Iran-backed Houthis, who have been attacking international commercial vessels and navy ships in the Red Sea, have threatened to target Italy if it takes part in the US-led naval coalition.
Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi's supreme revolutionary committee, told daily La Repubblica that Italy must be neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and put pressure on Israel to stop attacks on Gaza.
His remarks came as Italy announced Friday that it would provide the admiral in command of a European Union Red Sea naval mission to protect ships from attacks by the Houthi militia.
"The European Union today asked Italy to supply the Force Commander for the Aspides Operation in the Red Sea," Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said on Friday.
The mandate of the mission, which will be launched in mid-February, will be to protect commercial ships and intercept attacks, but not take part in strikes against the Houthis, EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said.
On Saturday night, in a joint operation with Britain, the United States initiated dozens of strikes against the Houthis, who have created insecurity in the Red Sea in a bid to force Israel into a ceasefire amidst the war in Gaza against the Iran-backed Hamas militia. Around 1,200 mostly civilians were murdered and at least 250 more taken hostage when Hamas invaded Israel on October 7.
As a result of the US support for Israel's right to defend itself, Iran's proxies have waged at least 160 attacks on US facilities across the Middle East since October 7. Houthis began attacking vessels in mid-November after Iran's ruler Ali Khamenei called on Muslims to blockade Israel.