Crossfire War: Malacca Strait – Joint Air Patrols Instituted by Four Nations

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Night Watch: SUBANG AIR FORCE BASE – Joint air patrols over the Malacca Strait, between the four Southeast Asian nations along the strait have begun and Australia has just announced it is willing to participate.

A Hercules C-130, with a combined Malaysian and Singaporean crew took off from this air base on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The two other states, Indonesia and Thailand are also involved in joint operations to spot pirates and potential terrorists, to prevent them from disrupting the most important maritime waterway in Asia. The narrow, 500 m (805 km) strait carries nearly all oil imports for Japan and China.

Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Razak was quoted by Reuters, “So much of the international community depends on the safety and security of the Strait of Malacca and it is incumbent upon us as littoral states to ensure the safety and security of the strait.” He was joined by his Singaporean counterpart Teo Chee Hean and military representatives from Indonesia and Thailand.

Joint patrols were launched last year but pirate attacks have continued causing Tokyo and Washington to pressure for more serious measures.

Indonesia and Malaysia had previously refused international assistance for its -Eyes in the Sky’ program but are now requesting foreign powers to provide aircraft. Najib said, “I would consider this as phase one. Phase two will entail the involvement of the international community to make offers. We are open.”

Today Australia expressed interest in doing so as they were taking part in annual war games in the South China Sea with New Zealand, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore, China being notably absent. The South China Sea has long been used by Beijing and Pyongyang to send advanced weaponry to the Middle East.

Australia’s navy chief Russ Shalders said, “We will be very happy to help in terms of providing the experience in air patrolling.” He was speaking from the northeastern Malaysian city of Kuantan. New Zealand Air Commodore R. J. Newlands said, “Terrorism can occur anywhere. The threat here in this region is probably no greater and no less than other areas.”

Malaysian defence chief Admiral Mohamed Anwar Nor outlined the purpose of the exercise, “The main objective of the exercise is to conduct joint operations in a multi-threat scenario. So far there’s no real threat yet – we are always prepared for such contingencies.”

Concerning the Eyes in the Sky air patrols over the Strait of Malacca, Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau in London stated, “At the end of the day what is essential is that a high risk situation which is identified by the Eyes in the Sky should be followed up by action on the water. There must be resources and the will to do that. I think the will is there, but I hope also the resources will be there to take action. And then we will see a reduction in the attacks.”

He added that pirate attacks have fallen this year with so far there being only nine but in July maritime insurers designated the strait as a high-risk area after a security report that pirates had begun using the weapons and tactics of Islamic terrorists. However the littoral states and the maritime industry are still trying to believe the threats are exaggerated.

This new activity on the part of the pirates is a result of Iran’s influence. Tehran and its intelligence services work with criminal groups in the Balkans and Caucasus so they would not be opposed to doing the same in Southeast Asia, an area that also has enormous corruption.

The Council of Guardians have long recognized the potential of disrupting Allied shipping in this strategic sea lane and the substantial impact it would have on the economies of enemy nations like Japan, Thailand and Singapore. In December 2001 Singapore uncovered more than a ton of explosives set to go off. Thailand has been under attack since January 2004.

It also remains to be seen how much attention the international community can give to this immensely important cooperation after all out war breaks out between Pakistan and India. As this site has stated, since its inception, as a show of support Islamic countries could attempt to cut off India economically buy attacking its commerical traffic in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.

Allied forces will have to commit substantial naval resources in order to keep shipping lanes to India open, but with war coming between Japan and China over East China Sea’s energy fields, what the Allies can do in other Asian theaters may be extremely limited.

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Willard Payne is an international affairs analyst who specializes in International Relations. A graduate of Western Illinois University with a concentration in East-West Trade and East-West Industrial Cooperation, he has been providing incisive analysis to NewsBlaze. He is the author of Imagery: The Day Before.