A retired admiral from Saudi Arabia explains the reasons why Arabs are reluctant to join the Red Sea task force.

Saudi Arab’s Reluctance to Join Operation Prosperity Guardian
Despite having nearly 1,000 miles of Red Sea coastline and facing the ongoing conflict with the Houthis in neighboring Yemen, Saudi Arabia has chosen not to participate in Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG), a US-led operation aimed at securing ships transiting the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The decision not to join OPG is in line with the majority of Arab nations. According to retired Saudi rear admiral Hatem Albesher, Bahrain is the only Arab nation to have participated in the operation. Albesher has highlighted several reasons for the reluctance of Arab nations to take part in OPG.

One of the main reasons cited for the Arab reluctance is the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, which has contributed to concerns that joining the coalition could result in supporting Israel and lead to negative economic repercussions. Furthermore, a focus on de-escalation with the Houthis to prioritize their own strategic interests has deterred countries like Riyadh and Abu Dhabi from participation in the coalition project.

Albesher emphasized the paradox of the Arab reluctance, given that the costs imposed by the Houthis by shutting down Red Sea trade have prompted collaborative efforts to safeguard freedom of navigation, protect maritime lines of communication, and ensure the security of maritime trade routes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab region.

Another missing element in OPG is the absence of participation from Egypt, which plays a crucial role in the region due to its ownership of the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is a crucial maritime trade route connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, and any disruption or tension in the region could pose a direct threat to Egypt’s economy.

The skepticism of Arab nations towards joining OPG might be driven by their interests in avoiding direct involvement in the conflict and allowing the US and NATO allies to take the lead in protecting the Red Sea. While the absence of specific countries, including Saudi Arabia, does not necessarily mean that the operation will fail, the growing Saudi navy and other Arab military assets could prove beneficial to OPG’s goal of protecting shipping in the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, the lack of participation by Arab nations has not been a fatal blow to OPG, although the involvement of more countries is crucial to ensuring the security and stability of the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab region. Albesher stressed the importance of coordination and cooperation between participating nations, effective military strategies, and addressing root causes of instability in the region for the success of OPG.

As of now, the US, the UK, France, Greece, and Denmark are the only countries to have contributed warships to OPG, with Vice Admiral Brad Cooper expressing confidence in having sufficient resources to execute the task assigned to him. This suggests that the US and a few other countries are shouldering the responsibility of protecting the Red Sea, sparing Arab nations from direct involvement in the operation.

The changing geopolitical realities in the Middle East are evident in the Arab reluctance to participate in OPG despite having significant maritime interests in the region. This has led to speculation about the future of the coalition and how the absence of Arab nations might affect its overall effectiveness.

In conclusion, the decision by Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to refrain from participation in OPG reflects their strategic considerations, but at the same time, their involvement could significantly contribute to the overall success of the operation. The ongoing geopolitical dynamics in the region are likely to continue influencing the course of maritime security efforts in the Red Sea.