New naval coalition experiences fractures and drone strikes expand to the Indian Ocean

US-Led Coalition Against Houthi Attacks Falters Amidst Growing Threat to Shipping

Operation Prosperity Guardian, the US-led coalition established to safeguard shipping across the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden from Houthi attacks, is facing serious challenges as it begins to take shape. At the same time, the latest series of drone attacks on commercial vessels has expanded beyond the coast of Yemen, reaching as far as the waters off India.

According to reports, twenty countries have agreed to participate in the multinational naval security coalition. However, most of these participants are reluctant to provide actual ships or other critical assets to support the cause. Instead, many have only committed to sending a handful of staff. The situation has been further aggravated by Spain, Italy, and France’s rejection of the US demand that their ships be placed under the command of the US Navy while deployed as part of the security operation.

Reuters has reported that Spain insists on an operation led by NATO or the EU, while Italy’s frigate Virginio Fasan will deploy to the region but not as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian. France has also expressed its intention to continue participating but will not allow its ships to come under US command, despite the fact that these countries have highly capable ships with strong air defense capabilities to offer. This lack of support from key NATO members poses a significant challenge for the coalition, as robust naval capabilities are essential for ensuring the success of the operation.

The situation is further complicated by a recent drone attack on the M/V Chemical tanker, which was flying the Liberian flag and had ties to Israel, as it sailed in the Indian Ocean. The attack occurred approximately 120 miles southwest of the Indian port city of Veraval. According to ABC News, the drone caused a fire and structural damage to the ship but was eventually extinguished without any injuries to the crew. The Indian Navy responded to the ship’s distress call, dispatching maritime patrol aircraft and a warship to provide assistance.

The attack on the M/V Chemical tanker marks a significant expansion of the threat to shipping, reaching much further than previous attacks by the Houthis. The complexity and sophistication of the attack suggest the involvement of Iran, given its ongoing conflict with Israel and its history of launching clandestine attacks on shipping through the use of one-way attack drones. These tit-for-tat attacks have been seen throughout the Middle East and have increasingly involved Iran’s growing fleet of boats specifically designed to launch drones capable of carrying out long-range attacks, sometimes with man-in-the-loop capabilities.

The US has explicitly accused Iran of planning operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea, consistent with its support of the Houthis’ destabilizing actions in the region. If Iran continues to escalate its involvement in these operations, it could pose a major challenge to the safety of naval traffic, particularly in the vast expanse of the northern Indian Ocean, where current coalition efforts are already struggling to maintain control.

As the US-led coalition continues to grapple with these challenges, it now faces a more pressing need for unity and international support to effectively counter the growing threat to shipping across the region.

In conclusion, the situation involving the US-led coalition and the evolving threat to shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is a matter of significant concern. As the coalition faces internal challenges and a broader, more complex threat landscape, it becomes increasingly clear that a coordinated, multifaceted approach is needed to address the growing security risks in this vital maritime region.

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