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US warship “HMS Diamond” on patrol in the Red Sea

Photo: Lphot Chris Sellars / REUTERS

The European Union wants to take a much more defensive approach to the planned military mission in the Red Sea than the USA and some of its allies, who have repeatedly attacked and neutralized military positions of the Houthi rebels in Yemen after rocket attacks on merchant ships.

According to SPIEGEL information, the responsible EU diplomats agreed at a confidential meeting in Brussels in the middle of the week that the mission should have an executive but purely defensive mandate.

An internal report from the Federal Foreign Office (AA) states on the mandate for the operation that there will be "under no circumstances any shelling of Houthi positions on land."

The cautious line is apparently the consensus among the EU countries.

“No member state requested the use of military force against Houthi positions on land,” the responsible diplomats reported to the headquarters in Berlin.

The group also agreed that the mission should be called “Aspis”, the ancient Greek word for a protective shield.

The EU wants to "accelerate" planning for the mission because of the ongoing missile attacks on merchant ships, according to the German cable report.

"All member states pushed for the planning to be completed as soon as possible."

If everything goes according to plan, the resolution could be approved in mid-February.

Since some nations already have warships in the region, the mission could begin immediately.

The initial plans mention at least three warships from EU nations that will patrol the Red Sea.

The Bundeswehr wants to participate with the frigate “Hessen”.

But a Bundestag mandate would still be necessary for this.

The EU has been debating since the end of 2023 whether and how to launch a military mission because of the missile attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The USA did not hesitate so long to react.

Together with some allies such as Great Britain, Washington launched the “Prosperity Guardian” mission shortly after the first attacks.

In recent days, US fighter jets have also attacked Houthi positions on land following new attacks on merchant ships.

Urgent preparation of a Bundestag mandate was requested

These attacks by the Houthis threaten one of the world's most important trade routes.

The passage through the Red Sea towards the Mediterranean is essential for the transport of goods from Asia to Europe.

The fact that many large shipping companies are now sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa instead costs a lot of time and money.

That's why the federal government in Brussels pushed for a quick decision from the mission.

If it goes to Berlin, the mission will operate from the Suez Canal in the north to the Gulf in the south of the sea area.

In the cable report, the embassy warns that the federal government should “accelerate the mandating of a national contribution” because of the tight schedule.

Theoretically, the procedure in the Bundestag should be completed quickly, as there should be little resistance to protecting the trade route.

Nevertheless, the process shows how cumbersome the EU still is when it comes to military missions.

The member states had already agreed in principle at the end of the year.

But Brussels fell into hibernation over Christmas and New Year, after which Spain initially blocked further planning.

New restrictions from individual EU states feared

The embassy reports quite sarcastically about the mood among the diplomats.

Several envoys noted that the trade route through the Red Sea was more important for the EU than for the USA, but they were still unable to act.

The international community must now urgently speed up if it wants to be taken seriously by important partners like Washington.

However, the military already fears that, despite the political agreement, the mission could ultimately be slowed down again by special requests from individual nations.

In any case, the Director General of the EU Military Staff warned EU members to insert “as few caveats” into their national mandates as possible in order not to endanger the effectiveness of the mission.

The military uses the term “caveats” to describe the exclusion of certain military options or the use of individual weapon systems.