Home » Rome works with Paris to expand EU Red Sea efforts

Rome works with Paris to expand EU Red Sea efforts

Italy will “definitely” take part in a European mission to protect the waterway where Houthi rebels have been targeting commercial vessels. It’s about upholding the principle of freedom of navigation, explained Italian officials, who are working alongside France to overcome EU quarrels and launch a new mission – while avoiding further tensions escalation

Sailing to the Red Sea. In the face of the Houthi’s attacks on commercial ships, and Western forces taking punitive measures against them, one Italian Navy ship is already working to protect Italian vessels in the area, and a second one is incoming. Looking further afield, Rome will “definitely take part” in a European mission to protect the crucial waterway, said Defence Minister Guido Crosetto on Sunday, because “15% of the world’s ships and maritime trade pass through there and Italy is the most affected country.”

  • Roughly 90% of the world’s goods pass through maritime traffic, and Italy’s ports are a very important hub, explained Defence Undersecretary Matteo Perego di Cremnago, stressing the necessity of a European initiative to defend that stretch of sea, “our security and our national interests.”

European dealings. The EU’s anti-piracy Atalanta mission is already operating off the coast of the Horn of Africa. It will “soon be under Italian command,” noted the undersecretary. At the European level, Rome will “discuss the possibility of either extending this mission or setting up a new one, in which Italy will certainly play a leading role,” over the coming days.

  • The objective of such an effort is safeguarding trade routes and protecting connections for merchant fleets in the Red Sea by countering Houthi attacks, at a time where the widening effect of the Israeli-Hamas conflict – including in the hybrid war dimension – is impacting the commercial and economic spheres.

The French entente. Spain is currently blocking the expansion of the Atalanta mission’s scope to include freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. “We hope that Europe will move,” remarked Minister Crosetto, noting that Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani is already in talks to make it happen. The latter is working alongside France on a new mission with broader and more specific competences.

  • The objective remains that of fostering “de-escalation” while allowing for the protection of commercial ships with adequate means and a mandate, stressed FM Tajani. “We should start a new mission with a new mandate,” and “different rules of engagement,” he argued, calling for EU unity on the matter.
  • Germany, too, urged EU capitals to quickly reach an agreement on a mission. In a joint news conference with newly-appointed French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasised the importance of a military operation in the Red Sea.

Zooming out: Rome has signed a Washington-led political declaration on security in the Red Sea, stated the foreign minister, but not “the one on offensive armed intervention.” That’s because such a decision must be made by Parliament, as the Constitution requires. And it’s also “the result of a political conviction, shared by the Prime Minister, Minister Crosetto and our armed forces: there is the risk of an escalation that we absolutely want to avoid.”

  • That also applies to other brewing conflicts that orbit around the Israel-Hamas war, such as the clashes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah on the Israeli-Lebanese border. There’s a heightened risk of escalation there, too, explained Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, noting that the exchange of fire up to now have been “skirmishes.”
    • If the situation were to worsen, the UN troops would have to leave, “because they are not prepared” to deal with the situation and are working under “other rules and motivations.” Italy is among the strongest contributors to the UNIFIL mission, with over 1,000 Italian soldiers deployed.

Subscribe to our newsletter