Bahrain Stands Alone as Only Gulf State Openly Backing Naval Alliance in Red Sea

Arab opinions were divided between supporters and opponents of the “Operation Prosperity Guardian” coalition, which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday from the capital of Bahrain, Manama. This naval alliance, whose aim is to ensure the safety of navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in response to international demands, has the participation of 20 countries, of whom 12 have been publicly named, including Bahrain, the only Arab country so far.

Other public participants in Operation Prosperity Guardian include Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, the UK, and the US.

“The coalition is an important new multinational security initiative under the CMF umbrella and its Task Force 153 command, focused on security in the Red Sea,” said Austin in a statement.

In a speech delivered at the US 5th Fleet headquarters, the US defense secretary added: “The attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea region constitute a global danger, and the joint forces led by the United States aim to enhance maritime navigation security and keep sea lanes open to the flow of global trade.” A US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) and Egyptian Navy frigate ENS Alexandria (F911) conduct manoeuvring-operation exercises during a 60 nations International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express 2022 (IMX/CE-2022), in Red Sea, in this photo taken on February 7, 2022 (credit: US NAVAL FORCES CENTRAL COMMAND/US NAVY THEOPLIS STEWART LL/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Immediately after Austin’s announcement, the leadership of the 5th Fleet held a small press conference with the media, during which American military officials confirmed that “the Operation Prosperity Guardian coalition is a defensive alliance to protect shipping and secure the flow of maritime navigation and not to carry out military strikes against the Houthis,” according to Bahraini media outlets.

Over 50 countries affected by Houthi attacks
A military source, who refused to reveal his name or identity, told The Media Line that “more than 50 countries were affected by Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea.” Advertisement

“Israeli ships were not the only ones that were subjected to attacks. Rather, there were international cargo ships carrying goods to countries around the world, including Arab countries. The Houthis claim that their attacks are directed against ships heading to Israel only, as a response to the ongoing war in Gaza, but that’s not the truth,” the source added.

The source further asserted that more countries are expected to join this international naval coalition in the coming days to repel Houthi attacks on ships.

Although US Defense Secretary Austin announced Bahrain’s participation in Operation Prosperity Guardian, the GCC island did not issue any statement about its participation. The King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, also did not mention his country’s involvement in the alliance during his meeting with Austin, the official Bahrain News Agency reported.

“The king expressed his pride about the historical relations between Bahrain and America and a close and lasting partnership whose foundations have been based for decades on trust, mutual respect, and joint coordination as partners and allies,” said a statement by Bahrain News Agency.

The statement continued: “During the meeting, views were exchanged on the latest regional and international developments… including the situation in the Gaza Strip, the importance of working to achieve a ceasefire, protecting civilians, releasing hostages and detainees, and ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid to the residents of the Strip in accordance with international humanitarian law, and the necessity of finding a horizon for comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East region.”

Division amongst Arab media outlets
Arab media outlets were divided between supporters and opponents of the Operation Prosperity Guardian alliance, as media channels loyal to Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood attacked it. They stated that Bahrain’s participation as the only Arab country in the alliance is tantamount to a “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause.

Mubarak Al-Ati, a Saudi political analyst, told The Media Line, “Now, the United States is suffering from what Saudi Arabia previously warned about; Riyadh warned Washington of the Houthi attacks and their danger, but the Biden Administration’s response was to remove the Houthi group from the terrorist lists.”

He continued: “Saudi Arabia, from my point of view, did not participate in the Operation Prosperity Guardian coalition for several reasons. The first of which was that it came at the time of the Israeli war on Gaza, which means the anger of the Arab street will transfer from Israel to Saudi Arabia.” “The Houthi attacks against ships are not new, but the United States did not move to form an international coalition in response to these attacks until after the Houthis attacked ships heading to Israel,” he added.

The other main reason that Saudi Arabia chose not to join the alliance is its ongoing efforts to end the war in Yemen that began in 2015. According to Al-Ati, the Saudi-led peace negotiations are in their final stages. “Therefore, any Saudi participation in an alliance against the Houthis will eliminate these negotiations and the peace that Riyadh seeks to achieve,” he explained.

“We must not forget that there was a Saudi-Iranian reconciliation under Chinese sponsorship that took place March 2023, and therefore, joining an alliance against the Iran-backed Houthis means the collapse of the opportunity for peace with Tehran,” he added.

Al-Ati concluded by saying, “Under all circumstances, this [Operation Prosperity Guardian] alliance will serve Saudi Arabia. It will protect oil tankers that go to Europe and America, and some of these tankers are Saudi or carry Saudi oil. Riyadh benefits from this alliance even without participating in it.”

Alaa Habib, a researcher in Iranian affairs, told The Media Line, “The Houthi group is living its last days. It seems that the United States, under Israeli pressure, is serious about destroying the Houthis who have destabilized the security and stability of the region.”

He continued, “I see that Abdul-Malik al-Houthi will be eliminated by an air strike, and Iran will abandon him or even report his whereabouts and give his coordinates.”

Criticizing Bahrain’s involvement in the coalition, Saad Amer, an Egyptian journalist, told The Media Line, “This coalition is directed to protect Israel’s interests only. Choosing Bahrain as the headquarters of this coalition and announcing it is to implicate the Gulf countries in America’s war to repel Israel’s enemies.”

According to Amer, “The Houthis will target Bahrain, and the GCC countries will not remain silent. Therefore, these countries will have the power to confront Al-Houthi, who obstructed Israel’s interests and caused it great losses.”

Abdullah Al-Ghanim, a retired military veteran, told The Media Line that “Bahrain is participating in this coalition because it is the headquarters of the US 5th Fleet.”

He continued to explain that “Bahrain suffered from Houthi terrorism, as it caused the death of many Bahraini soldiers participating in Operation Restoring Hope in Yemen. The last Houthi operation in Saudi Arabia was targeting a headquarters for the Bahraini forces, which led to the killing of 5 soldiers and the wounding of dozens in September 2023, despite the existence of a truce and negotiations in Yemen.”

According to Al-Ghanim, “There is Joint Task Force 153, which is with wide participation from various Arab countries, and this coalition is an extension of this military force, so the Arab countries are essentially present in this coalition, but in another form.”

This Joint Task Force 153 was formed to combat piracy in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, said Al-Ghanim, which is the same area in which the Operation Prosperity Guardian coalition will operate.