Spain stands by decision not to intervene in the Red Sea

by Lorraine Williamson
Red Sea decision - Margarita Robles

Defence Minister Margarita Robles on Friday reiterated her refusal to allow Spain to participate in any mission in the Red Sea. Spain is not succumbing to pressure from the US to reconsider the decision.

Joe Biden’s administration reaffirmed its interest in the Spanish government joining the operation to protect merchant ships sailing in the area from attacks by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“The decision is not to intervene in the Red Sea,” Robles told the media. Her statement came just hours after members of Operation Guardian of Prosperity attacked Houthi positions in Yemen with the launch of Tomahawk missiles.

Spain is committed to peace

Robles stressed that “Spain is a country that is resolutely committed to peace in the world” and gave as an example the 17 peacekeeping missions in which it participates, making it “the country in the European Union with the highest representation in missions.” However, she reiterated once again: “From the beginning, we have said that Spain will not participate because it is strongly committed to other missions.”

This clarification comes three weeks after David Austin, the US Secretary of Defence, announced in Bahrain Spain’s participation in Operation Guardian of Prosperity as part of a coalition of countries. This had to be rectified later.

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Despite the fact that the United States approached Spain again on January 9, when the US Chief of Staff, General Charles Brown, contacted his Spanish counterpart, Admiral Teodoro Esteban López Calderón, by phone, Robles has confirmed that she does not feel pressured. “We as Spaniards decide where to intervene, always under the umbrella of the European Union, NATO or the United Nations,” she stressed, then stressing that “Spain makes its own decisions, no country needs to tell it where to intervene.”

Proposal discussed on 22 January

On 22 January, the European Union will discuss the proposal by the External Action Service, led by High Representative Josep Borrell, to conduct a non-executive support mission in the Red Sea. It would be a mission in which the European Union would play a logistical role, but without weapons. “We don’t know if the European Union will approve a mission, but in the meantime, Spain’s decision is not to intervene in the Red Sea,” Robles stressed. She also stated that “Spain is not opposed to the Union being able to take on the missions it chooses,” despite Spain’s refusal to participate.

For this reason, Spain is not participating

One of the reasons given by Spain is the presence in Operation Atalanta in the Indian Ocean. According to Robles, the frigate Victoria, which is now deployed there, is working on a much-requested mission that prevents Spain from concentrating on another operation.

It is expected that for the first time this will exceed the number of 3,500 Spanish military and civil guards deployed for international missions on four continents. The largest mission will be in Lebanon with 700 troops. This unprecedented deployment of troops would make it difficult to get involved in a new maritime operation aimed at preventing attacks by the Houthis, who support Hamas in Israel’s war, against cargo ships crossing the Suez Canal from the east to the west and vice versa. 

Announcement at the end of December

In December, government sources announced that Spain would not join the EU-mission in the Red Sea. However, the Ministry of Defence did support the mission to protect merchant ships against attacks by the Houthis. At the end of December, Spain announced it would lift its veto on the European Union’s participation in the Red Sea mission, but also said it would not interfere. The Ministry of Defense argued at the time that such an operation “should be specific with its own entity in which the naval forces of the European countries want to participate and not merely an expansion of the Atalanta.” This operation was launched in 2008 to protect maritime traffic in the western Indian Ocean from pirate attacks.

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