Diplomatist Magazine Diplomatist April 2018 - Page 43

MIDDLE EAST NOTEBOOK which had responsibility for the territory had abdicated its responsibility to the UN, the successor organization of the failed League of Nations after the second World War. Just over seven months earlier, PM Narendra Modi undertook the historic fi rst visit by an Indian PM to Israel, marking the growing maturity in bilateral ties. There have been several high level visits. Among them, the visit of Israeli President Reuvan Rivlin to India, last November, Rashtrapati Pranab Mukherjee’s visit and visits by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh. With the blossoming of bilateral ties, there has been an increase in the frequency of high level visits between the two countries, after the PM Modi’s government took offi ce. India-Israel ties are now fully out of the closet. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India in January this year, underscored this factor in bold letters. Israeli owes a debt to gratitude to former Indian PM Narasimha Rao who took the bold and momentous decision in 1992 to cross the Rubicon, upgrading India-Israel ties and established diplomatic relations with Israel. Narasimha Rao was responding to global shifts and his opening to Israel was part of several policy changes that included the economic liberalization and the “Look East” policy. Under PM Atal Bihari Vaypayee, bilateral relations acquired greater heft, leading to expansion in bilateral trade and burgeoning acquisition by India of Israeli civilian and defence technology products. India-Israel bilateral trade has crossed $5 billion and India’s acquisition of Israeli defence products is valued at over $1 billion annually. Around one-third of Israel’s defence production is bought by India. The Indian market is more important for Israel ever since the USA stopped Israel from selling high technology defence products to China. India-Israel ties have expanded steadily, encompassing sensitive areas like high technology products, defence equipment, security, intelligence, agriculture, water management, pharmaceuticals, information technology etc. Joint production and development of key defence items has emerged as an important domain of cooperation. Israel is today the third largest source of key defence equipment for India. Israel has doggedly pursued its courting of India over the years, particularly at times when India needed critical defence supplies during confl icts with Pakistan, when other sources of supplies were not available quickly. Netanyahu’s visit will follow the dropping of a proposal, valued at $500 million deals, to buy anti-tank Spike missiles. While this decision will disappoint Israel, India, however, has agreed to buy $100 million worth of Barak missiles. The Barak has been used by the Indian Navy for over two decades. While India-Israel ties have expanded, India has tried to keep these growing ties off the radar screen. The reasons remain the same – ties with Arab and Islamic countries. Today, however, bilateral ties are no longer hostage to ties with other countries. Ties with Israel have broad bipartisan support in Indian politics. India’s dilemma becomes more acute when Israel cracks down on Palestinians. Israel’s iron- fi st approach to Palestinian violence and confi scation of their lands promotes sympathy in India and anti-Israel feelings among Indian Muslims who are quick to demonstrate their sympathy for Palestinians. Strangely, Indian Muslims remain silent, when Hindus are regularly oppressed and persecuted in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The burgeoning ties with Israel has not prevented India from reiterating its public support for the State of Palestine and exhorting both sides to negotiate a peaceful settlement, based on a two-State solution and secure borders. While this has remained the offi cial position of every Indian government, there is no hesitation in engaging with Israel publicly. The recent UN vote on Jerusalem was another opportunity for India to reiterate India’s opposition to the President Trump’s surprising unilateral move to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel. The UN vote overwhelmingly rejected Trump’s move, bringing Israel and Palestinians no closer to a peace deal. The regional situation in West Asia has been marked by confl ict, turmoil and strategic rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Syria and Yemen have been destroyed by civil war where proxies of Iraq, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have fought a bloody civil war. The rise of the ISIS led to an orgy of religious-inspired violence and brutality which has now been quelled. But ISIS has not been completely liquidated and is re-grouping in various countries. Iran has been convulsed by public demonstrators against the “Mullahcracy” that has retained an iron grip on power since 1979. Saudi Arabia, under a new leadership of Muhammad bin Salman, has taken bold steps to reform Saudi society and also challenged Iran’s infl uence in a competition with distinct sectarian Sunni-Shia overtones. Strategic rivalry and great power competition has destabilized West Asia. This has made India’s policy choices easier, as Gulf countries gravitate towards Israel in search of support against Iran. A divided West Asia helps India make independent polic