The Mitsotakis government’s decision to not only participate but seek the headquarters of an EU defense operation in the Red Sea and to also assume a portion of the mission’s command essentially confirmed Greece’s “pivot” over recent years towards a deepening strategic relationship with the United States.
The closer Greece-US ties in the wider region are not merely a decision by the current government, in power since 2019, but by the previous leftist SYRIZA government and the earlier ND-PASOK coalition government during the bailout era.
Athens has committed to providing a Hellenic Navy frigate for the EU mission, established to prevent rebel Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and code-named “Aspides”. Greece’s defense minister last week offered to host the operation’s headquarters in the country. Additionally, the Greek armed forces, according to reports this week, will command the land-based portion of the operation, with Italy at the helm of the seaborne maneuvers.
Additionally, the Greek side has said it will retain “contacts” with a US-led operation in the Red Sea, operation “Prosperity Guardian”.
Three main reasons behind Athens’ eagerness to join the western operations in the Red Sea, and the Gulf Aden, include the dominant role and size of the Greek-owned merchant fleet around the world, as well as the negative effect that interruptions in Suez Canal traffic would have on global commerce and its own national economy.
Beyond the maritime factor, the government in Athens has invested significant diplomatic “capital” in “de-linking” its relations with Washington from its often-tense ties with Turkey, deemed as a perennial “difficult” and often belligerent neighbor and fellow NATO member-state on the official level.
A “thaw” in US-Turkey ties, if judged by recent actions and statements out of Athens, will not affect Greece’s relations with Washington, which are elevated on all levels. The Biden administration has approved of noteworthy military assistance to Greece over the recent years, and also signed off on Athens’ desire to purchase the state-of-the-art F-35 warplane.
Meanwhile, in a related development, according to the “VIMAtodotis” column in the Athens weekly “To Vima”, Greek armed forces are also active in defense operations in Saudi Arabia.
Among others, 120 officers and NCOs of the Hellenic Air Force are operating a loaned out “Patriot” anti-aircraft missile system in the Saudi Kingdom, with the intent to protect from Houthi attacks on oil wells and related infrastructure.
Additionally, four Hellenic Air Force F-16s have been dispatched to Saudi Arabia, along with pilots and technical crews, to participate in multinational operations taking place there.