Italy pushes for quick decision on EU maritime Red Sea force

Rome: Italy would like a political decision made to create an EU maritime security mission for the Red Sea by next week so that it can become operational as soon as possible, Italy’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

European Union member states gave initial backing on Tuesday to the mission to protect ships from attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi militia in the Red Sea on concern that disruption in one of the world’s top trading arteries could hit the global economy.

The objective was to establish it by Feb. 19 at the latest and make it operational soon afterwards.

Several diplomats said they hoped the process could be fast-tracked given the tensions in the region. It will be discussed by foreign ministers on Jan. 22.

“The idea is to have a European mission that can be operational as soon as possible,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told reporters. “Then, certainly, decisions will be made, but the political decision for us must be taken by next Monday.”

Diplomats said there was still a need to define exactly the rules of engagement beyond patrolling and how it fitted in with other EU missions off the coast of Somalia and in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic entrance to the energy-rich Gulf region.

Tajani said the easiest solution was to expand the EU-led Agenor mission currently operating in the Strait of Hormuz into the Red Sea.

“I believe that even the European Union’s External Action Service is quite favourable to this hypothesis,” he said, referring to the EU’s diplomatic arm, which proposed the mission.

Two diplomats said France and Italy, which already have warships in the region, along with Germany, which planned to send the Hesse frigate, would contribute first to the EU mission. France is currently in command of the Agenor mission.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Norway, Germany and Portugal participate in Agenor.

Italy, Spain and France stood out last week by not taking part in U.S. and British strikes against the Houthis in Yemen and not signing a statement put out by 10 countries justifying the attacks. However, the EU mission would coordinate patrols with an existing U.S.-led operation in the region.