South Korea sending naval forces to Strait of Hormuz to boost security

Anti-war activists stage a rally against the South Korean government's decision to send troops to the Strait of Hormuz near the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 23 January 2020

South Korea sending naval forces to Strait of Hormuz to boost security

  • Iranian Foreign Ministry says the decision is ‘unacceptable’

SEOUL: South Korea will send naval forces to the Strait of Hormuz in response to a US request to boost security in the region.

Around 70 percent of the South’s oil imports pass through the waterway and its vessels sail through it hundreds of times every year. Tensions have been higher in the Middle East since a top Iranian general was killed earlier this month in a US airstrike. There have also been jitters about maritime security in the strait, where oil tankers have been attacked and vessels have been seized.

But there are warnings that the South’s decision could strain relations with major oil producer Iran, even though the anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit will not be joining an international US-led coalition.

“In view of the current situation in the Middle East, we decided to extend the operational radius of the Cheonghae Unit for a limited time so as to ensure the safety of our people and the freedom of navigation of South Korean vessels,” Jung Suk-hwan, a policy adviser to Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, told reporters on Tuesday. He stressed that the unit would not operate as part of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) led by US naval command headquarters in Bahrain. 

Instead, South Korea is scheduled to dispatch liaison officers to share information and help facilitate potential cooperation with the IMSC.

The 300-strong Cheonghae Unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009. A 4,400-ton destroyer codenamed the KDX-II is sent to the region on a rotational basis. Among its missions were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight people suspected of being pirates and capturing five others.

The Defense Ministry said that the unit’s operational area would expand to 2,830 km from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Gulf.

“The Middle East is home to about 25,000 South Korean residents and the Strait of Hormuz is a strategically important area that accounts for some 70 percent of our crude oil shipments,” Jung said, adding that South Korean ships sailed through the waterway around 900 times a year.

The South has said its operations will be independent, but Iran has expressed its displeasure.

“The Korean government has informed us that it wants to dispatch a part of its fleet in Aden to the region for patrolling missions, but outside the US coalition, and we have told them that the decision is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.

He said such a decision was in line with the US policy of “adventurism” and that it did not fit in with the friendly relations between Tehran and Seoul. 

Experts said it was a balancing act and that there could be repercussions for the South.

“It’s a delicate decision by Seoul to meet the demands of Washington and Tehran, as well as to minimize the damage in relations between the two governments,” Jung Sang-ryul, a professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Affairs at Myungji University, told Arab News. “But the decision doesn’t suit Iran’s taste.”

The Cheonghae Unit’s KDX-II destroyer is equipped with enhanced defensive equipment, including an updated anti-submarine sensor and a close-in weapon system, according to a military source.

“Three key threats to the Cheonghae Unit are drone, torpedo and missile,” the source said, requesting anonymity. “The KDX-II destroyer is now armed with systems to respond to those threats effectively.”

Shin In-kyun, head of the Korea Defense Network thinktank, said an attack on the destroyer during patrol missions could not be ruled out because the South was not operating wholly independently of the US.

Washington has welcomed Seoul’s deployment decision.

“As we have stated in the past, this is an international problem that requires an international solution,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying. “We welcome our South Korean allies helping to ensure freedom of navigation in the Middle East by supporting the IMSC.”


Indian Muslims in riot-hit Delhi slam govt for inaction

Updated 27 February 2020

Indian Muslims in riot-hit Delhi slam govt for inaction

  • Indian PM Modi appeals for calm as death toll from violence rises to 27

NEW DELHI: Sadaqat has been trying to collect the body of his shooting-victim brother from a New Delhi hospital since Tuesday.

The 26-year-old, who arrived to work in the Indian capital a few weeks ago, said on Wednesday he was afraid to seek help from police who have been struggling to contain violence over a new citizenship law which has resulted in scores of deaths, mostly among Muslims.

“The hospital is refusing to hand over my brother’s dead body even after 24 hours,” he told Arab News. “No one is there to help me. I am scared to reach out to police also. I am so scared that I don’t want to go to my house for fear of violence. Yesterday, I took refuge at my relative’s house in another part of Delhi.”

Sadaqat claimed his younger brother, Mubarak, was returning to his rented house in the Maujpur area of northeast Delhi, when a Hindu mob shot him dead.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm. According to media reports, violent clashes in the city have claimed 27 lives since Sunday evening, although the unofficial death toll has been put at more than three dozen. The neighborhoods of Maujpur, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Shiv Vihar are said to be in the grip of fear.

“I am planning to leave for Jaipur and stay there until the situation becomes normal. I have never seen this kind of violence in my life,” said 30-year-old garment seller Sharukh.

“My neighbor’s son was injured in the violence, but he is scared to go to the police and report it. He also doesn’t want to go to hospital. We have lost our trust,” he added.

Trouble started when a Hindu mob attacked Muslims protesting in Jaffrabad against the citizenship law that provides fast-track naturalization for some foreign-born religious minorities but not Muslims. As clashes spread, several mosques were damaged, and numerous shops and houses belonging to Muslims were burned down.

India has been rocked by violence since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in December last year. The legislation is seen by many as anti-Muslim and has raised concerns that when the Indian government goes ahead with its National Register of Citizens (NRC), many from the Muslim minority population will be rendered stateless.

Delhi-based social activist, Nadeem Khan, told Arab News: “There is a sense of helplessness among Muslims now. They don’t have the resources to fight the government. They were already at the receiving end of the CAA and NRC, and this violence further marginalizes the community in their own land.”

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Modi said: “Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.

“It is important that there is calm, and normalcy is restored at the earliest. Police and other agencies are working on the ground to ensure peace and normalcy.”

The premier’s statement came after the opposition Congress Party questioned the government’s silence on the violence in Delhi and demanded the resignation of Modi’s right-hand man, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah.

During a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, said: “The central government, including the home minister, is responsible. The Congress party demands that he resigns immediately.”

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar responded to Gandhi’s statement by calling it “unfortunate and condemnable,” and blaming her for “politicizing the violence.”

He said: “At such times all parties should ensure that peace is maintained, blaming the government instead is dirty politics.”

Meanwhile, the High Court of Delhi on Wednesday called for legal action against those who incited violence and requested “the filing of cases of those who made hate speeches.”

Political analyst Prof. Apoorvanand, of the University of Delhi, told Arab News: “The BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) hate campaign and the vilification of the Muslim protesters in the last few months has resulted in the violence.

“No one is willing to take Modi’s words for calm at face value. The violence was state-sponsored. The violence sent a message to Muslims that they are helpless, and the state cannot help you,” he added.