According to academic sources, this is what will happen if Singapore goes to war with Malaysia.
First, the RSAF will strike the much weaker Malaysian Air Force. Once air superiority is achieved, they will attack high-value targets like Malaysia’s Ministry of Defence, Army headquarters, and other command structures.
After that, para-dropped Commandos and heli-bourne Guards will seize the Causeway—the main bridgehead into Malaysia. They will be followed closely by a column of Armoured divisions and vehicle-mounted Infantry.
Nobody knows how far the SAF will advance into Malaysia, but security experts think that ground forces will advance up to 80 km into Johor. This will ensure that Singapore stays out-of-range from Malaysian artillery, and that it can secure the crucial water supply. 80 km provides just enough ‘strategic depth’ to absorb a counterattack, but small enough of an area for our army to occupy effectively.
In the meantime, the RSN will carry out operations to prevent forces in Sabah and Sarawak from linking up with forces on peninsular Malaysia. This is important because Singapore’s forces need to remain concentrated, like a fist, whilst Malaysian forces are dispersed over a larger area.
As for Indonesia, Brunei, China, and the United States Navy, it’s anyone’s guess. Trump has never shown any interest in maintaining the Pax Americana, and is unlikely to intervene.
Xi’s China might intervene, but on whose side? Beijing wants Malaysia as part of its belt-and-road strategy, but probably not badly enough to fight a war. In any case, China has no operational carrier groups and its closest Naval facilities are in Sanya, Hainan. Too far away to disrupt the initial offensive.
After that, all bets are off.
Firstly, there is nothing here that we haven’t seen half a hundred times before. Malaysia has been provoking Singapore since Singapore became a nation-state, but nothing has come of Mahathir’s 20 years of sabre-rattling.
His threats are empty. They are nothing more than a negotiating tactic, designed to bring Singapore to a meeting table. Malaysia has no use for raw water and airspace, except as a bargaining chip for more important matters—probably to beg for help in paying off its massive debt.
Secondly, Mahathir might be an asshole, but he is not stupid. He knows that escalating the situation to an armed conflict will ruin Singapore and Malaysia both.
Thousands of Malaysians work in Singapore, and billions of Singapore’s dollars are invested in Malaysian industry. Our countries are so heavily integrated that war will be a lose-lose scenario, no matter who wins. It will be like pulling the pin on a grenade, with both parties standing in the same elevator.
That’s why Mahathir only grumbles about water prices, but not about Singapore’s fundamental right to water.
That’s why he safeguards Singapore’s interest against Malaysians themselves when shit really hits the fan. In 1986, Malaysia erupted in angry protest over Israeli Prime Minister Chaim Herzog’s Singapore visit.
Despite being a vocal critic of Israel, Mahathir stopped fanning the flames when Malaysian hardliners threatened to seize the water pumps by force.
Mahathir knows when a line has been crossed and he has never crossed it.
A readiness to defend Singapore against external threats is admirable and necessary, but we should not cross the line into recklessness. We should not be clamouring for conflict or demanding the RSN ‘try out’ its missiles on the Malaysian vessels.
China wants revenge on Japan because the Imperial Japanese Army killed and tortured millions of Chinese citizens, but what has Malaysia actually done to warrant such a call for war?
A dispute over airspace landing equipment and a complaint about water prices is not cassus belli to invade Johor. Moving a vessel into Singapore waters is despicable for sure but it is also an event that happens every other day in the South China Sea.
Thus far, the only thing hurt has been our ego.
This sudden nationalistic fervour stems from Singapore’s insecurity. The self-same insecurity that rears its head whenever a random foreigner disparages Singapore, however warranted or insightful the criticism.
It is the same patriotic impulse that suddenly turns us into staunch defenders of the Old Chang Kee Curry Puff. And makes us refuse to admit that Timeout magazine is right to say that Singapore is a little boring compared to Tokyo.
PH rode to victory with the promise of a new Malaysia. They promised to tear down the old BN system and usher in an era of change.
So why on earth is the Malaysian cabinet recycling broken ideas from the 1970s? Instead of delivering reform, they’ve clung to same style of sabre-rattling diplomacy that achieved fuck-all in 1980s and 1990s, except to make life tedious for everyone involved.
How soon can we expect the next the sodomy trial? Will it be Lim Guan Eng this time? Or Anwar round 2?
What recent events show us is clear: PH cannot deliver change because Mahathir will never change, and his cabinet seems to have no mind of its own. They are either too weak to challenge the old fox who led them to victory, or too inexperienced to know better.
If dredging up yet another airspace dispute for petty concessions is the best that their Ministers can come up with, then Malaysia is doomed. The country voted for change, but they are going to get nothing but more of the old system that created Najib, Rosmah and Jho low.
The German writer Gunter Grass once wrote that progress is the diary of a snail. In KL, however, it is the diary of a snail moving backwards, on crutches.
Let the Malaysian politicians talk and bicker. Until it comes time to mobilise, we should ignore their old tricks. Singapore has a international reputation to uphold. Mahathir has at best another 8 or 9 years.