Indian prime minister A. B. Vajpayee has tried to dispel fears in the Arab world about India’s military ties with Israel; he says that India’s cooperation with Tel Aviv will not "dilute" its relations with the Arab countries.
"Our friends in the Arab world should rest assured in this regard. The important point is India has not diluted and will not dilute any aspect of its relationship with the Arab countries," Vajpayee, who was on a visit to Syria (the first by an Indian prime minister in 15 years), said in a wide-ranging interview with the Damascus English daily Syria Times on November 15.
Because the oil-rich Arab countries are its main suppliers of oil, India will not want to risk alienating them. The fact that the relationship between India and Israel is now in the open is no small matter. India remains heavily dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and more than 3 million Indian expatriates in Arab countries send remittances to their families each year, boosting the fragile Indian economy. Despite these considerations, however, strategic imperatives have thrust India and Israel closer together.
Prime minister A. B. Vajpayee, in the banquet speech in honour of his Israeli counterpart in September this year, did not even mention Palestine. Instead he said that, "No cause can justify the use of violence", which is just the sort of thing Israel likes to hear.
"India is trying to justify the unjustifiable. Receiving Sharon and accepting his definition of terrorism signifies a big political shift," said one Arab diplomat. Arab diplomats were also perturbed by the timing of the visit. "It is like inviting the president of apartheid South Africa immediately after the Sharpeville massacre or the Soweto uprising," was how an African diplomat described it.
Interestingly, Sharon’s visit to India was preceded by a visit by Qatar’s foreign minister, ostensibly in his private capacity. US president Bush had a telephone conversation with Vajpayee before Sharon’s arrival. Qatar is the current president of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). According to diplomatic sources, Bush’s call and the visit of the Qatari minister were to assure Delhi that the diplomatic impact of Sharon’s visit in the Arab world would be minimal. Qatar has close links with Washington and Tel Aviv, and is among the few Arab countries that are not averse to Delhi’s forging an axis with Washington and Tel Aviv. While Sharon was in Delhi, a US state department spokesman welcomed the friendship between India and Israel, and said that the three countries had many "common interests". During his talks with the Indian political leadership, Sharon raised the issue of trilateral cooperation among India, Israel and the US.
Sharon has also tried to impose his blinkered world view on the Indian government. He called Iran the "epicenter of terrorism" and advised Delhi to keep a distance from Tehran. Being aware that India and Iran share a "special strategic relationship", Sharon also asked Delhi not to share Israeli defence technology with Tehran.
Zafar Bangash, director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), responded sharply to the US’s definition of the ‘axis of evil’ last year. "The real axis of evil has emerged between the US, Israel and India" (Crescent International, Feb 16-28, 2002). Since then a number of news analyses have highlighted this growing threat. However, the ‘official’ recognition of the ‘axis of evil’ was confirmed by Brajesh Mishra, India’s national security advisor.
Mishra was more forthright about Delhi’s relationship with Tel Aviv. During his visit to Washington in May, addressing a prominent Jewish lobby group, he talked about an America-Israel-India "triad" to combat "terrorism", based on "the shared democratic values" of the three countries. Addressing the 97th annual dinner meeting of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Washington DC on May 8, Mishra said that relations between India and Israel were getting stronger "as they are democracies sharing a common vision of pluralism, tolerance and equal opportunity. Stronger India-US relations and India-Israel relations have a natural logic."
Mishra is not alone in making this plea. L. K. Advani, India’s deputy prime minister and home affairs minister, chose Israel for his first trip abroad as a minister of the present government. Speaking in June 2000, he said, "We share with Israel a common perception of terrorism as a menace, even more so when coupled with religious fundamentalism. Our mutual determination to combat terrorism is the basis for discussions with Israel, whose reputation in dealing with such problems is quite phenomenal."
There are persistent, though unconfirmed, reports that Advani has been working on covert cooperation between India and Israel in the nuclear field. In July 1979 Israel is thought to have proposed a plan for destroying the Pakistani research center at Kahuta, either by internal sabotage or by sending unidentifiable planes through India to bomb it, as it had earlier bombed Iraq’s Osirak reactor. But the US government is said to have rejected the proposal.
Official diplomatic communication between India and Israel began in 1992, and dealings between the two countries have grown since then, particularly in the last three years. In March 2000 Jaswant Singh became the first Indian foreign minister to visit Israel. After this visit India and Israel set up a joint anti-terror commission. Economic ties between India and Israel have also strengthened considerably in recent years. When full diplomatic relations were established 11 years ago, the volume of mutual annual trade between them did not exceed $200 million. Today it stands at $2 billion, not including military transactions.
During that trip Advani said that India wanted to benefit from Israel’s experience in "various mechanisms of countering terrorism and managing tough borders". Advani was also keen to gather advice, training and other assistance from Israel to combat the operations of the mujahideen in occupied Kashmir. The Indian army signed a deal with an Israeli company, SECO Technology of Tel Aviv, to install hi-tech security fencing around some of its military bases in occupied Kashmir, which have been ‘infiltrated’ with embarrassing ease by the Kashmiri mujahideen. The Indian delegation also discussed the purchase of advanced Israeli weaponry, and the possibility of Indian troops and security agents attending Israeli training courses. Advani has reportedly asked Israel to supply India with the latest anti-insurgency devices, surveillance equipment, and the newest fingerprint-deciphering powder (a yellow powder that is more effective than the magnetic powder), implements of torture, long-distance snipers, observation blimps, giant shields, night-vision devices, cross-border-snooping devices and spy-training equipment.
The India-Israel alliance, however, can only last if it has the US’s approval Washington has its own strategic plans for India and the region. Judging by the US’s National Security Strategy, a document released on September 20, 2002, India has a prominent place in the American scheme. According to Robert D. Blackwill, US ambassador to India until recently, it is a policy document that bears the personal stamp of President Bush. It states, "The United States has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India. We are the two largest democracies. We share an interest in fighting terrorism and in creating a strategically stable Asia. We start with a view of India as a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests." Blackwill also said, "Taken together our defense cooperation and military sales activities intensify the working relationships between the respective armed forces, build mutual military capacities for future joint operations and strengthen Indian military capability, which is in America’s interest."
India and Israel share a growing security relationship that has been nurtured with the US’s help. Observers maintain that the "triad" is growing fast, and the axis acquired new strength when Washington gave the go-ahead for Israel to sell three Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) to India in a deal worth more than US$1 billion. This is technology that Washington has previously prevented Tel Aviv from selling to China. The Bush administration is also about to approve the sale of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system, which was developed jointly with the US. The Arrow deal will significantly shift the balance of power in Asia in India’s favor, as it would make the country less vulnerable to attacks from Pakistan and China. Confirming this trend in August, Christina Rocca, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, stated that the US has "a really dynamic military cooperation [with India] that is part of a broader… all-encompassing relationship."
Washington wants to use India as a counterweight to China, which it sees as its main competitor in Asia. It also wants to establish military bases in India. This became apparent recently from a 153-page Pentagon report, "Indo-US Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions", prepared by analyst Juli A Macdonald for US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld. More immediately, the US wants India to send at least 20,000 troops to help its occupation forces in Iraq. However, because of objections from Parliament, Vajpayee’s government has had to postpone the departure of Indian troops for Iraq.
The alliance between India and Israel is based predominantly on military and intelligence cooperation. Israel has also upgraded India’s Soviet-era aircraft. During Sharon’s recent visit to India, several agreements were signed, including on defence cooperation. Almost half of Israel’s total military sales last year went to India. According to Defense News, should the current trend continue Israel is likely to replace Russia by 2008 as the largest supplier of arms to India.
In return India can assist Israel by offering the naval and other facilities that Israel lacks. A similar proposition was made by Professor Martin Sherman in an article published in the Jerusalem Post on February 28,"From Conflict to Convergence: India and Israel Forge a Solid Strategic Alliance". Sherman argues that the alliance with India is important for Israel because it intends to develop a seaborne defence capability. Because Israel is so small, its defence planners are increasingly aware of the crucial significance of the marine and submarine theatres. The vulnerability of Israel’s land-based military installations grows with the acquisition of modern weaponry by other countries in the region. Strategic thinking in Israel tends to give prominence to the Indian Ocean as a location for logistical infrastructure. For the establishment and operation of such a maritime venture, cooperation with the Indian navy would be vital.
The Jerusalem Post article said, "In this regard it is especially significant that in 2000, Israeli submarines reportedly conducted test launches capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the waters of the Indian Ocean off the Sri Lankan coast." Sherman adds, "An alliance between India and Israel openly endorsed by the US would create a potent stabilizing force in the region, which together with like-minded regimes such as Turkey could contribute significantly toward facing down the force of radical extremism so hostile to Indo-Israeli and American interests in western and Central Asia." According to the Israeli media Abdul Kalam, the president of India, when he was in charge of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), used to visit Israel secretly. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is reputed to be much bigger than that of India, despite India being a formal nuclear power. The Pentagon is reported to have drafted plans for a military alliance modelled on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with India, Israel and Turkey as the main members.
For this reason, a major focus of Sharon’s visit to India concerned Israeli aid for the ‘insurgency war’ India is fighting in Kashmir. As a result, it is reported India will now buy sophisticated Israeli surveillance equipment to monitor "cross-border infiltration", as well as new assault-rifles for the "lethal platoons" it is planning for its army. These measures are in addition to the 3,000 soldiers that, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post (February, 2003), India is sending to Israel for special counter-insurgency training. The report added that these troops will serve in Kashmir upon their return.
Uncle Sam will ensure that both South Asia and the Middle East are under its control through the services of India and Israel. Muslims in Kashmir and Palestine will continue to be brutalized by the "world’s largest democracy" and the "only democracy in the Middle East." And the "world’s strongest democracy" will monitor the situation and ensure that they marginalize the global Islamic movement.