval coalition protecting Red Sea shipping against Houthi attacks

Greek defense minister says country has ‘fundamental interest’ in addressing Iran-backed group’s threat to global maritime transport; Australia to send personnel, but no ships

Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen publish a video showing how the group hijacked an Israeli-linked shipping vessel in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023. (Screen capture/X)
Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen publish a video showing how the group hijacked an Israeli-linked shipping vessel in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

Greece will join a US-led naval coalition to protect the Red Sea global shipping lane from Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the defense minister said Thursday.

A Greek navy frigate will join the task force on orders from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said Defense Minister Nikos Dendias.

As a foremost shipping nation, Greece had a “fundamental interest” in addressing a “massive threat” to global maritime transport, Dendias said in a televised statement.

Australia also announced that it will send 11 personnel to support the coalition, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, but no warships or planes.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said that Australia’s military needs to keep focused on the Pacific region.

Marles said that 11 military personnel would be sent in January to Operation Prosperity Guardian’s headquarters in Bahrain, where five Australians are already posted.

Greece’s Defense Minister Nikos Dendias before a press conference after a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart at the Cypriot Defense Ministry in the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, July 6, 2023. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

“We won’t be sending a ship or a plane,” he told Sky News television. “That said, we will be almost tripling our contribution to the combined maritime force.”

Australia is one of the United States’ closest military allies. Last week, the US Congress passed legislation allowing the sale of Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia under a security pact that includes Britain.

Marles rejected opposition lawmakers’ criticism that a failure to send a warship as the United States had requested made Australia a less reliable partner and ally.

“That’s patently ridiculous,” Marles said, adding that the US is aware of the scale of the Australian defense force, and the need to maintain its focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

“It is to state the obvious that to take a major asset and put it in the Middle East is to take a major asset away from what we’re doing in the immediate region,” Marles said.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, speaks during a news conference at the US State Department, in Washington, December 6, 2022. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

However, opposition defense spokesman Andrew Hastie called on Australia to send a warship.

“It’s in our national interest to contribute. If we want others to help us in a time of need, we need to step up and reciprocate now,” Hastie said.

The task force announced by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday initially included Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

The Iran-backed Houthis say their missile and drone strikes on passing container ships are in support of Palestinians in the Gaza war raging between Israel and terror group Hamas since October 7. The Yemeni rebel group had announced that it would target any ship heading to Israel or linked to it, though a number of vessels with no apparent connection to Israel have been targeted as well.

Several other countries have also agreed to be involved in the operation but prefer not to be publicly named, a US defense official said Monday on the condition of anonymity to discuss additional details of the new mission that have not been publicly announced.

War erupted when Hamas carried out a devastating attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Terrorists who burst through border with the Gaza Strip also abducted at least 240 people who were taken as hostages into the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded with a military campaign which it said aimed to destroy Hamas and free the hostages.

The Houthi attacks in waters leading to the Suez Canal, a chokepoint for about 10 percent of global trade, have forced many shipping companies to divert their vessels.

A Yemeni man carries a gun as he takes part in a march to express solidarity with the people of Gaza, in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on December 2, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Companies have ordered their ships to hold in place and not enter the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea until the security situation can be addressed.

A day after Austin announced the task force operation, the Houthi rebels vowed to keep up attacks on ships, declaring they would not be deterred by the naval coalition.

Houthis have also launched missiles and drones at southern Israel, which were intercepted by air defense systems.

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