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Red Sea - Suez canal UPSC NOTE

 Increasing security threats in the Red Sea 

  • After the audacious terror attack by Hamas against Israel, which has upended a renewed sense of regional stability.

  • The Yemen-based and Iran-aligned Houthi militia announced that it would join the war to support the people of Gaza. 

  • This brought the critical waterways of the Red Sea, which connects the Suez Canal, into the middle of the conflict

  • The Suez by itself carries nearly 15% of all global trade between the West and the East.

  • In mid-November, the Houthis released a video of armed men in a helicopter raiding a cargo

Vessal that reportedly had Israeli links, which was travelling through the Red Sea towards India. 

  • While the Strait of Hormuz on the other side of the region, bordering Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and Qatar, is seen as a major geopolitical chokepoint, the Red Sea is increasingly being seen as an alternative

  • Saudi Arabia’s new futuristic city of Neom, a pet project of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which represents the rapidly changing face of the kingdom, is based off the coast of the Red Sea from where vast amounts of oil are also shipped.

  • The United States has been at the forefront of deploying military capacity towards the Red Sea to counter the threats in the form of drones, missiles that now include longer-range ones, and direct operations by the group’s military cadre.

  • The U.S. has now called upon partners to deploy a multinational task force around the narrow Bab al-Mandad Strait between Yemen, Djibouti (which hosts the military bases of the U.S., China, Japan, Italy, and France), and Eritrea. 

  • To further highlight the region’s infamous geopolitical complexities, Riyadh has in fact called for “restraint” by Washington DC in taking any military action directly against the Houthis. 

The security threats in the Red Sea and impact Asian economies

  • Beyond the regional crisis points, depletion of security in the Red Sea will have a global impact, specifically for Asian economies such as India, Japan, South Korea, and China, drawing in their interests as well. 

  • In the Persian Gulf for example, India has operationalised military capacities under Operation Sankalp since 2019, where the Indian Navy began escorting India-flagged ships, specifically oil tankers. 

  • Japan has worked its diplomatic channels directly with Tehran.

  • South Korea has also experienced tensions with Iran over its ships travelling through the region.

  • A U.S. call for partners to mobilise is not irrational. 

  • The global community did rally to address the issue of piracy off coastal eastern Africa, specifically around the waters of Somalia. 

  • In 2012, India joined China, Japan, and South Korea for coordinated joint patrols in the Gulf of Aden

  • While Beijing’s position in such multilateral engagements is near improbable today, New Delhi, Tokyo and Seoul continue to have common security concerns as net importers of oil and gas from the region.

Suez canal, Bab al-Mandab Strait location


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