Background: Islamic terrorism helped bring Israel, India together

Close ties manifest in intense defense, intelligence and counter-terrorist cooperation.

Indian paramilitary troopers 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Indian paramilitary troopers 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Islamic extremist terrorism behind the carnage in Mumbai has, ironically, been one of the engines behind Indian-Israeli ties, which have increased at a dizzying pace since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1992. Efraim Inbar, the director of Bar-Ilan University's BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said Thursday that India, like Israel, "sees the same source of terrorism: radical Islam." Combating that terrorism has been one of the anchors of the relationship, as manifest in intense defense, intelligence and counter-terrorist cooperation at the highest levels, as well as an annual counter-terror dialogue. Nevertheless, Indian diplomats traditionally downplay the role of anti-terrorism in bringing the two countries closer together. Highly dependent on Arab oil and with a Muslim minority of an estimated 150 million out of the country's more than 1 billion people, Indian officials are traditionally reticent about emphasizing anything other than the country's economic and cultural ties with Israel. Inbar's center holds an annual event with the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, and he says that while some in India argue that Israel's terrorism problem is different because it stems from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most of the Indian defense establishment understands that the roots of both countries' terrorism problems are found in radical Islam. In a paper called "The Indian-Israeli Entente" published in 2004, Inbar wrote that as early as February, 1992, at the very beginning of formal ties between the two countries, India's then-defense minister acknowledged the existence of Indo-Israeli cooperation on counter-terrorism. This cooperation, which has since continued and crossed party lines with changes of governments in both India and Israel, has involved the exchange of information on terrorist groups, their finances, recruitment patterns, training and operations, as well as comparisons of national doctrines and operational experience. Likewise, Inbar wrote, "Israel and India learn from each other on border security. Facing the challenge of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism springing from camps inside Pakistan, the Indian military aims at developing the ability to quickly deploy troops inside enemy lines for specific missions." It is this Indian interest in closing its border that has led to large-scale arms deals with India, making Israel its second-largest arms supplier, after Russia. "Mutual fear of radical Islam, both at home and in their immediate neighborhoods, has cemented Indo-Israeli ties," according to Inbar. While there was some concern in Jerusalem that Israel's strategic ties with India would decline in 2004 following the Congress Party's defeat of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Inbar maintains that "business has continued as usual." Nevertheless, he said, there has been a marked decrease in the public nature of the ties, something evidenced by a decline in mutual high-profile visits, which reached a peak in 2003 with the first-ever visit by an Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.