The fruitful visit to Israel by India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh last week offers yet another reflection of the deepening bond between New Delhi and Jerusalem. Since then-Prime Minister P V Narsimha Rao established full-fledged diplomatic relations with Israel in the early nineties, the ties between the world’s two great democracies have been moving from strength to strength. There has been a considerable growth in their bilateral ties in a range of areas, including defense and agriculture.
India today is Israel’s largest purchaser of defense technology. New Delhi is said to import defense technology worth two billion dollars annually from Israel. Jerusalem today is the second largest supplier, after Russia, of arms and armaments to New Delhi. If Russia’s recently growing bonhomie with China endangers India’s status as Moscow’s preferential defense customer, Israel may even replace Russia as India’s largest defense supplier in the near future.
The current dispensations led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu today look all set to provide a new momentum to this process of boosting ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem. It is believed that, in tune with this bilateral spirit, during last week’s first visit to Israel by an Indian home minister since then-Home Minister L K Advni was in the Jewish state back in 2000, Rajnath Singh had warm conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
Welcoming the Indian Minister, Netanyahu said, “Indians and Israelis share the combination of ingenuity and continuity.” The Israeli premier really means it. In their meeting Netanyahu and Singh discussed the regional situation and the evolving threats to the global community from Islamist terror. They reviewed existing cooperation and future possibilities in this area. Both agreed that the Free Trade Agreement under discussion between the two sides should be inked soon.
During Singh’s Israel visit, New Delhi and Jerusalem signed three agreements related to homeland security. These cover areas such as cooperation in preventing organized crime, human trafficking, cyber crimes, money laundering, counter-terrorism and the fight against the circulation of fake currency notes. Singh and Ya’alon discussed a number of areas of specific cooperation, including the protection of border areas and the mechanism of information sharing. The two ministers agreed to continue to cooperate in the defense sector in particular. Singh outlined various policy changes, including the 'Make in India' initiative – a concept rolled out by Prime Minister Modi to boost India’s manufacturing sector. Singh referred to the relaxation in the Foreign Direct Investment limits in the defense sector and urged Jerusalem to become a partner herein. The Jewish state expressed its desire to share cutting-edge weapons technologies with New Delhi.
I am sure that back home now, Home Minister Singh will initiate all the necessary efforts to make the ongoing Indo-Israeli cooperation adequately meaningful. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Israeli counterpart on the sidelines on the United Nations General Assembly session in New York in September, the latter was said to have assured him that Jerusalem would extend New Delhi unlimited cooperation. Home Minister Singh would do well to make use of that offer where it is needed most --- fighting Islamist terror.
There is a near consensus across the Indian strategic community that India today faces the Islamist threat from Kashmir to Cape Comorin and the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. This threat comes from the notorious terrorists gangs such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and their allies based mainly in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and most importantly within India. Reports have it that some youths have recently raised the IS flag in Kashmir. Besides, some time back India’s Intelligence Bureau identified IS as a threat first. Now Director General of the National Security Guards Jayant Choudhary has warned that the IS and al-Qaida may join hands with Lashkar e-Toiba and the Indian Mujaihideen and launch suicide attacks in India. On the Raising Day of the NSG, Choudhary said the IS was the richest terror organization in the world today.
There is little change in Islamabad’s jihadist strategy on Kashmir. Its foreign and defense policy continues to be shaped mainly by its all powerful Army. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif does not seem to be in any mood to dilute the army’s traditional course on the subject. Recently, India’s Srinagar-based 15 Corps Commanding Officer Lt General Subroto Shah has already warned that from across the Line of Control efforts are being made to push jihadi terrorists armed with highly sophisticated weapons into the Indian side.
More importantly, Islamabad has kept intact its annual ritual of raising the Kashmir issue and the outdated UN resolutions at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The National Assembly has called for a diplomatic offensive against India. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N)’s manifesto ( May 2013) clearly says : “Special efforts will be made to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN resolutions and the 1999 Lahore Accord and in consonance with the aspirations of the people of the territory for their inherent right of self-determination.” The May 2013 manifesto of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) reads: “We support the rights of the Kashmiri people …. Without prejudice to the UN Security Council Resolutions, we support open and safe borders at the Line of Control [LoC] to socially unite the Kashmiri people. ”
The consensus goes that it would not be wise for New Delhi to look to the United States to fight the Islamist threat India continues to face. The role Washington played in the rise of Islamist forces the world over, including in South Asia, in the past is no secret. It still continues to ignore the need to dismantle several Islamist outfits that have been ideologically and tactically linked with IS and aiding terror activities against India. Besides, most of the states in the US-led coalition against the IS have always opposed secular democratic India’s view on Kashmir and backed the course of the Islamist-influenced Islamabad on the issue.
Given the Israeli experience in handling its similar Islamist threat since it came into existence in 1948, New Delhi could turn to it for more effective action against the menace. Jerusalem has already been of great help to New Delhi in crucial areas of its national security. The Israeli intelligence inputs to New Delhi during the Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf-conspired Kargil crisis were very useful. Recently, Jerusalem alerted Indian intelligence and security agencies in regard to the ongoing infiltration by al-Qaida, IS and allied elements into India. This cooperation could be advanced further. Jerusalem is also concerned also over the jihadist threat to the Jewish community living in India. It cannot take any risks after the jihadists included important Jewish centers in their Mumbai terror attack in 2008.
The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi