THE DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in 2017, while in 2018 and 2019 Netanyahu visited India.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is much controversy about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, presumably soon to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Accusations swirl around him, including allegations of criminal acts; moving to the Right to make Knesset gains; and the sentiment held by many Israeli voters that the time has come for Bibi to step aside in favor of new leadership. Rarely, however, do we hear about what may become his greatest contribution to the State of Israel – building relations with the four “BRIC” countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The BRIC countries have been developing military and economic capabilities that could transform the international battlefield in ways dangerous for Israel. Three of these countries already have major nuclear and conventional weapons. Israel has stressed the need for good relations with the world’s rising powers even if they are not democratic, like Russia and China. Working with the BRIC countries has offered Israel a good way to not only protect itself but to gain some advantages beyond international security.
Netanyahu has spent much time on these endeavors by reaching out to all four BRIC nations. He has visited Russian President Vladimir Putin nine times. This year, Bibi welcomed to Israel the democratically-elected leader of Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, who uttered those immortal words “Ani ohev et Israel” – “I love Israel.”
India’s democratically-elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, visited Israel in 2017, and Netanyahu visited India in 2018 and 2019. The results: India is now the number one buyer of Israeli military equipment. In a recent poll, more Indians (58%) than Americans (56%) had a favorable opinion of Israel.
Chinese economic leaders have visited Israel and signed an $800 million transit deal. The Chinese leaders see value in Israeli hi-tech products, desalinization methods and advances, defensive weapons, agriculture and free trade. Sino-Israeli trade has exploded from $50m. in 1992 to $13.1b. in 2017.
The four BRIC countries have large populations: China with 1.4 billion people, and India with 1.2 billion are the world’s most populous countries. Brazil and Russia, with 210 million and 145 million people follow. Israel has less than 10 million people.
All BRIC countries have large land masses: Russia has 6.6 million square miles (17 million sq.km.), China has 3.7 million sq.m. (9.6 million sq.km.), Brazil has 3.3 million square miles (8.5 million sq.km.) and India has 1.3 million square miles (3.3 million sq.km.). By contrast, Israel has 8,500 square miles (22,000 sq.km.), almost 60% of which is the Negev desert – which is underpopulated but growing, especially around Beersheba.
All except one of the BRIC countries have GDP per capita incomes of less than $11,000 dollars: Russia ($11,300), China ($9,600), Brazil ($9,000) and India ($2,000). Israel started out with very low GDP per person in 1948 ($2,000 to $3,000) but today has $42,000, the level of Western Europe. One study projects that Israel will reach the current American level of $60,000 GDP per capita in less than 10 years.
The four BRIC countries have diverse political backgrounds. Both Russia (1917-1991) and China (1949-present) have had communist political systems. Russia has moved on under the leadership of Vladimir Putin since 1999. A military dictatorship ruled Brazil from 1964 but was replaced in 1985 by a democracy that continues to rule to the present day. India has been democratic since 1947 under Nehru, but with rising ideological and religious divisions in recent years. Israel, like India, has been democratic since its inception in 1948.
Netanyahu has made important strides in working politically, militarily and economically with these four rising powers. His efforts constitute a tangible and practical help for Israel as well as for the BRIC states. His work has the added advantage of deterring Israel’s foes, such as Iran and Turkey. The effects of these relationships are sure to be significant in the next decade – and likely beyond. This is especially critical to the success of the first Jewish state, since the Romans crushed the last one in the year 70 CE.
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