By Arun Srivastava
Any country entering into a strategic relation or partnership with other country in the present geopolitical perspective is not a forbidden diplomatic exercise. Obviously India conferring the status of strategic partner to Israel during the visit of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to that country has not come as surprise. Though some experts have lauded this gesture of Modi, the ultimate question that has cropped up how and in what manner this new found relation will help India?
India can utmost expect to gain martial training and military support from Israel. True enough Israel will gain much in comparison to India. One thing is absolutely clear that India cannot expect Israel to fight against Pakistan along with it. This expectation is preposterous. Naturally in this backdrop the brouhaha created over the friendship with Israel appears to be irrelevant.
Israel is now the second largest supplier of military equipment to India (after Russia, which might well be permanently overtaken in due course by both Israel and the US). Israel is a key conduit for influencing the US government. A closer look at the nature of the friendship makes it explicit that it is based on the foundation of the ideological and religious appreciation. More than any other issue, it is the convergence of two anti-Muslim forces.
Two remarks by the Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are yet to make any significant sense: First, the marriage between Israel and India was made in heaven. Benjamin did not elaborate the nature of the marriage, which is the male partner, and whether it could be consummated. His second remark was more hilarious but important. Exhilarated to have Narendra Modi amidst his people, Netanyahu said; “We’ve waited for you 70 years”.
Undoubtedly Modi has been the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. But it was certainly not of such magnitude for Netanyahu to come out with these remarks. But he did. Obviously it implied more than meet the eyes. Usually a prime minister’s visit is not the guarantee to have a strong bilateral relation between the two countries. But in case of Israel the nuance was quite different.
Netanyahu, the second longest serving Israeli Prime Minister after David Ben-Gurion, is a right-wing hardliner. He built his political career by portraying Palestinians as an existential threat to the Jewish state of Israel. He has thrived on playing the politics of fear and demonising Muslims. Modi too has been pursuing a far-right politics in India.
Modi nursing anti-Muslim view has been an open secret. From refusing to wear scalp cap to denying ticket of his party to even a single Muslim in UP election are some of the glaring examples. While the Muslims were being lynched on the plea of carrying and eating beef he has been maintaining a reflexive silence. He cautioned criminals but did not warn his saffron friends.
The increasing tempo of attacks and lynchings shows the Prime Minister’s inadequate response to rising communalism. What could be better exposure than befriending Israel for the BJP to show the way to suppress minorities and all those who do not accept the diktats of the NDA?
India and Israel have never before referred to each other as “strategic partners”. India has strategic relations with only a handful of countries. France in 1998 and Russia in 2000 were its earliest strategic partners. The US, the UK, Japan and Australia are among the country’s major strategic partners. The idea was to broaden India-Israel ties so much that unravelling the partnership becomes difficult for future governments in either country. The two leaders had made clear that they wanted to insulate the relationship from any future upheavals in the Middle East.
Interestingly Netanyahu had referred to the bilateral relationship as “I square T square” – Israeli technology and Indian talent. Modi was more candid. Modi told Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; “It means ‘India for Israel.’ They agreed, in a joint statement, to not only condemn terrorism in “all forms and manifestations” but to take strong measures against “those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, or provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups”.
The prime minister is free to enter into relationship with any country he likes. Look at the way he brought India closer to America even at the peril of risking the defence needs of the country. In spite of serious protests and even objections from the defence experts he has made India virtually an ally of America. In its quest to have a strong relation the government preferred to ignore the anti-India rhetoric and remarks of the USA president Donald Trump. IN fact 2017 has already become a record year of Israeli weapons sales to India.
It is worth mentioning that at a time when Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing growing isolation internationally and even its traditional patrons have started to lose patience he desperately needed India on his side. It would help salvage the situation for Benjamin. It is Israel that is looking for new international partners to ease the international pressure. Benjamin’s agony also got its manifestation in his two remarks.
Netanyahu was obviously thrilled on receiving Modi who is the champion of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra. One thing is certain that Benjamin was trying to convey his and his countrymen’s feeling towards the saffron India. Modi ignoring the basic tenet to say even hallo to Palestine, while on visit to Israel, has embedded the feeling in Israeli people that the Hindu India was closer to them than any other country.
It is a known fact Hindu nationalists in India admire Israel for its domination on Muslim neighbour. Sangh’s passion for Israel is almost legendary. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who coined the term Hindutva, had hailed the creation of Israel as a “joyous” moment. He had even publicly clashed with Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders for opposing the forced displacement of Palestinians to carve out a Jewish homeland. The previous Indian governments, which supported the cause of Paletine had achieved a strong defence, intelligence and security relationship. The relation blossomed even when both the countries did not have full diplomatic relations. Obviously in this backdrop Modi skipping Palestine question needs to be understood in proper perspective.
Netanyahu’s euphoria was evidently much in the form of coming together of anti-Muslim countries and forces. Paradoxically Modi who give Palestine a miss refrained from saying that India would recognise Jerusalem as an exclusively Israeli or Jewish city, for centuries sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is significant that the momentum for Palestinian campaign for statehood has gained in recent weeks. Several European states, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, have already recognised Palestine as a state. But the question arises, amid all this, where is India, one of the Palestinians’ oldest friends?
With Palestinian campaign’s growing momentum and diminishing clout of Israel, around 138 countries voted to give Palestine the enhanced status of a “non-member observer state” at the UN general Assembly in 2012. In April 2016, India joined 32 other countries on the Unesco general board to condemn Israel for its excavation and exclusion policies around the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Al-Haram Al-Sharif area.
The Israeli ecstasy could be understood from the fact that they described Modi’s approach and action as tearing down of the “final walls” dividing India and Israel. In Israel Modi identified himself more as a ideological friend of Benjamin than merely performing the role of the Indian prime minister. There is more visible warmth between the two countries since 2014, after Modi became the prime minister. India and Israel view each other as victims of Islamist terror which matches Modi’s Hindutva background.