In the aftermath of Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel as the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit the Jewish state, many questions have been raised in the discourse that what is bringing the both countries together and why the ties are being brought out of closet now? For clarification on the issue, a closer look at the background of the ties between the two countries as well as major factors leading to this unusual convergence, seems imperative.
Since their inception as independent states, foreign policies of both India and Israel toward each other were marked with indifference, divergence and, at some points, even antagonism. India’s unconditional support to Palestinian cause, its cordial relations with the Arab world and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) are the factors responsible for the cold relations and fissures between the two countries. However, in 1992, a diplomatic shift in Indian foreign policy was seen which proved to be a development of phenomenal significance. Within a time span of two decades, both countries reached an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation. This convergence witnessed special acceleration, most importantly, due the changed global environment. The convergence and commonality of interests resulted in inflicting serious damages to the ongoing freedom struggles against both countries. The major factor behind this embrace – which has not been given its due worth and weight – is ideological and historical ties between Hindus and Jews. This study aims at finding out as to why both the countries have touched new heights of partnership and how have they taken this relationship to the highest level as it presents a unique example of moving from conflict to convergence.
Major Factors of Convergence
There are numerous factors that have been instrumental in this regard but the most important, but probably the least-considered, of them as a real source of Indo-Israeli convergence is the historical and ideological aspect. This has directed the two nations to reach the zenith of their affiliation within a very short time. To study and bring to limelight this factor is one of the main objectives of this write-up.
1. Historical and Ideological Factors
It is important to mention here that Jews have been on the Indian Subcontinent for over a thousand years now, and they lived here with the Hindus without any fear or threat of persecution. Israel has been highly appreciative to the ‘kindness’ of Hindus toward Jews in India. It was Marco Polo who, in the year 1293 – during his travels to India’s Southwestern coast –recorded, in his diaries, the stories of his encounters with Jews and the thriving Jewish community in India. The origin of those settler Jews were traced backed to 700s. They came from Yemen and were warmly welcomed by the local Prince.
Out of those Indian Jews, one prominent was Lieutenant General Jacob Farj Rafael who played a prominent role in 1971 Pakistan-India war and is credited with defeating Pakistan during this war. He is also honoured as a hero in Bangladesh because it is believed that without his pivotal contribution, the dream of Bangladesh would never have come true. He was also presented the “Friends of Bangladesh” award on March 5, 2012.
The current Indian government practically is in the hands of Hindu extremists which moderate and independent Hindu analysts call the ‘rule of Hindu Taliban’. For instance, Anish Kapoor wrote an article “India is being ruled by a Hindu Taliban” in the Guardian (12 November 2015) wherein he asserted that India’s openness to social and religious minorities and regional differences was at serious risk. “A Hindu version of the Taliban is asserting itself, in which Indians are being told: It’s either this view – or else,” he wrote.
2. India’s Defence Market
India’s hegemonic designs are no more a secret now. To achieve this objective and to play its assigned role in the containment of rising China, India needs an aggressive military and defence doctrine in competition with its immediate neighbours. An offensive military strategy such as Cold Start Doctrine demands for military modernization and sophistication. To accomplish these goals, India’s defence budget allocation reached $45.2 billion in 2014-15, which means a larger market for the Israeli arms. Even in 2016, India was one of the world’s largest importers of arms. This huge potential market lures Israel toward India as the former’s economic growth is based largely on its defence production. It’s a known fact that a country’s strategic objectives and threat perception collectively define the military equipment that country requires to achieve its goals.
Its hegemonic ambitions, ‘threat’ from Pakistan and China, and its policy to maintain its control over Kashmir and root out Naxalite and other separatist movements make India one of the biggest defence markets in the world.
3. America’s Role
The United States has played a pivotal role in bringing India and Israel closer. The United States, owing to its growing strategic partnership with India in the post-Cold War era in general, and in the post-9/11 world in particular, has influenced India’s policy towards Israel; thus, constituting a trilateral partnership. In this regard, India-Israel relations took a new turn when a US Congressmen Stephen Solarz, during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the US in 1986, extended his assistance for Morris Abraham, a renowned Jewish lobbyist, to play his role in mending ties with India. It is now crystal clear that India-Israel-US triangular love affair is far deep-rooted and from a diplomatic viewpoint, it has achieved the level of ‘strategic partnership’.
4. Demise of the USSR
After disintegration of USSR, which was India’s largest military equipment exporter, and the ultimate triumph of the Western bloc in the Cold War, India naturally needed new alliances and avenue for modernization of its military. As Israel’s technology is more advanced and supposedly more suitable to Indian military’s modernization, India is now changing its preferences. As the Cold War and the 9/11 episode changed the whole scenario of the global politics, the change and transition in the policies of the countries was quite understandable and India was no exception to it. The convergence of both Israel and India took the major portion of India’s defence exports from former USSR and put it into Israeli lapse. In this regard, the role of obsolescence of Russian weapons systems can also not be ignored.
5. Common Enemies
Indo-Israeli bonhomie is also against a perceived common enemy: freedom movements they call ‘militancy’ or ‘Islamist terrorism’. To suppress freedom movements in both countries and to galvanize international support for their oppression and brutality are also important factors that play a key role in bringing the two countries close to each other. Both the countries are hand in glove against their common enemy – the freedom fighters – and they even have “called upon the global community to act tough against terror networks and states harbouring them”.
Both Israel and India see Pakistan as a source of fear and concern due to its nuclear programme as they blame that Pakistan’s nukes could be proliferated not only to the countries hostile to Jewish state, especially Iran, but also to non-state actors and terrorist groups. This frightens Israel despite the fact that it is located far away from Pakistan. This commonality of threat from Pakistan also led both countries to think of attacking the country’s nuclear installations – according to some reports, they backed out from the verge of launching an offence on Kahuta Research Laboratories.
6. Modi Factor
Under Narendra Modi, India’s reactions towards Israel’s oppressions and brutalities has been lackluster and it has even abstained from supporting Palestine and condemning Israel in a United Nations resolution that condemned Israeli atrocities and gross human rights violations in Gaza, a decision which Palestinian ambassador would term as “shocking”. “India has been an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause, and to abstain means not neutral; it’s a political decision,” said Harsh Dobhal, an Indian senior journalist and teacher adding that “it should mean that India will no longer support the Palestinian rights forcefully as it did in the past”.
Modi too appears ready to go beyond historical legacies as Israel’s investments in his home state Gujarat, when he was the Chief Minister, were gratifying for the people of the state, Since then, Modi had an urge to bring Israel closer to Indian people and had aspired to take the relationship to new heights.
In the wake of ongoing Qatar-GCC dispute, it is very clear that Muslim world is in shambles and it is unable to see the conspiracies being hatched to destroy the Muslims. Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is at the height of incompetence and inertness as it finds no solution to the problems faced by the Muslims around the world. Moreover, it has no policies and plans to subvert the imperial designs the world powers have cherished against Muslim territories, their resources and their values. If the very Secretary General of the OIC admits that although the organization wants to play its role to free the Palestinians from Israel, it is devoid of any real capacity to do anything practical in this regard, then what to expect further from this club!