India’s Maritime Security Amid Middle East Conflict

India’s maritime security objective is to deter conflict and coercion from the sea, but recent developments in its regional security environment have created new complications. The conflict in West Asia has extended into the Arabian Sea, affecting freedom of navigation and generating strategic risks to India’s maritime security.

The Israeli war in Gaza has triggered a transregional crisis that spans the east Mediterranean and the north Arabian Seas. The Houthis in Yemen are conducting raids and drone attacks on fuel/chemical tankers in the Gulfs of Aden and Oman, supporting Israeli-occupied territories.

American and British warships are countering these attacks with intercepts and strikes on Houthi anti-ship and ammunition installations. Both sides, predominantly the US and Iran, are seizing critical cargo ships in a tit-for-tat, threatening vital international sea lanes and supply chains that deliver billions of tonnes of the world’s commodities and luxury goods. A zone of insecurity has grown over the past four months, with the US, UK, European countries, China, and Russia all present in India’s east.

The West Asian security environment is deteriorating rapidly, posing significant strategic risks to India’s maritime security. The deteriorating situation threatens New Delhi’s net security provider position and complicates the pursuit of deterring conflict and coercion from the sea. Attacks on oil tankers in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf have led to a dwindling supply rate, causing India to defer a $602 million initiative to fill up part of its strategic reserves.

Additionally, attacks on container ships have terrorised major merchants into diverting their vessels away from the Suez Canal and Red Sea to the Cape of Good Hope. If these attacks continue, the costs and insurance on India’s US$ 230 billion trade with the US, EU, East Africa, and West Asia will soar.

India’s fishing and mining activities in the Arabian Sea are facing increased risks from drone strikes and hijackings, affecting lives and livelihoods. The Indian Navy faces increased operational costs due to the presence of nearly twelve warships in the region.

These maritime challenges affect regional and international security, with extra-regional powers in the Indian Ocean posing geopolitical challenges. India’s maritime security posture is cooperative but prefers not to be perceived as an entrenched actor.

The instability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean could jeopardize policy equidistance. India must also be vigilant against rival Chinese military and scientific activity in the region. As India aims to become a net-security provider, new challenges will arise in 2024.

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