Since the contemporary international system is largely anarchic, it is not surprising to see two oppressive, ultra-right-wing governments, India and Israel, overtly embracing each other despite their gross human rights violations in Kashmir and Palestine.
Narendra Modi has become the first Indian Prime Minister to pay a state visit to Israel – an oppressive state that has colonised and suppressed the Palestinians since 1948. Though India and Israel have been cooperating in the fields of agriculture and information technology, it’s actually the burgeoning military and intelligence coordination between both countries that made Modi revisit India’s foreign policy by embracing Israel at the cost of Palestinians.
Such a dramatic shift in Indian policy toward the Jewish state does not bode well for the legitimate freedom struggles of the disgruntled Palestinians and the Kashmiris. India has historically backed the Palestinian cause for full autonomy. Modi warmly welcomed the Chairman Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi last year while reiterating India’s support for the two-state solution.
Modi’s visit to Israel has arguably provided a platform to both countries to share their brutal policies and oppressive strategies on how to quell the indigenous struggles of the Kashmiris and the Palestinians for their right to self-determination.
Even though India officially recognised Israel in 1950, the former’s political support for Palestinian independence and its proclivity to maintain amicable relations with the oil-rich Arab world forestalled New Delhi from cultivating diplomatic relations with Israel until the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.
Despite the establishment of formal diplomatic ties, Israel secretively funnelled military hardware into India during the short Sino-Indian War in 1962. Moreover, Tel Aviv militarily helped New Delhi during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars and covertly supplied artillery shells to India during the Kargil War in 1999 when India faced a dearth of such weapons. According to a recent report, India reciprocated by providing spare parts of aircraft and tanks to Israel during the six-day Arab-Arab war in 1967.
During the visit, Modi signed a total of seven accords with Israel in sectors ranging from agriculture to water-conservation and space technology. According to the Israeli media, both countries signed defence deals averaging over $1 billion a year. Both countries have also agreed to create a bilateral technology innovation fund worth $40 million to boost research and development within India and Israel and increase the current level of trade, which stands at around $5 billion.
The paradigm shift in Indian policy towards Israel apparently stems from China’s growing economic and military clout in South, East and West Asia. India’s paranoid strategic thinkers seem highly frightened that the militarily-rising China is set to encircle and contain India through its ‘String of Pearls’ and the ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR)’ projects. The ongoing skirmishes near the Sino-Indian border in Sikkim seem to have further accentuated Indian apprehension about China’s rapid rise as a potential hegemon in Asia.
Since India aspires to become the singular hegemonic power in Asia through all-out American military backing, New Delhi has decided to cultivate robust relations with all major economic and military powers in East, South and West Asia. India’s growing strategic and commercial ties with Japan, Saudi Arabia and now with Israel vividly demonstrate this Indian mindset to dominate South Asia in the foreseeable future.
India’s strategic policymakers are cognisant of the established fact that New Delhi will not be able to compete militarily with Beijing in Asia without modernising and expanding its defence sector. In this regard, Israel seems to be the only potent military power that can potentially provide advanced and sophisticated military hardware to India with relatively cheaper rates. As a result, Israel has already become India’s third largest source of arms, with a 7.2 percent share of imports between 2012 and 2016, next to Russia (68 percent) and the US (14 percent).
In today’s highly mechanised warfare, the application and importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) cannot be denied. Interestingly, Israel is the only country that supplies advanced UAVs to India. The Indian Air Force is presently operating 108 Searcher UAVs and 68 Heron UAVs, which have been imported from Israel. To further cement defence collaboration, the Modi government signed a $2.6 billion deal with Israel in April for Israeli missile and air defence system. According to experts, this is the largest arms order in Israel’s entire history.
Although India’s cut-throat competition for regional hegemony is mostly with China, the major policy circles in New Delhi are also perturbed over Pakistan’s slow but steady economic growth and military rise in South Asia. Islamabad’s tactical nuclear weapons in response to India’s operationally flawed Cold Start doctrine have already dashed the forlorn hope of Indian strategic thinkers to acquire a hedge in the South Asian nuclear equation.
India is heavily engaged in a continuous arms race with Pakistan to counter Islamabad’s increasing military capability and prowess in the region. In this regard, Tel Aviv helped India successfully test Israeli-made SPYDER, a quick reaction surface-to-air missile, in May. According to a recent report published in India Today, the Indian Air Force has planned to deploy this system close to the highly militarised Indo-Pak border. During his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Modi may have asked for more Israeli military technology that is primarily calculated to counter Pakistan on the defence front.
India’s hectic efforts to enhance its military ties with Israel will probably make Pakistan and China foster their economic and defence cooperation in the region. Both Pakistan and China have recently come so close to each other that it appears rather elusive for India to pursue its hegemonic designs in the Indian Ocean region. The more India militarily partners with other countries, the more Pak-China partnership becomes stronger to block Indian disruptive objectives in South Asia.
India’s sudden decision to embrace Israel is also likely to turn the growing Indo-Iranian relations hostile. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has sternly reacted to such Indian diplomatic move towards Israel by calling upon the Muslim states to support the legitimate cause of the Kashmiris’ struggle for self-determination. If the Modi government continues to further cement military ties with Israel, Iran will probably hand over the strategically-important Chabahar Port to China and thereby shatter India’s dreams to access the energy-rich Central Asia.
Pakistan should capitalise on the Indo-Israel bonhomie to bolster its relations with Iran and coordinate with Tehran to highlight the gross human rights violations that are being committed in Kashmir and Palestine.