Indo-Israeli relationship – a durable bond in the years to come

As firing continues across the international border between India and Pakistan, the former is surely looking toward Israel to deepen its intelligence nexus and information-sharing capabilities.

November 9, 2016 22:05
4 minute read.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

ndian Prime Minister visits an IAI booth at Aero India 2015 exhibitition. (photo credit: Courtesy)

In an emphatic statement at a recent event in the state of Himachal Pradesh – a region familiar to many in Israel – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew comparisons between the two nations, which have for decades endured the scourge of terrorism. What he was referring to were the surgical strikes conducted by the Indian Army in the wee hours of September 29 across the Line of Control – which serves as the de facto border between Indian and Pakistan in the restive state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Every time India bleeds as a result of dastardly attacks orchestrated by terrorists across the border, there are strident calls within the country to adopt the Israeli model of deterrence: inflicting heavy damage by introducing an element of surprise and unpredictability.

A little over a week earlier, 19 Indian soldiers succumbed to their wounds from a terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri, J&K. The perpetrators were terrorists from Pakistan who had infiltrated the porous border with the sole aim of inflicting heavy damage to the men in uniform. So cowardly was their modus operandi that they chose to hurl grenades at sleeping men. Agonizing images of the massacre haunted the public discourse in the harrowing weeks that followed. Tough questions had to be asked and answered. What justice would be meted out to the perpetrators and how would the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) government, led by the iron-fisted prime minister, respond?

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Acrimonious debates on television channels urging the government to take concrete action, indignant families of the victims demanding justice, and public opinion favoring limited military action prompted the Indian government to instruct the army to undertake surgical strikes targeting terrorist camps across the LOC. At last, the advocates of reprisal were satisfied. A punitive reaction took the place of India’s historic calibrated approach. But much like Israel, the road ahead for the Indian establishment in its relentless quest for the eradication of extremism is arduous.

Both India and Israel have a checkered history. The two nations were born a year apart and have been facing the wrath of unfriendly neighbors for decades now. Israel has been engaged in numerous wars with its neighbors to defend itself from growing threats. India has fought four full-scale wars with Pakistan, and one with China, in 1962. Both states are beacons of democracy and freedom in a precarious regional environment. India is a thriving democracy and is contiguous with countries which have had their tryst with democracy and military rule; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. India happens to be the only country where Jews have not faced antisemitism. The dynamics of terrorism exist in both countries, but are different. Israel’s constant troublemakers have no international recognition. India’s foes operate from the comfortable environs of state, Pakistan, which is internationally recognized and a sovereign state that possesses nuclear weapons. This is the central reason for India’s Pakistan dilemma.

Bolstering economic ties and boosting defense cooperation is on the agenda for both India and Israel. Such synergy between the two countries is sure to propel bilateral ties to greater heights. Both countries are intimately collaborating in space technology, agriculture and intelligence sharing. Bilateral trade is blooming and is slated to increase further in the coming years. Bilateral trade stood at $4.52 billion in 2014 (excluding defense). India is the largest buyer of Israeli defense equipment.

Gone are the days when India had to balance domestic and foreign imperatives prior to embarking on a diplomatic overture with Israel. A burgeoning Muslim population at home and a substantial percentage of its population remitting money from the Middle East meant that India had a to straddle a delicate line, and formal relations could not be cemented up until 1992. Ever since economic reforms were ushered in, the Indian economy has grown at an exponential pace. Concurrently, strategic concerns and security threats have also been accentuated and India’s ties with Israel have been strengthened.

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Israel in 2015 – the first by an Indian president – signaled a discernible shift in the country’s foreign policy. The Modi government has successfully managed to nurture and deepen its ties with Israel and in doing so has de-linked relations with the Arab world and Israel. Political commentators have for quite some time likened India’s nuanced relationship with Israel like that of a “mistress”: eager to cooperate and share information in private, but vacillating in public.

All that stands to change now. The possibility of harnessing the potential of a fruitful relationship is evident. As Israel faces the lingering threat from Islamic State and India faces an uncertain diplomatic future vis-à-vis Pakistan, bilateral ties, and more specifically defense ties are bound to strengthen. As firing continues unabated across the international border between India and Pakistan, the former is surely looking toward Israel to deepen its intelligence nexus and information- sharing capability.

The year 2017 marks the silver jubilee of diplomatic relationship between India and Israel. Our peripatetic prime minister is diligently forging deeper ties with the rest of the world. There is no doubt that Modi’s visit is in the pipeline. A reciprocal visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will only reaffirm the robust bond the two nations share.

The writer studied at the London School of Economic and Political Science. He is a political commentator and can be reached at [email protected]

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