Growing Indo-Israeli ties

Ariel Sharon will be visiting India next month, the first visit by any Israeli Prime Minister since 1978’s secret visit to New Delhi by the one-eyed Moshe Dayan. Perhaps no other two countries have cemented their ties as fast as Israel and India, in the last ten years after establishing their diplomatic ties in 1992. Prior to that India had always had greater affinity with the Palestinian cause, partly because of its active role in the Non-Aligned Movement and partly due to its friendship with Arab leaders such as President Jamal Abdul-Nasser of Egypt. 

Additionally, as long as the Nehru dynasty governed India, which is 39 years out of its past 55 years of rule, the Congress Party that it led backed the Palestinian cause because of the domestic political consideration of not isolating the Muslim vote-bank. It is ironical that the same Party ditched the Palestinians by recognizing Israel in 1992, even though it happened when Congress and India were being led by a non-Nehru dynasty leadership, Prime Minister Narasimaha Rao.

As for the BJP, it should have no qualms about cementing the country’s ties with the Jewish entity. First, Muslims don’t form the Hindu nationalists’ vote bank. Secondly, its percepts and deeds are not different from those of the Jewish fundamentalists forming Israeli leadership today.

On top of the current agenda of the fast-growing Indo-Israeli relationship is the $1 billion arms deal, under which Israel would provide the early warning Phalcon planes to India. In the wake of the present standoff between Pakistan and India, Washington is not in favour of this deal, which is why top defence officials from both Israel and India (including the Indian Defence Minister) have visited the United States, with the aim of assuaging US fears regarding the potential negative fall of the arms deal on the existing tension between the two South Asian rivals. 

Israel has emerged India’s Number Two weapons supplier after Russia. According to the Jane’s Defense Weekly, “Russia delivers the hardware-tanks, aircraft, and ships; and Israel provides the weapons systems-the radar, the electronic control systems, and other high-tech add-ons.” The two countries have established strong ties in areas ranging from agriculture to space technology; however, it is in the military sphere that the ties are “really taking off,” states a recent report in the Christian Science Monitor. If Israel and India succeed in warding off the American pressure on the arms deal, then the Phalcon advanced surveillance aircraft will give India an enhanced ability to coordinate air strikes. This is potentially dangerous, since India has consistently threatened to strike at alleged terrorist camps in Pakistani and Azad Kashmir territory. Such threats have assumed grave proportion ever since the Indian military deployment on the borders and the LOC.

Two years ago, Israel was forced by the US to cancel a deal to sell Phalcons to China, out of concern it would have altered the balance of power between China and Taiwan. However, Washington has not objected to the recent deal between Israel and China, under which the latter is buying Israeli satellite communication technology. As for the arms deal with India, the Israelis’ main argument is that it is commercially crucial for the country’s arms industry. As for the deal’s negative fallout on Pak-India rivalry, the Israelis argue that they are “not participating with India in any war (vis-é-vis Pakistan).” This does not sound logical, given the fact that once India gets hold of the Phalcons, its ability to strike Pakistan will increase manifold. 

In addition, according to the Jane’s Defense Weekly report, Israel was an ammunition supplier during India’s border war with Pakistan in 1999; and, since then, members of Israeli security forces were regularly visiting the LOC. The growth in Indo-Israeli ties has picked up since September 11 in the guise of anti-terrorism. Sharon’s February visit to India will further consolidate the bilateral ties, especially with reference to the terrorism issue. While Pakistan itself is walking on the anti-terrorism path, it has to perceive the developments taking place on the Indo-Israeli front very carefully, and realistically, and act accordingly.

The writer is a British based former general secretary of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation.