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How the escalation of the Middle East crisis could affect Norway's security

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
How the escalation of the Middle East crisis could affect Norway's security
A fighter, loyal to Yemen's Houthi rebels, stands guard during a protest following US and British forces strikes, in the Huthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 12th, 2024 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant Hamas group in Gaza. Photo by: MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP

US and UK strikes against the Houthi militia have raised concerns about Norway's role in a possible escalation of conflict in the region.


In response to ongoing attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen on shipping in the Red Sea, the United States and Great Britain launched a major offensive against the Houthi militia on Friday. The objective of this attack was to halt Houthi's assaults on vessels in the Red Sea.

The military operation involved airstrikes and naval action, targeting drone bases, surveillance systems, and radar installations across 16 different locations, totalling 73 targets, according to US sources.

These systems enabled Houthi rebels to carry out attacks on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

In response to the offensive, the Houthi militia has condemned the attack as barbaric and vowed to continue targeting ships bound for Israel.

They have also issued a warning to Norway, cautioning against involvement in the conflict.

Norway's role in the Red Sea crisis

Norway is part of a US-led coalition aimed at ensuring security in the Red Sea following recent Houthi attacks on several ships.

Nasr al-Din Amer, the Houthi movement's minister of information, recently stated that Norway's participation in this coalition is unwelcome and that attacks on Norwegian ships could become relevant if Norway interferes in the ongoing conflict.

Since December 3rd, the Houthi militia has targeted both civilian and military ships in the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The Houthi movement is known to receive support from Iran, which also backs Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as reported by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).


Concerns of a major war

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide has expressed concern over the possibility of a major war in the Middle East and emphasised the importance of maintaining unobstructed civilian shipping routes in the Red Sea.

He recently said that the United Nations Security Council has called for an end to Houthi attacks on shipping, noting that the US is eager to avoid becoming mired in a large-scale regional conflict.

While Norway contributes military experts to secure shipping traffic in the Red Sea, it did not participate in the recent offensive in Yemen. The Norwegian government was aware of the planned action but wasn't aware of the exact timing of the operation.

Eide stressed that Norway had conveyed its concerns to the Houthi rebels and Iran, urging them to reconsider their actions.

But how grim is the actual security situation in the region – and what should Norway watch out for under the current circumstances?


For the most part, Norwegian security analysts agree that regional tensions are only further fueled by violence, as Tormod Heier, a proffesor at the Norwegian Defense University College, told The Local.

"On the one hand, the minister (Espen Barth Eide) is right. This is because any employment of force is likely to reduce the security margins in the region - partly because more violence increases the regional tension between the parties, which again lowers the threshold for an uncontrollable escalation due to retaliations, misperceptions, or accidents, but also because US and UK forces are bound to follow up with new attacks unless the Houthi militia steps down," Heier said.

The proffesor also added that the Houthi were unlikely to deescalate following the strikes. 

"On the other hand, if US and UK compellence works, meaning that Houthis put down their arms, the Western forces may be seen as stabilising the situation. Time will show. Unpredictability is the key word here," he added.

The risk of Norwegian ships being targeted

Heier further explained that Norwegian ships being targeted in the area is "absolutely a risk."

"There is absolutely a risk that Norwegian ships may be targeted. But the vessels may also take the longer route to Africa to avoid the risk. Norway's maritime room for manoeuvre is nevertheless slim.

"The Norwegian Navy has very little capacity, and given the tense situation with Russia, military vessels will most likely continue operations in the Barents Sea, Norwegian Sea, and the Baltic Sea," the expert said.


What escalation would mean for Norway

According to Heier, escalation in the Middle East and increased Norwegian engagement in the area could detract from Norway's presence in the High North.

"If Norway were to send one or two navy vessels to the Red Sea, it would mean less visibility and presence in Norway's most crucial strategic area, in the High North.

"It could also mean that other allied forces, such as US, UK, and French vessels, would have to strengthen their presence in the North to maintain situation awareness and control outside the Northern Fleet's main entry into the North Atlantic," he told The Local.


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