Red Sea. European Mission Aspides Starts February 19

It will be a risky operation and last at least a year, but it does not involve any military ground assault on Yemeni territory

The European military mission in the Red Sea, dubbed Aspides, will start on Monday, February 19. A senior European official told the media on the eve of a Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels that the operation would be “not easy and very risky.” According to the same source, the mission’s strategic command will be based in Greece. “The Houthis continue to attack merchant ships in the Red Sea. This is exactly why we are deploying the operation that promises to be very risky,” the source said, emphasizing that “it will be a mission solely to protect civilian maritime traffic. One of the absolute principles of the international community is freedom of navigation, and we, as the EU, are directly involved in its protection.”

The mission will last at least one year, with a possible extension by decision of the European Council. “This will be a defensive mission in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution and in full compliance with international law. It is about asset protection, international trade, and freedom of navigation,” explained the official in Brussels, according to whom “there will be no direct attacks on Yemeni territory.”

And as European warships prepare to leave their moorings for the troubled Red Sea, where the American and British fleets have been stationed for months, attempts to reach a peaceful political solution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas have stalled. At the UN, Washington categorically rejected the new resolution on the Gaza Strip drafted by Algeria. “The U.S. does not support this draft resolution. If it was put to a vote as drafted, it would not pass,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “For months, the United States has worked tirelessly,” Thomas-Greenfield emphasized, “for a goal we should all strive for: a sustainable resolution to the conflict in Gaza, so that Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side and enjoy equal measures of security, dignity, and freedom. In pursuit of that future, the United States is working toward a hostage agreement between Israel and Hamas, which would bring an immediate and lasting period of calm in Gaza for at least six weeks and from which we could then take the time and steps to build a more settled peace.”

Separate from the U.S. plan, Russia is going to organize an intra-Palestinian conference, inviting 14 factions to Moscow, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. According to Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s special representative for the Middle East, the conference will be held in Moscow from February 29 to March 2.

The international political maneuvers come amid escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli army will not stop and will enter Rafah. “Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are essentially telling us to lose the war. I also said this to President Biden,” emphasized the Jewish Prime Minister.

Netanyahu’s accusation was directed primarily at the G7 foreign ministers, who the day before “called for urgent action” to address the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, particularly the plight of the 1.5 million civilians who have taken refuge in Rafah, and expressed “deep concern about the potentially devastating consequences for civilians of a further large-scale Israeli military operation in the Rafah area.”