Powers fomenting Red Sea terror hold naval exercise to “Counter Terror”
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 Mar , 2024


The war in the Middle East is escalating. Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, resulted in Israel’s massive reaction in Gaza Strip. Some say that Israel is overdoing its act. Even President Biden feels that Israel’s response is disproportionate to the Hamas-led attack.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been tenaciously holding the fort for the simple reason that he knows this is Israel’s life and death struggle. Anybody who has closely tracked the conspiratorial activities and scheming of a perfidy by known and unknown anti-Israel forces, and the funding that has been arranged for the assault on Israel, all justify the  tenacity with  which the Israeli Prime Minister is holding the fort. The duplicity of the various voices is so obvious when these very voices eulogise UkrainePresident no end, for his dogged resistance!

While the proxies are humbled by Israel’s spirit for retaliation, their handlers were perforce compelled to remove the mask and come out in open confrontation.

New anti-Israel front

In the context of Arab Spring along with the resurgence of Islamism, particularly in Iran, the trend of export of Iranian Islamic Revolution world-wide marks an upbeat. At the core of the Islamic resurgence lies deep hatred for the Anglo-American bloc because of its colonial mentality and expansionist ambitions. This hatred has become the cementing force for most of the militant Islamists whether in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Pakistan.

Russia and China have an ideological conflict with the US. Iran has been nursing the vengeance against the US for supporting the erstwhile monarchy in Iran, supporting the State of Israel and for imposing sanctions on Iran so as to deny her the right of becoming a nuclear power. Thus Russia and China both found Iran a very comfortable partner in their struggle of containing the global influence of the US and its Western allies.  Thus came into existence the triple naval alliance among Russia, China and Iran.

This naval alliance could also be interpreted as counterfoil to the Quad – led by the US as part of security arrangement of the India-Pacific Region.

Recent tripartite naval exercise

China launched five days of joint military exercises with Russia and Iran in the Indian Ocean on March 11, 2024,, against the backdrop of rising armed conflict in the Red Sea.

Maritime Security Belt – 2024 is second time China has conducted joint drills in Indian Ocean following the Gaza war.

China has not officially condemned Houthi attacks but has reportedly urged Tehran to rein in attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

The insincerity of all the three participants in the naval drill is that they Russia and China never condemned the Houthi attack on mercantile vessels in the Red Sea and yet they claim to do the exercise to ensure security of the vessels in that region.

As far as Iran is concerned, nothing is more shamefaced that saying it has joined the naval exercise to ensure the security of the mercantile vessels across the Red Sea. The Houthis are the creation of Iran. They are armed, trained and funded by Iran. However, Iran claims it wants to secure the sea lane for safe passage of commercial vessels against the attacks by the Houthis.

The 45th naval escort task force has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean since October 2023. It completed escort tasks for 72 Chinese and foreign vessels in 43 batches and provided security for 14 transiting merchant ships before transferring its role to the 46th naval escort task force last week

Considering the type of naval force deployed for the drill and the location of the drill, one is left with no doubt that it is a warexercise in which the three navies plan not only to meet the imagined threat from the Indo-Pacific security arrangement but also to intimidate India for being a member of the Quad.

China’s navy said it sent the 45th escort task force – consisting of the guided-missile destroyer Urumqi, the guided-missile frigate Linyi and the comprehensive supply ship Dongpinghu – to the exercise, “aiming to jointly maintain regional maritime security”.

It is the second time China has conducted joint drills in the Indian Ocean since the outbreak of war in Gaza.

“Russian vessels will participate in the joint naval exercise Maritime Security Belt – 2024. It will also involve ships, boats and naval aviation of Iran and China. Representatives of the navies of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Oman, India and South Africa will act as observers,” the Russian defence ministry said, according to Tass. A missile cruiser and the Marshal Shaposhnikov frigate had arrived at Iran’s Chabahar port to take part in the joint drill.

Along with Chinese and Russian fleets, more than 10 Iranian Navy vessels and three helicopters are reportedly taking part.

Last month, Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, commander of the Iranian Navy, announced that Tehran would hold joint drills with Beijing and Moscow before the end of March, aimed at ensuring regional security.

India’s take

India will be an observer along with some more countries invited by Russia. These exercises have particular message for India which is a member of the Quad. Chinese surveillance ships have been often docking close to the India territory whether in the Bay of Bengal or Indian Ocean. Only recently, China has manoeuvred to oust India from the Maldives and is making a tentative naval presence in the Archipelago. India has been taking action against the acts of piracy. Most of India’s trade with the European countries is conducted through the Red Sea channel. Therefore the safety of this channel is vital to India.

China has been sending discreet messages to India to come out of the Quad . With the US showing dwindling interest in Quad, a great responsibility falls on the shoulders of India of ensuring the security of the IOR, the region into which China has often been making repeated incursions.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

KN Pandita

Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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