OPINION | Maritime Security & Anti-Piracy Cooperation between India, Israel and the United States

OPINION | Maritime Security & Anti-Piracy Cooperation between India, Israel and the United States

By Amit Mukherjee
PBC-Post Doctoral Research Fellowship 2015
National Security Studies Center,University of Haifa, Israel

Image Attribute: Indian Navy's Aircraft Carriers - INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat at Navy Fleet Review / Source: MoD, Government of India

Image Attribute: Indian Navy's Aircraft Carriers - INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat at Navy Fleet Review / Source: MoD, Government of India

To effectively manage and maintain maritime stability and security, in all of the three most dangerous Security challenge ridden (politico-military) conflict regions, namely the Middle East, the India-Pakistan conflict zone and China-North Korea sphere, it becomes essential that three nations with common and converging interests cooperate with each other with or without treatise of agreements, in all possible spheres, as formal or informal partners in trilateral cooperation.

Both Israel and USA have not yet partnered the UNCLOS - United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea, agreement for anti-piracy due to their security and other domestic concerns. However US and India share a lot of understanding which includes framework for India US Maritime cooperation, which has provisions for joint operations and training other than common objectives and goals for securing threats in the maritime domain.This however can be made into a trilateral area for cooperation against a menace that has become a 24.5 billion USD loss to international trade and according to another research is more than 5- 6 billion USD annual, for efforts towards countering it. Loss due to damages caused by piracy attacks brings the figure to around 9 billion USD annually, according to a data from the Indian Ship Owners Association. 

According to a World Bank report the loss due to Piracy has been a billion USD in the Indian Ocean region alone. Given such information and circumstances the agreement between Indian and U.S. counterparts in 2006 was the first step in this direction, in which a Maritime Security Cooperation Agreement commits both countries to comprehensive cooperation in protecting the free flow of commerce and addressed a wide variety of threats to maritime security, including piracy and the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and related material, was formulated. Israel shapes it’s navy according to its security concerns and as a coastal nation, given it is surrounded by hostile elements, states in its neighborhood. 

However the chances of it getting directly or indirectly engulfed in the economic consequences of global piracy, if piracy continues to grow unabated at the current trends, more so with possible involvement of anti-Israeli elements that may voluntarily or by design mark ships bound for the ports of Israel as a viable target for Piracy attacks, is high. Israeli security firms have already started to provide professional anti-piracy security options to various ships.

It would suit the interests of all three partnering nations with increased coordinated patrol and operational activities for joint anti-piracy missions. It has been done by India, Japan and China, in 2012, in this case, despite being neighbors with conflicting interests. Since 2008 the EU has been actively participating in several joint EU mechanisms like CSDP (Common Security Defense Policy), ATLANTA, and NATO along with individual member nations to fight the growing dangers and menace of piracy in the world.

The most risky areas in any Sea Lanes of Communications are those that have choke points and as such the most notably are the Gulf of Aden, Strait of Hormuz near the Arabian Sea, and Malacca straits in the Indian Ocean. They have become the bane of present and future concerns, in light of Somali piracy which is the largest contributor to this problem, among piracy by other groups. With major part of the world including EU not having any influence beyond the western Indian ocean region for providing security cover, it becomes feasible for major naval powers like US, and India, that have the opportunity to tie efforts to reduce cost of anti- piracy operations, by sharing the large area of responsibility, in the area of operations, since as of now and in the past the cost of carrying out anti-piracy operations out-weighs the losses in the Indian ocean region. This would be an extension of the ongoing anti-piracy multilateral effort of the US Combined Task Force CTF- 151, along with European and individual effort from India and other south Asian nations like Japan and South Korea. Even though the latest data indicates that the threat to piracy is reduced, in the Gulf of Aden Region off the coast of Somalia, the gain could be short-lived if effective counter measures are not kept in place.

India and the USA conduct joint naval exercises called Malabar Exercises. India also like the USA, carries out joint exercise with France - Varuna, Singapore Simbex, Japan, UK-Konkan, among few others in the recent past. Dedicated sharing of naval intelligence and sea borne communication messages could lead in a new era of maritime security operations within the trilateral cooperation gambit. The Indian Ocean Rim which is the carrier of 65% of oil reserves are located in the Indian Ocean. 40% offshore oil- production comes from areas touching the Indian Ocean region, and 70% of petroleum products are transported from this Indian Ocean region. It is also the focus point of shifting US concerns in the vicinity of South China Sea and China‘s growing ambitions for garnering its influence in the region to secure its political, diplomatic, security and resource requirements, as mentioned earlier. The recent remarks made by the G7 nations, 2015, regarding their concerns with the growing tension in the South China Sea, reflects similar concerns. This makes the Indian Ocean possibly the hottest contested flash point for conflicting interests and a very opportunistic place for activities that relate to maritime security concerns including piracy, in the future. It draws the ascending interests of USA and India and in relative terms, the Israeli common interests, and gives it a platform for merging a doctrine or policy among these three nations for integrated naval activity and cooperation for consolidating maritime security interests. Even though India does not officially term or mention the Chinese threats in the international arena, in a recent visit to Japan the Prime Minister reference to counter ―expansionist mindset, has been in many ways construed as a veiled reference to Chinese assertiveness in the Asian region in general. Although India still maintains an official policy not to be seen as grouped in any Anti-China military coalition, its individual effort through the look east policy to make collaborative ventures on economic and military relations with nations in the South East Asia alludes towards a gradual preparedness and creating a deterring effect. This it is attempting to do through collaborations on various collective common interests with partnering nations, of the region (South East Asia), in the eventuality of an aggression by the Chinese high handedness, if it happens in the future. For such an eventuality the American support will be crucial. So even though India refused to officially acquiesce to the American plans of “Pivot to Asia”, the recent news of India intending to carry out trilateral meeting with Japan and Australia in effect alludes towards similar common concerns viz. China.

Israel on its side views growing Indian Maritime strength with the Indian Navy as an asset to create a strategic military naval partnership and a toe hold in the Indian ocean, for prospective tests for missiles and other naval warfare systems, which it may not find conducive to do in the Mediterranean neighborhood given present European and Middle Eastern political and security concerns and hostile watchfulness. Reports of Israel having tested its missile in Indian Ocean has surfaced in many podiums and research references. The Israeli concern for maritime security of trade items routing through the Bab El Mandeb Straits sea route as life line for transporting goods, is paramount, since the landed border nations would not allow transit of the goods due to hostile relations. The prowess of the Indian Navy was recently seen in Operation Rahat which rescued more than 5600 people included 4640 Indians and 960 foreign nationals who belonged to 41 nations. India‘s strategic reach it is what India brings to the table for serving interests during war torn situations for other nations.


Maritime security and Naval cooperation is possible in the International waters for joint doctrine and objectives of security, since its functions for common or collective acts of security are permissible in international waters, unlike land or air force.The Navy gets to move around in International waters within the United Nations framework of roles and responsibility which cannot be said to be the case with any conventional national Army or Air Force unless under UN mandate.

About The Author:

Amit Mukherjee (E-3696-2016), PBC-Post Doctoral Research Fellowship 2015. National Security Studies Center,University of Haifa, Israel

This article is an excerpt from a research article, titled "India-Israel-US Trilateral Cooperation Security Perspective: Challenges and Scope" published at FPRC New Delhi Journal. 

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