US launches new multinational operation to safeguard Red Sea commerce

Defense Secretary Austin says Houthi attacks on shipping vessels an 'international challenge that demands collective action'; Iran-backed group says unfazed by threat

Reuters, Lior Ben-Ari|
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday announced the creation of a multinational operation to safeguard commerce in the Red Sea following a series of missile and drone attacks by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis.
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Austin, who is on a trip to Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's headquarters in the Middle East, said participating countries include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain. He said they would conduct joint patrols in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
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לויד אוסטין
לויד אוסטין
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
(Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
"This is an international challenge that demands collective action. Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative," Austin said in a statement early on Tuesday.
Earlier Monday, a senior Houthi official said that the Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels are “capable of confronting any coalition formed by the U.S. operating in the Red Sea.”
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Supreme Political Council, told Al Jazeera in an interview that the Houthis are managing "indirect contacts with countries, including the U.S., which are trying to persuade us to cease our military activities in the Red Sea."
He noted, "The U.S. proposed that we do not intervene in efforts to reach a peace agreement in Yemen in exchange for stopping our military operations in the Red Sea. We rejected the offer."
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לוחם חות'י הולך על חוף באזור חודיידה ב תימן כשברקע נראית הספינה  גלקסי לידר שנחטפה על ידי ה חות'ים בחודש נובמבר
לוחם חות'י הולך על חוף באזור חודיידה ב תימן כשברקע נראית הספינה  גלקסי לידר שנחטפה על ידי ה חות'ים בחודש נובמבר
A Houthi gunman walking past the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, hijacked by Iranian-backed rebels in November
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said that international shipping lanes were safe for non-Israeli ships or vessels not headed to Israeli ports, writing off any claims otherwise as “American propaganda.”
"The shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea are safe, and there is no danger to ships, except for those belonging to Israel or those heading to Israeli ports,” he said.
“Any other claim is unrealistic American propaganda aiming to build an international rampart to protect Israel at sea, following the collapse of its concrete walls in the Al-Aqsa Flood," he added, referring to the Hamas’ name for the October 7 attack on Israel and the consequent war.
In recent weeks, the Houthis have launched dozens of missile and drone attacks on shipping vessels sailing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a strategic chokepoint linking the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. As a result of the recurring attacks, major global container shippers announced in recent days they will avoid the Red Sea.
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