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Red Sea Crisis

Greece seeks key role in EU Red Sea naval mission to protect shipping

Photo: Guillaume Périgois - Unsplash EU flags flying
Greece is seeking a leading role including taking command of the forthcoming EU naval mission in the Red Sea aimed at safeguarding ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Greece’s Defense Minister, Nikos Dendias has also suggested the military base in Larissa, central Greece, which hosts the Greek Air Force and Nato headquarters in Greece, could serve as the operational headquarters for this mission.

Dendias was speaking to reporters ahead of an EU Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels, 31 January where the mission’s command structure was discussed.

Beyond the broader impact on global trade, Greece has a lot at stake from the proper operation of seaways in the Middle Eastern region due to the large size of the country’s merchant fleet and its role as transport hub for goods entering Europe from China.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell expects the bloc’s foreign ministers to sign off on the mission when they meet on 19 February. Among seven EU countries ready to provide ships or planes, Greece has committed to provide a frigate.

France, Greece and Italy are vying for the role to lead the naval effort. Dendias said the country’s bid was welcomed. “I informed my counterparts that Greece is offering the Larissa headquarters as the headquarters for the operation, as well as that it is ready to lead the operation. Our offer was positively received,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by the Houthis, who control much of Yemen and say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians as Israel and Hamas wage war in Gaza.

Greek government officials have indicated that unofficially the EU has given the nod to its proposal and communications between the armed forced of the countries involved have already begun at an operational level. The leading role in the operations could also be held on a rotating basis.

Borrell insisted the EU mission — dubbed Aspides, from the Greek for “shield” — will not take part in any military strikes and will only operate at sea.

“This is the purpose: protection of the ships. Intercepting of the attacks against the ships. Not participating in any kind of action against the Houthis. Only blocking the attacks of the Houthis,” said Borrell.