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Red Sea: Germany's Bundestag approves naval mission

February 23, 2024

German lawmakers approved a mandate for military participation in the EU Red Sea naval mission Aspides, aimed at providing safe passage for merchant vessels currently subject to attack from Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The German navy frigate Hessen at dock in Wihelmshaven, Germany
The frigate Hessen and its 240-member crew is already en route to the Red SeaImage: Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpa/picture alliance

Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, on Friday overwhelmingly approved a new mandate committing the Bundeswehr to deploy as many as 700 soldiers, as well as materiel including the navy frigate Hessen, to the Red Sea until at least February 2025 as part of an EU mission aimed at providing safe passage to commercial vessels under threat of attack from nearby Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Berlin estimates the cost of the deployment will be about €56 million ($60.6 million). 

Friday's vote saw wide support for the mandate, with 538 parliamentarians voting for it and only 31 against, with four abstentions. 

With that, the frigate Hessen and its 240-member crew can continue to motor from Crete to the Red Sea to join Italian and Danish sailors participating in the EU's Greek-led Aspides mission.  

 The bridge of the German frigate Hessen
Naval experts say the Hessen's air reconnaissance capabilities make it well-suited for the EU's Aspides mission Image: Sina Schuldt/dpa/picture alliance

Houthi support for Hamas has hampered global trade

The Yemen-based Houthis have been attacking vessels in the area for months, ostensibly out of solidarity with Hamas militants and Palestinian civilians under counterattack from Israel in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, which controls the strip, attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking some 240 more hostage.

The situation in the Red Sea has greatly disrupted global trade, some 12% of which generally crosses the Red Sea to enter and exit the Suez Canal. The security situation has caused many shipping companies to avoid the area, costing them extreme amounts of extra time and money as this means ships must round South Africa to get to and from their destinations.

EU deploys mission to guarantee the delivery of goods and fuel to Europe

The EU's current mission theater encompasses the Red Sea's international waters as well as the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. 

The EU, which finalized the Aspides mission on Monday, intends to send at least four warships with accompanying air support in the form of helicopters and drones, to protect shipping and gather situational intelligence. Troops are to be deployed in a solely defensive posture and are not mandated to directly attack Houthi positions.

Germany's military is of the opinion that the Hessen is well-suited for the mission, especially regarding its air reconnaissance capabilities. German naval experts expect they could be attacked with missiles, drones and explosives-laden "kamikaze boats."

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the mission would "help stabilize the region" and also called it "one of the most dangerous in decades."

Germany to take part in Red Sea naval mission

js/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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