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Israel To Work With US But Retain Operational Freedom In Red Sea

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Israel will respond to Houthis attacks when it deems it necessary.

Ariel Kahana

(JNS)

Israel has been demanding in meetings with U.S. administration officials that it be allowed freedom of action in the Red Sea against Houthi attacks.

“Israel is not part of the coalition led by the United States against Houthi aggression in the Red Sea, but Israel maintains its freedom of action in coordination with the coalition leaders,” a senior official in Jerusalem told Israel Hayom on Wednesday.

In meetings held between U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his counterparts in Israel and between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the War Cabinet ministers, the message was that Jerusalem supports the international coalition but will not be subordinate to its members should it feel compelled to retaliate to attacks against it.

Such freedom of action would be required, among other things, if the Houthi missile launches towards the city of Eilat continue.

A middle ground eventually emerged under which Israel would indeed maintain freedom of action but would still be required to operate in coordination with the U.S. The aggression of the Houthis has so far led to U.S. interceptions of their missiles, but the American forces have not gone on the offensive despite the knowledge that Iran is behind the attacks.

This week, with the establishment of a coalition that will deploy in the Red Sea to ensure freedom of navigation, there were additional attacks to which the new force has yet to respond.

The establishment of the coalition is seen as an Israeli achievement since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed the head of his government’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, to turn the Houthi provocations into an international problem that would allow Israel to focus on its backyard in Gaza.

In his visit to Israel at the beginning of the week, Austin announced the establishment of the new defense coalition to protect shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which includes the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Bahrain and the Seychelles.

Despite the significant damage to its revenues due to the diversion of shipping of many commercial vessels away from the Suez Canal, Egypt chose not to be part of the coalition.

Last month, the Israeli Navy bolstered its presence in the Red Sea following repeated missile and drone attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

The IDF said that missile corvettes were deployed “in accordance with the assessment of the situation, and as part of the increased defense efforts in the region.”

The IDF also has multiple layers of air defenses in the Red Sea area to defend against Houthi attacks.

בהתאם להערכת המצב וכחלק מתגבור מאמץ ההגנה במרחב, ספינות טילים של זרוע הים הגיעו אתמול למרחב ים סוף pic.twitter.com/UCrQl3bUTO

— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) November 1, 2023

If the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen continue to attack Eilat with missiles, the State of Israel will “know what to do,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said during a visit to the Red Sea city on Wednesday.

The minister was briefed on operational and intelligence activities as well as the navy’s preparations in the face of aerial and maritime threats in the Red Sea, Gallant’s Office stated. He was accompanied by Israeli Navy commander V. Adm. David Saar Salama and boarded a Sa’ar 6-class corvette that was recently deployed to the area.

“The threat to freedom of navigation in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait [between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden], 2,000 kilometers from the State of Israel, is not only a threat to traffic to Israel, but also to international freedom of navigation in waters belonging to all countries,” said Gallant.

He thanked Austin, whom Gallant recently hosted in Israel, for leading a multinational force tasked with ensuring freedom of navigation in the Bab el-Mandeb.

On Thursday, the head of Eilat’s port told Reuters that traffic at the docks was down 85% since the Houthis began attacking vessels in the Red Sea.

Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that marine traffic in the sea was down 30% month-over-month in December due to carriers avoiding the Bab el-Mandeb strait.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

Image: The USS Carney guided missile destroyer shot down 14 Houthi drones fired at vessels in the Bab el-Mandeb strait on Dec. 16. Photo by Journalist Seaman Apprentice Charles A. Ordoqui/U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons.

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