Indian Seizure of Iranian Boat Points to Complicated International Relations

According to IBN Live, evidence was found of connections between the boat and India’s regional rival Pakistan. Initial reports say only that the boat was likely involved in the transport of high-value contraband. Kerala is considering turning the case over to India’s National Investigation Agency.

This incident comes fairly soon after a series of incidents in April and May raised tensions in international waters and international shipping lanes surrounding Iran. At the time, Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged shipping vessel, shadowed a US-flagged vessel as it passed through the Persian Gulf, and fired shots across the bow of a Singapore-flagged oil tanker. At least one of these incidents was explained as being motivated by a legal dispute, but they were also independently interpreted in the context of US-aided blockades of suspected Iranian arms shipments to Yemeni rebels.

The resulting conflicts and Iranian attempts to circumvent the blockade helped to raise awareness of Iran’s illicit maritime activities, including regular arms shipments not just to Yemen’s Houthi rebels but also to other terrorist proxies and rogue regimes. It remains to be seen whether the boat seized in Kerala was involved in similar activities or whether the relevant contraband was smuggled consumer goods or something similar.

In any event, the incident highlights the fraught relationship that Iran has with certain neighboring countries including both India and Pakistan. Both are Iranian trading partners, with India being the overall second largest Asian importer of Iranian oil. However, both are also traditionally adversaries to each other, as well as maintaining friendly diplomatic relations with the US. This all contributes to a complex balance of foreign interests for all parties.

In May it was announced that Iran and India would be embarking on a joint development project at the port of Chabahar, and that this would likely present a direct challenge to Pakistan with respect to maritime trade. At roughly the same time, however, it was reported that India had halted all imports of Iranian crude in order to keep annual totals beneath US-designated limits.

The apparent Iranian intrusion into Indian territory could further complicate the prospects for joint economic cooperation. By the same token, it may keep Indian foreign policy oriented toward the US for the sake of security concerns, regardless of the allure of Iranian oil and investment opportunities.

Of course, before we see what actual effects this incident has on Iranian relations with either India or Pakistan, more details will have to be revealed, including details about whether the incident is part of a larger recent patter of illicit shipping off the Indian coast.