Change in the political dispensation of the neighbouring countries and some other important countries has an inevitable impact on the existing equation with India. Earlier the change in Kathmandu from Nepali Congress rule to that of the Nepal Communist Party, and in Male from the Maldivian Democratic Party to the Progressive Party of Maldives had changed relations from a ‘pro-India’ tilt towards an ostensibly ‘more-balanced’ or more realistically, ‘pro-China’ tilt. Conversely, change from the Mahinda Rajapaksha presidency to that of the Maithripala Sirisena’s rule in Colombo, and that of the Khaleda Zia regime to Sheikh Hasina’s government in Dhaka had ushered in a decidedly friendlier outlook towards India. Even changes in the White House, Washington DC, have had an unmistakable impact on the leverage and tenor that India acquires bilaterally and globally owing to the partisan and geopolitical instincts of the incumbent President of the USA.
A major factor in Delhi’s perspective is the strategic emergence of Israel, especially in the realm of sensitive technology transfer, defence equipment, agriculture, trade and geostrategic considerations. However, the diplomatic stakes in the recent elections to the 21st session of Knesset were of little concern for India with two major contenders i.e. the Likud party’s successful candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Blue and White alliance leader, Benny Gantz. Both candidates reflected the reality of Israel’s battle-hardened politicians with an exemplary record in military service ~ Benny Gantz was the 20th Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), while Benjamin Netanyahu has had an extraordinarily heroic military career that is marked by multiple covert operations. He was once shot in the shoulder. Such commonality of background amongst political candidates in Israel bestows a naturally militaristic outlook that only differentiates one-from-theother, in terms of nationalistic and Zionist assertions. Ultimately Netanyahu’s far-right conservative bloc had pipped to the post Benny Gantz’s centrist-and-leftof-center coalition, imparting a measure of political continuity that is manifest in Netanyahu’s record fifth term, making him the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel, ahead of David Ben-Gurion.
From an Indo-Israeli perspective, the strengthened bilateral engagement that has ‘dehypenated’ the Palestinian dimension in recent times, is poised to grow, especially from the fount of the Israeli military-industrial complex that is mutually beneficial. India has emerged as the biggest buyer of advanced Israeli weaponry, and Israel is amongst the top sources for the world’s largest arms purchasing country, i.e. India. The recent Indian Air Force strike into Pakistani hinterland was not only ‘Israeli’ in tactics, but it also entailed the use of Israeli precision-guided bomb called SPICE (Smart, Precise, Impact, and Cost-Effective), Phalcon airborne warning and control system, Heron drone etc. Besides various technological, commercial and ‘back-up’ considerations, the Israeli weaponry crucially comes without any ‘strings attached’, unlike the purchases from the US which routinely carries the rather threatening tag CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).
This allows the US to punish Russia’s military partners on the perceived ground that their business dealings violate American laws.
Importantly for India, deepening relations with Israel has the rare and unstated acceptance by both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, who do not envisage any conflict of interest. Beyond the logic of strategic necessities and pragmatism in the Indo-Israeli framework, the template of Netanyahu’s Israel also impresses many in the Indian political leadership with the working construct of its ‘ethnic democracy’, which barely disguises its supremacist imperfections as, ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people’. Theoretically, the concept respects the rights of all its citizens.
However, Netanyahu’s own political belligerence, intransigence and alliances with retrograde parties like Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) militates against India’s traditional espousal and commitment towards Palestine, as indeed with other Arab nations and Iran. While most of the Arab Sheikhdoms have a duplicitous relationship with Israel, with a specious degree of postured hostility and animosity, it is the more virulent Iran-bashing by the US-Israel combine that is more real and a matter of concern for Delhi. Recent provocations of shifting the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the Israeli annexation of Golan Heights and declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, are pointers to the subsequent fate of the ‘Middle East Peace Plan’, championed by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The future ‘divide’ between Israel and Iran is poised to widen (Arab states would only issue harmless homilies), and could make the equally strategic and growing relationship between Tehran and Delhi seem extremely contradictory. The post-ISIS Middle East will bring back the ArabIsraeli focus on the organisations propped up by Iran, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen and even the Alawiteruled Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
India’s strategic security calculus is defined by Pakistan and China. While Israel is clearly wary of the only nuclear powered ‘Islamic’ nation of Pakistan, which has a declared anti-Israel position, Tel Aviv feels that China does not threaten the security perceptions of Israel directly. However given that Netanyahu is beholden to the US in general, and to Donald Trump in particular, it would throw its strategic weight against Chinese interests, if push-comes-to-shove. Therefore, barring the Iran angularity, the Indo-Israeli equation is seamlessly conjoined in terms of realpolitik, if it means the parallel and obvious erosion of morality concerning India’s traditional position on Palestine. Besides continuing convergence with Israel on security concerns, India would have to manage the parallel dissonance with its energy and regional (aka, Af-Pak realm) sensitivities with Middle Eastern countries, and Iran in particular. This bilateral Indo-Israeli bonhomie is relatively new as it was borne formally only in 1992, however much like the Israeli indifference.
The ultimate fate of the 17th Lok Sabha elections will not affect the growing Indo-Israeli convergence. Irrespective of occasional turbulence like India voting against the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Netanyahu’s comment that Indo-Israeli relationship is ‘a marriage made in heaven’, is likely to miltate against contradictions and geopolitical churning.
(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)