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Battle for the Red Sea expands with U.S. strikes, EU stepping up its efforts against Houthis

The battle for the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea has expanded with the entrance of a European Commission naval defense effort in the past week, and more U.S. and allied strikes against Houthi land targets over the weekend, but to date, combined military efforts have not deterred rebel attacks.

On Saturday evening, United States Central Command reported that the USS Mason shot down one antiship ballistic missile launched into the Gulf of Aden from Iranian-backed Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. Central Command said the missile was likely targeting the U.S.-flagged, owned, and operated chemical/oil tanker, MV Torm Thor. The ship was not damaged and there were no injuries. Defense officials tell CNBC as of February 21, there have been at least 59 attacks on commercial shipping interests in the Red Sea.

Last week, the European Union's Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) Operation Aspides, a EU defensive maritime security operation, joined the French Navy operation along with U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect the freedom of navigation for ships in the Red Sea. This is not the EU's first mission in protecting maritime trade, as it already patrols the waters off the Libyan Coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, and the Gulf. But the EU said the Red Sea moves reflect the need for a stronger European presence in protecting ships from Houthi attacks.

Unlike the U.S. and UK, which use both defensive measures to protect commercial vessels on the water and launch attacks on Houthi land targets, the Aspides operation is solely to protect vessels by intercepting Houthis drones and missiles. It will not escort vessels as the EU has done in anti-piracy measures off of Somalia, where pirates use small boats to gain entry onto a