Israel - Hamas conflict and Sri Lanka’s non-alignment foreign policy; impact on Naval deployment to the Red Sea

by Shashika Lakshan

Published on The Morning on 31st May 2024.


Contemporary scenarios which are happening world wide create new aspects to study and observe. When considering the Israel - Hamas conflict which is happening in the Gaza Strip, it is impossible to see this conflict from an isolated conflictual perspective. This link with so many stakeholders who are connected indirectly or directly with the issue. When examining the Israel and Hamas conflict we can see it as a protracted conflict.First It emerged as an intra-state conflict and then it transformed to an interstate conflict. Now this conflict has transformed into a regional conflict. Hamas is an organisation in Palestine which follows Islamic extremism. On the other hand Houthi rebels who are based in Yemen also follow Islamic extremism.

“Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws.Currently there are four countries designated under these authorities: Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran, and Syria.” (US Department of State,2023)

Diplomatic history

Diplomatic history between Sri Lanka and Israel dates back for decades. In 1950 Sri Lanka started diplomatic relationships with Israel in 1950 but in 1970 those relationships collapsed as Late prime minister her excellency Sirimavo Bandaranaike established relationships with Palestinian Liberation Organization. Then in 2000 again diplomatic relationships were started between Sri Lanka and Israel. When considering the Sri Lankan and Israel bilateral relationship there are so many dimensions to discuss. During the war period Israel was a key state that gave military equipment for tri-forces. Best examples are fast attack crafts(FAC), Kfir fighter jets. In terms of foreign employment, over 7000 Sri Lankans work in Israel as caregivers.

Palestine and Sri Lanka started their diplomatic relationships in 1975. Palestinian Liberation Organization opened up an embassy in Colombo. After Palestinian declaration of independence in November 1988, Sri Lanka was among the very first nations that recognized Palestine as a sovereign state.

Israel vs Hamas

Israel is a Middle East state which is oriented near the Mediterranean sea and mostly populated by Jews. Hamas is an Islamic Extremist group which is unofficially backed by states like Iran and Palestin. It was formed in 1987 at the outset of the first Palestinian Intifada(uprising) After 2005, they marked their permanent establishment in the Gaza Strip. There is a clear chronological order that Israel engaged in war with rivalries including Hamas through a protracted history. Even Though Israeli troops left the Gaza stript in 2005, they continued their attacks against Hamas.

Review of Non-aligned foreign policy and Sri Lanka

Non aligned foreign policy (NAM) is the foreign policy which grasped the fundamental elements of non-aligned movement. In the post world war era, which is known as the cold war era there were two major power blocks in the world.

    I. US led western power block which liberalism was the main political stream
    II. Soviet Union led Communist power block which Communism was the root policy

Both these blocks wanted to confirm their superiority in the world and used container policy which made followers throughout the world by giving them military, financial aid. Non-aligned movement was established for nations which were not followers of both these blocks.There were five main assumptions of this movement.

    I. Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty
    II. Mutual non-agression
    III. Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
    IV. Equality and mutual benefits
    V. Peaceful co-existence

Sri Lankan late prime minister honorable Sirimawo Bandaranaike who was the world's first lady to be a prime minister also became a Significant character in this Non Aligned movement. 5 th summit of non-alignment movement also held in Colombo in 1976 headed by honorable Sirimavo Bandaranaike. According to that we can come to a conclusion that Sri Lanka was a founding nation of this movement.

Sri Lankan Naval ship deployment in the Red Sea.

As a sovereign state Sri Lanka have the right to protect their maritime territory. But regional security and “global commons” are so important in this scenario. The Red Sea area is in the western Indian ocean and it is very vital in terms of maritime transportation. Because the maritime route which connects Indian and Athlantic oceans goes through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. Most of the imports and exports of the region goes through these waters and the security of this naval space is so important. So Sri Lanka has a responsibility to protect the Red Sea from the non-traditional threats like this which are created by non-state actors like the Houthis.

“Anything that happens in the Red Sea has a direct impact on our economy and livelihoods,” State Minister of Defence Premitha Bandara Tennakoon (The Sunday times,2023)

Global commons means the space which has access for all nations and goes beyond the national jurisdictions. As examples international waters, airspace and continental shelf. So protection of this red sea is a responsibility of all nations. So this deployment can be defined as Sri Lanka rending its responsibility. On the other hand Sri Lanka joined the combined maritime forces as the 39 th nation in november last year.

“CMF is composed of a headquarters staff and five combined task forces focusing on defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional cooperation, and promoting a safe maritime environment. The naval partnership upholds the international rules-based order by supporting security and stability across 3.2 million square miles of water encompassing some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.” (combined maritime forces,2024)

As a member of this CMF, the Sri Lankan Navy is doing their duty by this deployment. When Sri Lankan Navy vessels enter the naval area they will be placed under the command of task force 153.

Because of the terror which was created by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, So many shipping companies operate their operations by going around the cape of good hope rather than using the Red sea and Suez naval route. Here are those shipping companies.

    ● CMA-CGM
    ● MSC
    ● MAERSK

When we consider the vessels attacked by the Houthis in the Red Sea, most of them are commercial vessels. There are a number of vessels and here is a small list.

    I. CMA-CGM TAGE (Malta)
    II. MSC Clara (PANAMA)
    III. Blamanen(Norway)
    IV. USS Laboon (US Destroyer)
    V. Zografia (Malta)
    VI. Khalissa (Panama)
    VII. Galaxy Leader(Bahamas)

(Scharf ,2024)

In an award giving ceremony Sri Lankan president honorable Ranil Wickramasinhe made a statement by saying Sri Lankan Navy is ready to deploy a vessel to protect the Red Sea naval area. There is a common argument for this deployment that this deployment will cost Rs.250 million every fortnight. But that is a narrow minded statement.

Sri Lanka can get more economical benefits by this deployment than Rs.250 million. Sri Lankan ships will be funded under the peacekeeping operations. On the other hand, in-directly Sri Lanka can get so many economical benefits, as an example when Red Sea marine traffic is normal, Colombo port is a highly profitable port. On the other hand the flow of the imports to Sri Lanka will be normalized when the Red Sea is normal , specially Crude oil and other raw materials will flow to us without any interruption.

The Sri Lankan Navy should be accountable for the security in regional and national waters and by this deployment they are doing their duty and responsibility.


In this analysis, it's revealed that the primary objective of this deployment is to uphold the free flow of global trade. The Red Sea stands as a critical artery for international commerce, and as a member of the Combined Maritime Force (CMF), the Sri Lankan Navy bears the responsibility to safeguard this vital maritime corridor under CMF 153.This deployment also promises economic advantages for Sri Lanka. The international community compensates Sri Lankan Navy ships for their peacekeeping endeavours. Safeguarding the Red Sea could bolster revenue at the Colombo port, ensuring the flow of trade to Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, these deployments serve as a crucible for enhancing our navy's prowers and capabilities. Participating in international operations not only improves our navy's skills but also elevates Sri Lanka's naval standing on the global stage. Moreover, such deployments foster regional integration and cooperation, underscoring our commitment to fulfilling our regional obligations.Sri Lanka must bolster its technological capabilities to counter threats posed by well-equipped adversaries using missiles and drones. Upgrading our advanced offshore patrol vessels is imperative to tackle such challenges effectively. Additionally, effective multinational collaboration is indispensable.

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* Mr. Shashika Lakshan is an Intern (Research) at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established and functioning under the Ministry of Defence. The opinion expressed are his own and not necessarily reflective of the institute or the Ministry of Defence.