Security

European maritime initiative brings relative calm to Arabian Gulf

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

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An aircraft operating as part of the military component of the EMASOH initiative flies over a container carrier in the Gulf region. [French Ministry of the Armed Forces]

The presence of European forces in the Gulf, through the military component of the European-led Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) initiative, has brought relative calm to the tense security situation in the area, experts say.

EMASOH's Operation AGENOR is comprised of security forces from Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The work of these forces, and the patrols and surveillance they conduct, aim to increase security in a number of areas, including the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf.

"The politically and militarily integrated work of the EMASOH initiative in the Gulf region, and the Strait of Hormuz, came in response to the rise in tension in these areas in 2019," said Egyptian military expert Talaat Moussa.

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French battleship Languedoc takes part in Operation AGENOR in the Gulf region, which includes the conduct of patrols in the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb. [French Ministry of the Armed Forces]

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Military personnel inside the AGENOR operations room co-ordinate operations and receive emergency reports. [French Ministry of the Armed Forces]

"The work of these forces is characterised by the highest levels of co-ordination," Moussa added.

The forces' direct communication with the captains of commercial ships ensures "rapid intervention to protect the ships in any emergency", he said.

Moussa said the French military presence in the Gulf -- and the UAE in particular, where it dates back years -- formed "a pillar for these forces of various specialisations, including naval and air forces and special forces".

Securing waterways

The work of European forces in the region includes monitoring the seas, airspace and undersea, and reporting any transgression, encroachment or suspect behaviour, said international criminal law professor Wael al-Sharimi.

"These forces also communicate regularly with major transport companies around the world and provide them with monthly data, and receive shipping manifests to provide security" for vessels transiting the area, he added.

This includes protection from military threats, he said, "but also piracy, which was active at one time".

"The relationship between security forces and commercial shipping companies has established a safety factor that global insurance companies require to conduct their business without potential risks," he said.

He noted that the stability of the transport of goods in the region, including oil and its derivatives, is critical, "as the region's corridors are among the most important in the world".

The European military presence in the Gulf, and in the Strait of Hormuz in particular, is "an essential safety factor", said Abdullah al-Dakhil, a lecturer at King Saud University's faculty of political science.

"The region is under European and non-European surveillance, which adds wide-scale credibility to the monitoring activities and deters political blackmail that some may resort to when a violation is committed," he said.

In addition to its military component, EMASOH also has a diplomatic component, headed by Danish Ambassador Julie Pruzan-Jørgensen, the senior civilian representative, al-Dakhil said.

The goal is to prevent regional tensions from escalating, he said, noting that Pruzan-Jørgensen "communicates with the countries of the region to keep the situation calm".

European forces are in contact and co-ordination with regional and other military forces present in the region, including US forces, he said, noting that all together they constitute an integrated security system.

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