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Sunday, July 26, 2015
India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a
India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a
26 July, 2015
abstaining from a vote censuring Israel at the Human Rights Council on its
conduct in last year's Gaza war recently raised eyebrows. The ostensible reason
for abstaining according to India's spokesperson was mention of the
International Criminal Court - to which India is not a party - in the
resolution. The real reasons are perhaps Netanyahu's phone call to
Modi prior to the vote and Modi's impending visit to Israel, the first for an
Indian head of government.
The visit is the coming-out
of the India-Israel relationship that goes a quarter century to the early
nineties course correction by Narasimha Rao on just about everything beginning
with the economy. That the Cold War had ended and India needed to rethink was
reason enough to recalibrate polices.
Now, it is easy to see one
link by way of which Israel assumes importance in India's world view: the defence
front. Israel is the second largest exporter to India of defence products of
which India is the world's largest importer.
That India needs such
ballast is evident from its cancelling of the close to
half-a-billion-dollars-worth tender for
supply of small arms for its army. That India cannot design and mass produce
even small arms tells much of its arms industry and explains India's Israel
link to an extent.
If the story ended there,
there would be little to quibble about as Modi heads for Tel Aviv. It is
instead more troubling.
A PhD student at Cambridge
University informs of his meeting in Lucknow for
a discussion along with some others of Lucknow's elite, presumably of Shia persuasion,
with a retired Brigadier General from the Israeli Defence Forces and a retired
colonel from its intelligence agencies accompanying an Israeli think tank head.
Accompanying the Israelis was a Saudi delegation headed by a retired major
The meeting organized by a
New Delhi think tank was supposedly for the two delegations to get a measure of
that region's ‘syncretic culture'. It turned out instead to be a fishing expedition
on how India's Shia's react to the ongoing Israel-Saudi squeeze of Iran. (In
the event, the nuclear deal with Iran has led to both states receiving the US
Defence Secretary to placate them with compensatory and balancing arms
transfers from the US.)
While it would be
interesting to know what sort of visa these visitors were on, it is easy to
reckon which think tank the doctoral student omits to name organized the visit.
The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on its website
lets on that hosted the Israelis mentioned in the article at one of its events
early this year.
Given the think tank's
connection with the National Security Adviser, getting a visa or getting on
without a visa for research purposes for the visitors is indeed a small matter.
However, having the Israelis and Saudis combine take a measure of so sensitive
a topic and so much a matter of internal affairs in India is not quite a small
The VIF website seminar
report has it that the discussion in New Delhi was ‘essentially aimed at
finding ways to broaden the scope for strategic cooperation between India and
Israel, two countries sharing common values and common threats, each surrounded
by regions of instability.' Irrespective of shared values and threats, it begs
the question as to why the two states are being facilitated to intrude into the
sensitive social space of India's largest minority?
This is perhaps easy to
answer. Both being India's friends were perhaps pressuring India to lean on
their side in the equation with Iran. India aware that it has an aware and
active Shia community may have allowed the two states an insight into the mind
of the community by facilitating the interaction. This way it could easily
explain its equidistance between the two sides.
On the surface, this
appears excusable. However, what it reveals is the level of strategic proximity
between India and Israel. The danger in such proximity is in India painting
itself into the same corner with Israel.
India already apparently
believes that it is in the same corner. A former head of its Strategic Forces
Command on a ‘lecture tour'
of the US has in his exposition on India's nuclear doctrine at a leading US
think tank gives a clue. Enumerating the nuclear threats to India, he let his
audience know that there are three countries on the list of foes of Islamists:
US, Israel and India.
Placed in august company,
India presumably has to naturally take counter measures and these of necessity
would require being in league with those in the same boat, the US and Israel.
How real is this threat?
In his inaugural speech
calling for recognition of himself as Caliph, Al Baghdadi, now reportedly
paralysed if not dead, included a mention of India along with other areas where
rights of Muslims were being given short shrift referring to Kashmir. It can be
expected of one trying to overthrow the Al Qaeda for the mantle of global
terror-in-chief, attract recruits and spread terror.
At last count, about a
dozen Indians of its 172 million Muslims responded. A few black flags were
spotted at protest rallies in Kashmir, rightly played down by the
administration as an attention seeking exercise.
But this is apparently
enough of a threat for the Home Ministry to busy itself with a counter
radicalization strategy to preserve India's Muslims from the extremist threat.
If the so-called threat is so negligible, why so much smoke without any fire?
Clearly, realism alone does
not prompt India's Israel policy. Cultural nationalism also needs factoring.
It's warped perspective of the minority serve as blinkers and can be expected
to have strategic fallout.
One, the danger of
strategic proximity is in India grafting on to its ‘neighbourhood first'
policy, Israel's strategy of keepings its surroundings unstable in order to be
the unrivalled regional power.
Two, in positioning itself
as a ‘leading power', India can end up containing one end of Muslim badlands
while courageous Israel keeps up the other.
VIF got it right. India and
Israel today have ‘common values' as can be expected of majoritarians and
Zionists. The danger is in the strategic fallout for India and the region.