The waterways of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions include the most critical geo-strategic maritime lines of communication in the world. Enormous volumes of oil, natural gas, raw materials and data pass through and underneath the waters of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Mediterranean, connecting the major production hubs of the Far East with the rich markets of Europe and North America. Straits such as the Bab El-Mandeb, Hormuz and the Suez Canal – vital choke points linking three continents – attract the attention and interests of regional and global powers. Over the past decades, maritime security within such pivotal strategic areas has been repeatedly compromised. The Strait of Hormuz, amongst one of the most congested maritime passageways in the world, has recorded several incidents in the past years related to mounting geopolitical tensions between Iran on one side and Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the other. As new and intensified threats have steadily emerged in recent years, freedom of navigation and also the protection of critical submarine infrastructures remain top priorities and will continue to draw attention from regional and global actors. Amongst others, the security of the MENA seas remains a priority for the United States and the European Union, which are continuously present in the area by partaking in maritime surveillance operations. At the same time, recent economic and energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean waters might contribute to enhancing the overall security environment within the MENA region.
What are the critical threats to maritime security posed by state and non-state actors in the MENA region? Who guarantees maritime security within the area, who are the key players? What steps can be taken by various stakeholders to promote maritime security? Is an integrated approach possible? To what extent could new geopolitical realignments boost security in the waters of the Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern regions?