Israel Is India’s BFF: Modi’s Visit Will Bring This Critical Relationship Out Of Purdah

Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor, has spent two days this week in Tel Aviv to prepare for Narendra Modi’s visit to the Jewish state around mid-year. When that happens, Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel, and that sends its own political message.

That it has taken India a quarter century after the establishment of diplomatic relations to formally acknowledge Israel’s existence at the top-most political level speaks much for the pusillanimity of our strategic approach to important allies. If we can confabulate only in secret with a country that ought to be considered one of our best friends ever shows how much the Indian diplomatic establishment has been held prisoner by the morality-driven Nehruvian vision of national interest. Nehru believed that Palestinians were the wronged party in West Asia, and subsequent governments, with one anxious eye cocked at the domestic Muslim vote, have religiously mouthed this platitude. We have always talked our Palestinian ties up and our Israeli ties down.

There is no doubt the Palestinians deserve a state of their own, and we don’t have to change our views on this. But the strategic reality is that Palestinians have nothing to offer us while Israel has. It was this need – for defence equipment, strategic and intelligence support, and agri-tech – that forced us to at least think of Israel as an important strategic partner from the mid-1990s.

But it has been an unnecessarily apologetic relationship at the level of formal articulation. When Narasimha Rao opened up to Israel in 1992, it was partly out of compulsion. The Indian economy was on the ropes, and we needed US and IMF help to rescue ourselves. One of the riders that came with this help was a less antagonistic attitude to Israel. But it is shameful that we have conducted our Israeli relationship as though cavorting with a pariah in the shadows.

It is in this context that the Modi visit is important, for it finally brings the relationship out into the open. It makes a geopolitical statement.

Not that Israel does not have relationships that may cause us concern. China, for example, is one. Israel’s Chinese connection predates India’s by at least a decade. But let us make no bones about it. In the multi-polar world of today, almost all military and trading partners are frenemies – friends in one area, and rivals, if not enemies, in another.

Israel is one of the few countries (apart from Japan, Vietnam, and smaller neighbours like Bhutan or Nepal) where our friendship quotient can be larger than the rival quotient, at least in the foreseeable future. Surrounded as it is with hostile neighbours, and surrounded as we are with one hostile neighbour, and one superpower with unsettled scores, there is every need for us to cooperate with Israel in many areas: defence, internal security, diplomacy and trade.

In contrast, our other three major partners are frenemies – friends and rivals in equal measure, with some tilting towards the latter.

With Russia we have defence and commercial ties that date back to the Nehru-Indira Gandhi era. The ties deepened when Indira Gandhi entered into a 20-year peace and friendship treaty with Russia before the Bangladesh war. But a post-Berlin Wall Russia is of less use to us. It is only a military superpower, and not an economic one. Given the stupidity of American foreign policy towards Vladimir Putin, Russia has now neatly fallen into the Chinese embrace. It is also flirting with the idea of selling defence equipment to Pakistan. Russia is a friend, but a miffed friend.

With the US, we have strong trade relationships and growing military ties. But America is also an unpredictable ally. It has an aggressive evangelical streak that believes in predatory proselytisation in India. The East Coast media is openly hostile to the Modi government, and the political establishment has reasons to keep Pakistan in good humour even when the latter’s perfidies are well established as pose a direct threat to American interests. The only reason why America is now dehyphenating India and Pakistan is China. India-US ties will grow, but the path has many thorns on the way.

Then there is China. We have strong trade interests with the Dragon, and Chinese capital and technology are substantial factors enabling India’s mobile technology services, both in terms of cheap handsets and other equipment. China has a huge trade surplus with us, and this cash can well be used to fund Indian infrastructure expansion, provided our political relationship is more stable. But that is a big if. On balance, China tilts towards being enemy – or, rather, a rival which is eager to thwart or delay the rise of India. It will do everything, including aid its vassal Pakistan, to trip India.

For all the above reasons, Israel needs better billing as a friend, more so given the possibilities for joint lobbying in the US.

During Modi’s trip, there is a good chance that defence ties will be further strengthened. There could be a $3 billion deal to jointly develop medium-range surface-to-air missiles, third generation guided anti-tank missiles, and for the purchase of two more Phalcon Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems.

The reason why India needs to go beyond just a furtive defence and security relationship with Israel is this reality: Israel is beginning to develop closer military relationships with China, and Israeli Aerospace Industries is putting up a plant in China. It is worth noting that Israeli-Chinese defence ties are older than the one with India. In fact, Israel is China’s second-largest supplier of arms after Russia. China is also Israel’s third largest global trading partner, and there are more than a thousand Israeli companies operating in China.

Given this backdrop, for India to still think that Indian Muslims or Palestinian interests must be given a veto over stronger ties to Israel is stupid.

A small titbit on Israel from 2001-02 should tell us what this relationship is about. Soon after the December 2001 parliament attack by Pakistan-trained jihadis, Atal Behari Vajpayee signed the “war book”. The war book is essentially a directive to the armed forces from the topmost political executive that they must prepare for war. It gives them a specified timeframe to get ready, including making requests for arms, ammo and other resources that they need for the war, if and when it happens.

Soon after this, the Indian army, navy and air force prepared wish-lists of what they need, including equipment and ammo from other countries. But of the three countries approached for supplies, the first and quickest to respond was Israel. Neither the US nor Russia was in a rush to help.

The point is simple. For its own reasons, Israel has been one of our most reliable friends. Isn’t it time we also demonstrated our friendship based on hard-nosed realities? Our relationship needs to be brought out of purdah.





Source:- Swarajmag

The post Israel Is India’s BFF: Modi’s Visit Will Bring This Critical Relationship Out Of Purdah appeared first on Indian Defence Update.

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