Follow by Email

Sunday, July 26, 2015

India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a Feather        

26 July, 2015

India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a Feather        

26 July, 2015    
India's 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 general.
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 matter.
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.

No comments:

Post a Comment