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India Iran Relations: Balance Despite Criticalities

Image Courtesy Mehr News Agency

India and Iran have decided to maintain a balance in relations despite serious concerns that have emerged in recent weeks over alleged targeting of a merchant ship by an Iranian one way drone and a blast outside the Embassy of Israel in Delhi, the origins of which remains untraced.  There is also a divergence on Israel for obvious reasons and Palestine where India supports a two state solution, while Iran a one state.

In the past week a new flashpoint has emerged as US and UK militaries launched strikes against multiple Houthi targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to highlight the consequences to the Iran supported militia of unrestricted targeting of commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Nevertheless, these differences were downplayed in the remarks made in a joint press briefing by the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishanker and his Iranian counter part Dr Amir Abdollahian in Tehran.  Dr Jaishanker also held a meeting with the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi underlining the importance given to his visit by Iran as both sides are keeping the communications open despite the differences.

On the normal issues both sides sought to exploit the potential of the International North South Transport Corridor and India's involvement in the development and operation of the Chabahar port. The two ministers also touched upon need for synergy in engaging with Afghanistan, connectivity with Central Asia and the Caucasus.  President Raisi in his meeting with Dr Jaishnaker highlighted "The importance of a shared view between the two countries in the field of combating terrorism and organized crime", "The need for cooperation to establish stability and security in Afghanistan", "Strengthening international trade, especially through local currencies" and "Emphasis on maintaining the security of shipping in international waters" as per Iranian media sources as Mehr News.

Referring to the delays in implementation of the agreement on Chabahar port, Iran's President stressed the need to follow up on and accelerate the implementation of the agreements between Iran and India and the need to compensate for the delay in the implementation of those deals.

Critical Issues

On the critical issues there was a reference to the immediate challenges to the relations which Dr Jaishanker referred to as, “perceptible increase in threats to the safety of maritime commercial traffic in this important part of the Indian Ocean. The Minister also referred to it. We have even seen some attacks in the vicinity of India. This is a matter of great concern to the international community. Obviously, it also has a direct bearing on India's energy and economic interests. This fraught situation is not to the benefit of any party and this must be clearly recognised. Dr. Abdollahian and I will be reviewing the same,” he said in the joint press briefing.  

This comes about as with proxy militias such as Yemen based Houthi fronted or supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, striking close to the Indian coastline, the Middle East War is in India's backyard. Caught in the web of gray zone operations in the wider Iran and Israel confrontation in the Middle East [referred to as West Asia in the Indian diplomatic lexicon], India’s role as a net security provider, frequently flaunted by the military leadership will be under test.

As MV Chem Pluto, a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker sustained damage after a suspected drone attack. US's Department of Defence of the Pentagon declared that the suspected drone attack was launched from Iran.  "The motor vessel CHEM PLUTO, a Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-operated chemical tanker was struck at approximately 10 am local time (6 am GMT) today (Saturday) in the Indian Ocean, 200 nautical miles from the coast of India, by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran," the Pentagon spokesperson said. 

However, the Indian Navy was evasive saying that in the December 23 attack projectile could be a drone or a missile and declared that it will to carry out, 'forensic analysis' of ‘drone attack’ Iran rejected US allegations that its drone targeted MV Chem Pluto Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said, “We declare these claims as completely rejected and worthless. Such claims are aimed at projecting, distracting public attention, and covering up for the full support of American government for the crimes of the Zionist regime (Israel) in Gaza.”

Blast in Delhi

Meanwhile, an explosion-like sound was heard behind the Israeli Embassy on December 26 evening; though, no explosive was recovered from the spot. Delhi Police have registered an FIR against "unknown" persons. There are reportedly striking similarities between the explosion and the IED blast near the Israel Embassy on January 29, 2021. In another such incident targeting Israel embassy staff, in 2012, five members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard were accused of attempting to kill an Israeli diplomat with a magnetic bomb. Are these incidents mere coincidence or there is a sinister design by Iran or its proxies needs detailed investigation and the jury is still out, but review of threat panorama and preventive measures against the same are called for.

Indeed, in what manner these issues were taken up by the Indian External Affairs Minister and what has been Iran's response is not clear, but these may continue to rankle the relations in the future.

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