For the first time, the navies of Israel, Greece, Cyprus, and France came together last week to hold joint maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
In a show of strength, the countries practiced anti-submarine warfare and search-and-rescue operations to jointly prepare for any possible threats in the future.
Should the Indian Navy join such an exercise in the Mediterranean? Indian military experts seem to have different views on this.
The exercise, ‘Noble Dina’, was aimed at strengthening cooperation between neighboring and friendly countries and enrich their repository of operational knowledge, Lt. Cmdr. Amichai Rachamim, head of exercises for the Israeli Navy, told the media.
“Specifically, various training activities were conducted in the marine environment, which included advanced maneuvers and formations, escorts, tactical game, anti-submarine warfare and aeronautical cooperation operations, as well as a search and rescue exercise, coordinated by the JRCC,” a statement released by the Cyprus government said.
It was also a moment for Israel to stake its control over the eastern Mediterranean, experts say, and by inviting more neighboring countries bordering the Mediterranean, Israel is forging a strong alliance that could be targeted against Turkey.
Greece and Turkey have been locked in maritime disputes for the past few years.
The Mediterranean Sea has also witnessed scenes of tension develop between Israel and Iran after an Israeli ship was attacked near the Gulf of Oman. The Jewish nation had blamed Iran for attaching explosives to the ship, which the latter denied.
Another interesting aspect of the exercise was the involvement of France, which seems to be increasing its role in the drills. France is also due to hold a naval exercise with India and UAE in April this year, which will take place in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
The UAE will for the first time take part in the drills called ‘Varuna’, which has so far been a bilateral exercise involving India and France. This suggests the growing strategic partnership between UAE and India, along with France.
“Naval exercises that may unite France, the UAE, the US, Japan and Australia could provide a major message of strategic partnering linking an immense amount of ocean, from Australia to France, some 12,000km,” writes Seth J. Frantzman in Jerusalem Post.
“Various interpretations of this grouping of countries or the potential for cooperation tend to see it as responding to a more aggressive China,” he adds.
The question which now arises is: Should India join exercises such as ‘Noble Dina’, along with Israel, France, and Greece, in a strong power projection signaling to China? After all, Pakistan goes all the way to the Mediterranean to conduct naval exercises with Turkey, in a show of support.
Speaking to EurAsian Times, Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd) said, “I don’t think the Mediterranean is our area of interest. I think India’s area of interest is in the Indo-Pacific, as the government has repeatedly made it clear, more specifically the Indian ocean. So, right now, I don’t see that happening.”
Indian Navy participates in multinational exercises regularly, not only in the Indian Ocean but across the world. The experts believe that India’s concerns remain limited to the Indian Ocean, which covers a vast area and borders many hostile nations, and it will be unwise to deploy critical naval assets as far as the Mediterranean.
India has seen its strategic ties grow exponentially with countries like Israel, Greece, France, and even Cyprus, while it already has good relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
India’s participation in naval exercises such as ‘Noble Dina’ could have sent a strong message to both Turkey and China, and reinforce the coalition that is already developing under the QUAD.
However, according to the Real Admiral Sudhir Pillai (retd), India has till recently been very skeptical of multinational exercises. “The Quad is a relatively new security arrangement where we exercise multilaterally. Noble Dina appears to be outside our normal areas of operations.”
Pillai maintains that to go all the way and join a Mediterranean exercise would not interest India. “India’s areas of interest and areas of operations define how and where we operate on a routine and regular basis. The Mediterranean is outside this at the moment,” he adds.
However, the experts say the present security scenario in the Indo-Pacific demands unprecedented partnerships for the Quad bloc, which should proceed on to the military alliances.
“Regardless of how things play out in the Pacific in US-China potential rivalry, one that may also include Australia and Japan or other states, the picture from Australia to France, across the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman and then via Suez to the Eastern Mediterranean is potentially a more interesting strategic tie and corridor,” Seth J. Frantzman writes.
India has also grown its bilateral ties with the Arab nations tremendously in the last few years, amidst many geostrategic realignments proceeded over by Trump. With the normalization of ties happening between Israel and the Arab world, India has increased its friend circle in the Gulf region and the country is going to command significant strategic advantages around that region, which borders the Mediterranean.
Therefore, participating in naval exercises in as far as the Mediterranean could help strengthen its military ties and secure the trade routes through the Gulf of Oman and the Suez Canal, where trade is going to flourish with bettering ties.