Egypt and the Joint Task Force Command 153.. Contexts and Implications
On the thirteenth of December 2022, an official statement was issued by the Egyptian military spokesman stating that the Egyptian Navy had assumed command of the Joint Task Force (153), whose tasks are to combat smuggling and to confront illegal activities, especially terrorist activities in the regions of the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden.
The statement confirmed that the Joint Task Force (153) is one of the most important joint mechanisms to enhance regional security and stability and confront threats of all kinds. Moreover, the Task Force works side by side with Force (59) established in 2021, and which emerged from the US Fifth Fleet in securing the area.
The US Navy announced the formation of "Joint Task Force 153" in mid-April 2022, and Washington assumed command of the force, directly, until the administration was transferred to the Egyptian forces, in December 2022. Some consider that handing over the leadership of the Joint Task Force 153 to Cairo is just a periodic act within the framework of the rotation of management between the countries that make up this “force”. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, Jordan and the United States of America. Others say that “this matter is planned, and selecting Egypt is a deliberate act.
It comes also in light of the American competition with China and Russia over international corridors, energy security, and geopolitical conflict in the region. Furthermore; the United States is keen to continue energy supplies in light of the Western-Russian crisis in Ukraine and the resulting instability and repercussions in energy markets, in addition to Gulf countries investing in the Egyptian naval force during the recent years to achieve such a goal. Moreover, this decision is not separate from the United States’ approval of Egypt’s request to purchase F-15 fighter jets after Cairo canceled plans to obtain the Russian Su-35 aircraft.
This trend is supported by the fact that the announcement that Egypt would assume command of this force coincided with the reception of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense (The Pentagon), (on December 14, 2022) within the framework of the Egyptian President’s participation in the activities of the American-African Summit Conference held in Washington (December 13-15, 2022).
According to a Pentagon statement, Austin said at the meeting: "The administration highly appreciates Egypt's leadership and cooperation and the achievement of our common security goals." Egypt's vital assistance and securing a cease-fire in Israel and Gaza.
Austin thanked El-Sisi for Egypt's assumption of command of Joint Task Force 153, which ensures the security of maritime lines of communication in the Red Sea, and stressed that "we will continue to work with Egypt and your neighbors to enhance interoperability, integrated air and missile defense, and maritime security." The US Navy handed over command of the Force Division to the Egyptian Navy, during a ceremony held in Bahrain, where the headquarters of the multinational forces are located.
According to a statement by the US Naval Forces Central Command, US Navy Captain Robert Francis handed over command to Egyptian Rear Admiral Mahmoud Abdel Sattar, and that this transfer represents the first time that Egypt has assumed command of the Joint Maritime Forces operations crew since joining the 34-country maritime partnership. In 2021, the statement indicated that Combined Joint Task Force 153 is one of four task forces of the Combined Maritime Forces (which also includes Joint Task Force 150 and its counterparts 151 and 152).
Egypt's leadership of the Joint Task Force was welcomed by the Yemeni Southern Transitional Council, which issued a statement(13-December 2022) in this regard. The Houthi group, on the other side, threatened to take military measures in the event of approaching Yemeni territorial waters; and the Minister of Defense in the group's government said: "The Strait of Bab al-Mandab, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the territorial extension of the Socotra archipelago and the Yemeni islands are Yemeni lands over which we have full sovereignty.
The minister added, "The armed forces have taken all measures to ensure that they deal forcefully and firmly with any development that threatens national sovereignty or approaches maritime sovereignty." He continued, "There are disciplinary options that will be taken and announced at the appropriate time; because we have provided all means to reach a positive end, but the enemy insists on going against the tide; and that who warns others is excused.
In the context of this issue and the accompanying interpretations and reactions, it can be said: Egypt's leadership of this force is fraught with great risks, and that this could be a motive at some stage for the Egyptian Military Council not to engage directly or actively in operations that might provoke Iran and its allies in the region, especially the Houthis in Yemen as such acts have negative repercussions on the security of the Red Sea, which constitutes a strategic depth for Egyptian national security.