EU countries will discuss next week a plan to set up a naval mission to help protect Red Sea shipping following attacks from Yemen’s Huthi rebels, diplomats said Friday.
The proposal — in the pipeline in Brussels for several weeks — was mooted before US and British forces struck rebel-held Yemen early on Friday.
Any EU effort would seek to complement a US-led coalition, which includes numerous countries from the bloc, that is already operating in the vital shipping route.
The details of the size and scope of any EU mission remain to be hammered out and European diplomats said a first discussion would take place in Brussels on Tuesday.
Spain said Friday that it would not take part in any EU naval mission in the Red Sea.
Its defence minister, Margarita Robles, said that “Spain’s position on this subject has always been clear”.
The EU last year initially mulled a plan to expand its “Atalanta” mission focused on protecting shipping off Somalia, but that move was blocked by Spain.
Madrid gave no official reason, but Spanish media reported that domestic politics was behind the refusal, with a hard-left partner in Spain’s governing coalition, the Sumar party, generally opposed to US foreign policy.
Diplomats said EU foreign ministers could strike an agreement on establishing the new naval mission at the coming meeting in Brussels.
The Iran-backed Huthis have carried out a growing number of attacks on what they deem to be Israeli-linked shipping in the key international trade route since October 7, when Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel sparked the war which is still raging in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The rebels, who have seized control of a major portion of Yemen since a civil war erupted in the country in 2014, are part of a regional Iran-backed “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies.
The pre-dawn air strikes Friday by the United States and Britain add to escalating fears of wider conflict in the region.
The strikes targeted an airbase, airports and a military camp, the Huthis’ Al-Masirah TV station said, with AFP correspondents and witnesses reporting they could hear heavy strikes in Hodeida and Sanaa.