Brussels wants to launch a bespoke EU mission to protect commercial vessels in the Red Sea from attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

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In a document dated January 10 and seen by Euronews, the EU’s diplomatic service proposes sending “at least three” warships with “multi mission capabilities” to the region as early as next month.

The document recommends the “fast-tracking implementation” of an operation mandated to act “from the Red Sea to the Gulf,” in order to protect maritime security in a region plagued by instability in recent weeks.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, a raft of drone and rocket attacks in the Red Sea by the Houthis, an Iran-backed rebel group that controls a part of Yemen, has threatened to severely disrupt trade flows into Europe.

Many major shipping firms have temporarily avoided the area, where 12% of global trade and as much as 30% of global container traffic pass.

But EU nations have been reluctant to back Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG), the US-led naval mission formed in December. Prosperity Guardian originally enlisted the support of just six EU member states, three of which then distanced themselves from the mission.

Tensions escalated at the turn of the new year when ten Houthi militants attempting to sabotage a Danish-operated ship were killed by Prosperity Guardian officers, prompting Iran to send in its own frigate on January 1.

The US had called on the EU to repurpose its so-called Atalanta anti-piracy mission to support its efforts to restore stability in the Red Sea. But the request was shut down by Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez, who said the country was “willing” to consider a bespoke European mission to patrol the area and protect Europe’s commercial interests.

But on Friday, defence minister Margarita Robles said that Spain would not participate in an eventual EU mission in the Red Sea.

According to the document, the new EU operation would closely coordinate with both Prosperity Guardian and Atalanta.

“Member States retain the decision to switch their assets from an operation to the other depending on operational needs,” the document adds.

West steps up response to Houthi attacks

American and British forces, with backing from the Netherlands, stepped up their response to the attacks overnight with the first air and missile strikes in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Germany have endorsed the operation as a targeted response to the Red Sea attacks. Belgium’s foreign minister also confirmed the country is working with its Western allies to “restore maritime security in the region.”

The UK has also published a legal document claiming its response was permitted under international law.

A spokesperson for the NATO military alliance said on Friday that the US-led strikes on Yemen were “defensive,” according to AFP.

“These strikes were defensive, and designed to preserve freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways. The Houthi attacks must end,” NATO spokesperson Dylan White said.

Other states including Turkey and Russia have slammed the airstrikes as a disproportionate use of force. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the US and UK of turning the Red sea into a “sea of blood.”

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