EDITORIAL

Don’t make SL Navy fight others’ wars

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Tuesday 9th January, 2024

The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government is under fire for having agreed to deploy the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) in the Red Sea to fight the Houthi rebels, at the behest of the US. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has reportedly consented to do so, and the Rajapaksas have chosen to remain silent on the issue.

It is puzzling why the US has asked Sri Lanka to join naval operations to hold the Houthis at bay while besmirching the reputation of the SLN with war crimes allegations. In April 2023, the US State Department, on the basis of some unsubstantiated allegations, announced that former war-winning Navy Commander Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda would not be allowed to visit the US. It said, “By designating Wasantha Karannagoda, the United States reaffirms its commitment to upholding human rights, ending impunity for human rights violators, acknowledging the suffering of victims and survivors, and promoting accountability for perpetrators.” The question is why the US, which acts on unproven allegations to cast the Sri Lankan military personnel in a bad light, does not uphold the human rights of the Palestinians being massacred by the Israeli security forces in Gaza.

How can Washington reconcile its request for the deployment of the SLN in operations against the Houthis in the Red Sea with its allegations against the former naval officers who fought the LTTE? Is it that the US has different yardsticks for terrorism?

Some opponents of President Wickremesinghe’s undertaking to deploy an SLN vessel in the Red Sea have made an issue of the economic cost of the ill-conceived mission on the cards. This concern should be appreciated. Is the government planning to spend part of its tax revenue, which it has boosted by squeezing the public dry, on naval operations against the Houthis in the Red Sea? However, even if the US and its allies offer to provide necessary vessels and military hardware free of charge and bear the cost of the SLN’s proposed Red Sea mission, Sri Lanka must not undertake to fight someone else’s war. The geopolitical dimensions of such a deployment and the consequences thereof should be factored in.

The Houthis have made it clear that their attacks in the Red Sea are in retaliation for the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sare’e has announced in a video statement: “If Gaza does not receive the food and medicine it needs, all ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces.” Therefore, let the US be urged to eliminate the root cause of the Houthi attacks. If it cares to stop Israel from wreaking further destruction on Gaza, and ensures that humanitarian aid reaches the victims of Israeli violence, the Houthi attacks will cease. Instead of doing so, the US is craftily dragging other nations into a conflict of its own making. The countries that have agreed to deploy naval vessels in the Red Sea to fight the Houthis will unwittingly help justify the US role in the Gaza conflict, where it continues to back Israel financially, militarily and diplomatically, despite the Jewish state’s genocidal violence against the Palestinians.

There is no way Israel can continue its killing spree in Gaza without US backing. If the US wants to neutralise the Houthis militarily while continuing to back Israel, then it should be asked to do so on its own without involving other nations in the conflict.

Iran had better stop backing the Houthis for two reasons. First, terrorism cannot be countenanced on any grounds and it must be rooted out in all its forms and manifestations. Second, Iran should bear in mind that the latest Houthi attacks have provided the US and its allies with an opportunity to resort to a hard power projection in the region on the pretext of making the Red Sea safe.

The US should practise what it preaches to others. It pressured Sri Lanka to negotiate with the LTTE despite terror attacks. Why can’t Washington adopt the same modus operandi in dealing with the Houthis? After all, it swallowed its pride and talked to the Taliban before wriggling out of the Afghan imbroglio, didn’t it?

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