Tips for making friends

Israel’s isolation is growing but it needn’t be. The country would do well to engage with like-minded countries in the East.

March 14, 2011 22:36
4 minute read.

SUMANTRA MAITRA 58. (photo credit: courtesy)

I remember reading Exodus by Leon Uris when I was young. I was attracted to the story of Israel – the sheer grit and strong spine of people who just completed aliya in their search to regain their Promised Land. The struggle against overwhelming odds was similar to what happened in my own country.

We Indians also faced overwhelming odds, surrounded by generally disagreeable to outright hostile neighbors. India had no friends, nor did Israel. We Indians also have over 3,000 years of history, have been persecuted and plundered by foreign forces, and still fought to fulfill our destiny.

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ver 60 years have passed, but Israel still lives in a state of passive victimhood, searching for friends.

It should not be like this. Israel has proven might, considered to be among the top 10 fighting forces in the world.

It excels in research and development, and has formidable weapons exports.

Its diamond trade is among the world’s top three. So what went wrong? Why does Israel still look to others, and can’t seem to act for its own good? Israel’s foreign policy is traditionally that of a passive isolationist. Very similar to the US before 1914, Israel doesn’t commit its forces to any global conflict.

Yet it should take a more active part in those UN peacekeeping operations which are not bogged down in simmering religious tensions. That way, a more authoritative presence can be built.

Sending fighting forces on combat missions might backfire, but surely sending military doctors and engineers won’t. Any student of international relations will agree that sending forces, however token, increases global respectability and enhances the recognition of a country immediately. Even a fledgling Indian government sent paratroopers to Maldives, and an Indian peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka. Now many will say Israel had to send forces to Lebanon, but that was directly related to its security situation. Sending paratroopers to the Maldives in the 1980s was in no way related to India.

SECONDLY, ISRAELI PR is a disaster. I recently read that no Israeli minister has visited Latin America for decades; Israel woke up only with the rude shock of the Latin American bloc drifting away. Another report from 2009 suggested that the country with the greatest sympathy for Israel was India, with 58% support. The US came second, with 52%. Ironically, traditional allies – Britain, France and Spain – were lowest, with an average of 25%.

This is ironic, but not astounding, given the tectonic shifts in geopolitical scenarios over the past 15 years. European countries have had a large number of Muslim immigrants over the past two decades. Meanwhile, India became a military ally and is the only country whose experience with militant Islamism can be compared to Israel’s.

The engagement with Far Eastern states, with like-minded countries like Japan and South Korea, is also minimal.

Why are there no military pacts with any country pledging mutual nonaggression? Also, we see little general promotion of ideas, values and cultural flow outside the US. This lack of promotional communication is shocking, and to some extent insane, considering the rapidly changing world in which we live. So the Gaza flotilla raid put the blame, and the mark of a regional bully, squarely on Israel; the fact that the flotilla was filled with men of hostile intentions who started beating IDF soldiers, just in order to provoke the response, was never highlighted, at least not here in the Sub-Continental and Asian media.

Now the necessary counterargument will automatically arise. What is the need? What will Israel gain in the long run? What Israel will gain is an abstract independence, and some all-weather allies, which it badly needs, especially in an Arab neighborhood changing right before its eyes. Israel won’t have to depend on a declining and craven America for global support. The helplessness of the US administration under Barack Obama has been clearly demonstrated in the past two years. The US national media and opinion-making bodies have been hijacked, causing it to forget its allies, from South Korea to Taiwan, to Poland, Georgia, the Dalai Lama and now Israel, just to gain points with Iran and North Korea, as if it’s on a guilt trip for the war in Afghanistan, after it was attacked on its own soil, and for toppling a dictator in Iraq who killed millions of ethnic and religious minorities in some of his bouts of maniacal purges. US influence in its own backyard, Latin America, has also been lost, squandered really.

Every democracy faces a time when it has to look ahead.

This defining moment of shift in foreign policy still awaits Israel. The faster it understands that, the better.

The writer is a journalist from Mumbai, presently a correspondent at All Sports magazine, and a foreign affairs blogger at the Washington Examiner. He covered the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, for, UK. [email protected]

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