Rajan Grover. Editorial.VI.XIV.XVII
By Rajan Grover
Foreign policy of a country is like a river which never flows straight. It has natural bends on its way. This holds particularly true for India-Israel relations. From voting against Israel's admission to the United Nations in 1949 to establishing formal diplomatic relations with it in 1992, the relations between the two nations have developed slowly, steadily but surely to reach at the present level. The proposed 3-days visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel next month (July 4, 2017), the first by an Indian PM, to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties with it, will finally give the stability and direction to the relations between the two democracies, which they genuinely deserve.
In the Indians' perception, Israel stands unique and tall as a nation. It enjoys huge respect and admiration because of its zero tolerance approach towards terrorism and armed hostilities thrust upon it by its Islamic neighbors of Arab world since its inception. According to an international poll conducted in 2009, 58% of Indians expressed sympathy with Israel compared with 56% of Americans! The common man and the popular electronic media can often be seen pitching for adopting Israel's strategy to fight against Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. India's last year’s supposed surgical strikes into Pakistan were seen by many as India coming out of its shell and going the Israeli way. Prime Minister Modi is fully aware of the sentiments of the general public of his country. So this proposed visit will be keenly watched and observed not only in the two nations but far beyond in world at large.
It will be, however, naive to see the India-Israel relationship in isolation. It is essentially to be seen through the larger context of Arab-Israel conflict and other fast emerging regional contours of engagement in this volatile region. A brief history of this conflict which is in fact, a British legacy of modern era, may help the reader to understand this issue in totality.
The latter half of the 19th century, saw the extraordinary rise of nationalism in Europe. Based upon the identity and nationalism of various groups, new nation states were formed like Germany and Italy. The Jews, scattered and prosecuted in different parts of Europe, also felt the need of a state for the Jews in their ancient Holy land of Palestine. This feeling of nationalism among the Jews which later came to be known as Zionism or Zionist movement, initiated the Jews to migrate, though in small numbers to Palestine which was a part of Ottoman empire at that time. The British which had hitherto no direct connection with this geographical area, appeared on the scene during World War-I.
In exchange for the support in the war, they came with the Belfour Declaration for the Jews scattered in Europe, promising the support for establishing their Homeland in Palestine. At the same time they also promised the Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottoman Empire (Hussein-McMohan correspondence). At the end of war, Britain won control over the area of Palestine, including present Jordon and Israel, from Ottoman Empire. This area was known as British mandated Palestine, the mandate being an authorization to govern the conquered territories, which they did till 1948. During the war the British had though made promises to give both Arabs and Jews the lands, after their victory they claimed that they didn't commit to give either side the whole land. They tried to satisfy both parties by giving the area east of Jordan river to Emir Abdullah to rule, which is the present country called Jordon while encouraging the Jews to migrate in the remaining British mandate Palestine.
The Holocaust of World War-II, further accelerated migration of Jews to Palestine. Communal violence and tensions between the Jews and the native Palestinians were growing. Having failed to control the situation, Britain referred the issue to the newly formed United Nations. The general assembly of the UN recommended the partition of British mandate Palestine into two states between the Jews and the Arabs. The Jewish leadership accepted the proposed partition while Palestinians rejected it. In 1948, as the British troops were leaving the country, Zionist leaders unilaterally declared the state of Israel as was proposed by UN. The neighbouring Arab countries of Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon etc. invaded this newborn country of Israel.
The subsequent Arab-Israel wars (6 day war & Yom-Kippur war) further complicated this situation for which Arabs themselves are to be blamed. Israel came out stronger after every war and it continues to hold the conquered territories of proposed Palestine. The rise of right-wing political leadership in Israel (likes of Netanyahu and Ariel Sheron) and in Palestine (Hamas overtaking the relatively moderate PLO-Palestine Liberation Organisation of Yaser Arafat fame) has also diminished the chances of a settlement. As of now, there are no real hopes of a breakthrough on the deadlock over the questions of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem in near future.
Now even after its independence from recognition of Israel in 1950 to the early nineties, India had stood with the Arab world considering Israel as untouchable. Following are the reasons for our apathy towards it:
1. The dominant political dispensation of this era of the country (Indian National Congress) considered ideologically Israel as a state based on religion and hence an analogue of Pakistan.
2. India's soft corner for socialism and its tilt towards the Soviet Union during the cold war perceived Israel as a country of other block under the influence of US.
3. As an active and founder member of Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and because of its principled stand against the colonialism, India considered Palestine as an oppressed country of third world.
4. The Kashmir dispute was being propagated as a Muslim issue and was often debated at the UN. To secure the support of Arab nations and to counter the influence of Pakistan, it was necessary for India to appease them.
5. To safeguard the interests of huge Indian workforce employed in Gulf countries, which was a major source of foreign exchange, pro Arab policy was necessary.
6. To ensure the continuous supply of oil from Arab countries and hence meet the energy security of the country.
7. Another domestic factor was India's large Muslim population which has been sympathetic towards Palestine. Any normal or favourable relation with Israel could mean losing the Muslim vote bank by the political leadership. It could also disturb the communal harmony in the country.
Clearly India's policy thus far has been of appeasement, guided by the internal and external constraints of the day. However, in early nineties, there was a realization among both Israel and Arabs to seek the peaceful settlement of the issue guided by talks and negotiations. After the end of cold war, India too had started to cozy up to US. India, under the leadership of former Indian PM Narsimha Rao saw an opportunity like many other countries and established the diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. The real turning point in relations came in 1999 during Kargil war with Pakistan when Israel extended unconditional material and technical support to India. (Even US had declined to share the GPS data about the enemy positions). There has been no looking back since then. From 2014 when PM Modi came to power, the relations have expanded dramatically. Israel is now the 2nd largest arms' supplier to India after Russia. India is no longer apologetic and shy of its relations with Israel that are changing from secret to public.
Of late, with the middle-east in turmoil due to being Islamic state and the Shia-Sunni sectarian divides, there is a demand from certain hawkish elements to set free and disconnect Israel from the Palestine issue. This is the last thing we should do. India needs a strong endorsement to its candidature for permanent membership in Security Council from the Arab nations that have a huge presence in the General Assembly. Iran, where we are developing Chabahar Port as our counter to Gwadar Port by China and Pakistan, is the most important country in this region in our security dialectics.
As Pakistan joins the alliance of Sunni countries aka Muslim NATO, Iran becomes more important than ever before. Incidentally, there is no love lost between Iran and Israel. We must take care that relations with Israel do not come at the cost of other countries in the region. We had recognized Palestine as a state long ago. Instead of deserting their cause, India should compare the plight of these native Arabs of Palestine with that of Kashmiri Pandits, who were forcibly driven out from the Kashmir valley by Muslim extremists. Unlike the Palestinians, the Kashmiri Pandits never took to arms and they still continue to suffer in silence. This will also blunt the Pakistani propaganda of equating India with Israel as an occupying force in Kashmir. It is being conjectured that PM Modi will not meet up with any Palestine leader during his impending visit to Israel.
Though there are many areas of co-operation between India and Israel other than defense, agriculture, irrigation, pharmaceuticals, space-technology and counter-terrorism to name a few, Prime Minister Modi should focus on one area which needs immediate attention and that is cyber security. Israel is considered a superpower in the field of cyber security, whereas India is a late entrant in this field. The future wars, it is a foregone conclusion, will be fought in cyber space, inflicting maximum damage to the adversary without firing a single gunshot.
The recent disappearance of India's Sukhoi-30 Fighter near China's border after taking off from Assam has raised serious doubts of a cyber attack by hostile China. Power distribution, space, banking, aviation and railways are the other vulnerable sectors to such cyber attacks. India's top priority must be to gain expertise in this field and ensure that Israel doesn't sell the same defense platforms and equipments to China for economic purposes like Russia has started to do so. It will also be in Israel’s own interest to desist from doing so. India needs to continue with renewed vigor its ties with Israel and give a fillip to the evolving nexus with other friendly nations.
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