Britain and the US are getting ever more drawn in to the conflict in the Red Sea, as Iran-backed Houthis fire missiles at commercial ships. The USS Carney has downed 14 attack drones launched from Houthi-controlled territory and the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond is also there shooting down missiles.
The Houthis are firing from Yemen, and the Iranian regime is reportedly sending them real-time intelligence and weaponry. The Houthis claim that they are only targeting ships headed to Israel, but evidence suggests otherwise. On Saturday a ship travelling from Saudi Arabia to India was struck. Christmas Eve was one of the busiest days yet: US Central Command said that it had ‘shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen’.
This affects all of Europe – any choking of shipping routes could mean shortages across the continent. Many ships are rerouting 3,000 miles around the Cape of Good Hope, rather than going through the Bab-al-Mandeb strait. Energy prices could soar especially if the Houthis decide to attack the Strait of Hormuz, through which most oil from the Arabian peninsula travels.
So is it time for a united response? It seemed so on Thursday when the Pentagon announced 20 countries were joining its Operation Prosperity Guardian. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said this was a matter of ‘freedom of navigation for all countries’ and confirmed that Spain had joined Britain and France in this alliance.
But now, Spain has pulled out, saying it would rather participate in Nato-led missions or a EU-coordinated operation than one led by the US. One of the country’s deputy prime ministers accused the White House of being enormously ‘hypocritical’ in its Middle East diplomacy. Why is America more concerned about protecting commerce than it is about calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, Yolanda Díaz asked.