Changing The Geo-Politics?

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Jan 2018 10:04:45

By Dr. D. K. Giri,

India-Israel relations - alliance, friendship, partnership, characterise as we may, will spell a new chapter in international relations. The circumstances will dictate New Delhi and Tel Aviv to come ever so close, which will alter the geo-polities in Asia and the Middle-East.
In fact, India-Israel bilateralism now is open formalisation of the contacts, they have had for decades, not initiation.

WITH the return visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, India-Israel bilateralism seems to have reached its zenith. Prime Minister Modi’s visit in July last year, breaking the seven-decade old tradition, had taken the ties to new heights. The question now is where do these two countries go from here?


Arguably, India-Israel relations-alliance, friendship, partnership, characterise as we may, will spell a new chapter in international relations. The circumstances will dictate New Delhi and Tel Aviv to come ever so close, which will alter the geo-polities in Asia and the Middle-East. In fact, India-Israel bilateralism now is open formalisation of the contacts, they have had for decades, not initiation. It is like partners announcing their relationship in a marriage after years of courtship, albeit covert in this case.


For record, it will be in order we recall the milestones of India-Israel ties. We must use a caveat though, i.e.
India-Israel ties have been overshadowed by India’s principle of non-alignment attempting to take an independent line on world affairs, and compulsion of electoral politics, the Muslim vote bank. Both these have changed since. In 1947, the UN drafted a plan to partition Palestine, carving out Israel. India along with the Arab World rejected it.


In 1950, India recognised Israel but did not set up diplomatic contact. India was invited to mediate in 1956 when Israeli forces backed by Anglo-French army invaded Egypt. The invasion was provoked by Egypt nationalising the Suez Canal. In 1962, during India-China war, Prime Minister Nehru sought Israel’s support which promptly came. In 1971, Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, sought military help from Israel, which was extended by Israeli PM Golda Meir.


In 1992, diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Tel Aviv were established. In 1996, Israeli President Ezer Weizman visited India, the first ever visit by a head of either State. In 1999, during Kargil war Israel supplied weapons to India. In 2003, Ariel Sharon became the 1st Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. In 2014, Narendra Modi and Netanyahu met on the sidelines of UN General Assembly, a meeting between two PMs after a decade. In 2015, India abstained from voting against Israel at the UN Human Rights Commission. In 2017, Modi made a stand-alone three-day visit to Israel, de-hyphenating Israel from Palestine in India’s Middle-East Policy. This was a major milestone. And last week, Netanyahu reciprocated the visit.


On reflection of the relations, it is evident that defence ties between the two have been critical and timely response to New Delhi’s call for help. In three wars, out of five, India fought with Pakistan and China, Israel has extended military support. In the other two, in 1947-48, both countries were getting independence and it was a proxy war, and in 1965, India had full control over its adversary Pakistan. Obviously, the bilateralism starting with defence ties has expanded to agriculture, and other areas.

Nine pacts were signed covering cyber-security, space science, solar-thermal technologies, oil and gas, technology in agriculture and so on. Indeed, Israel’s agriculture technology has been innovative, state-of-the-art, as it habitats a difficult terrain; India, on the other hand is heavily dependent on agriculture for livelihood of a vast section of people, who are often in distress to deal with the vagaries of weather etc. Israeli technology has come in handy for Indian agriculture.


Both Prime Ministers emphasised and reiterated the inevitability and naturalness of India-Israel relations. Recall, receiving Modi last July, Netanyahu said “we have been
waiting for you, Mr. PM for 70 years ....Our relationship is made in heaven” and so on. At the India-Israel business summit in New Delhi, Modi, extolling the ties in glowing terms, said, “Given the scale of Indian economy and the relevance of cutting-edge Israeli technologies has for us, even (the) sky is not the limit for what we may achieve together.”


So far so good! But, international relations are based on hard pragmatism, solid, tangible complementarities, not feel-good bonhomie nor well-wishing gestures. Let us identify the mutualities between India and Israel and the ‘propitious’ political and security climate in both countries.
The two have equal and common stake in countering terrorism.


Both have aggressive and inimical neighbours. Intelligence sharing on mutual security is common strategic imperative. When intelligence unit RAW was set up in 1963, then PM Indira Gandhi had advised its head RN Kao to make contact with Israeli intelligence Agency, Mossad, as it was supposed then to be of high calibre and competence.


Both New Delhi and Tel Aviv face threats from Islamic terrorists, even the same groups operate on the soils of both countries. India is a fast growing big market for Israel, and the former needs Israel for technology, namely military. Admittedly, Israel has been courting India for years, but New Delhi has been a reluctant partner. Also, India’s foreign policy has shifted from normative posturing in favour of pragmatism and self-interest. Muslim vote bank is no longer a monolith, nor indispensable for Modi.


Having so observed, the logic of internationalism suggests that one could not take things for granted. Challenges exist in the corner, threats are ever lurking, so unless a relationship is nurtured, it may melt away. So what are the challenges that may upset the applecart?


One, Israel plays India and China even-handedly. This may not work in the longer term. Tel Aviv has to make a choice. It has to acknowledge a leeway for New Delhi in its Arab policy, like the last vote in the UN that went against Israel. A working and sustainable solution has to be found for Israel-Palestine conflict. India could play the honest broker in peace building in West Asia.


On Indian side, India could succumb to Arab pressure, material and political, and rebound on Muslim vote bank, if the political leadership changed at home. Despite these exigencies, for the mutuality of core interests, India-Israel ties would grow stronger. So it be.