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India and Israel - Strategic Partnership (Founding Editor View)

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The frequency with which the Ministry of Defence bans organisations and companies from doing business with India is perplexing and worrisome. The latest to suffer the ire of South Block is the Israeli Military Industries. Coming in the wake of bans on some other globally regarded entities, it begs serious attention to the long term vision of the managers of the MoD, or its lack thereof.

In this case, however, it raises serious questions about India’s relationship with Israel for IMI is not some small fly-by-night operator. There are serious implications in this ban and they are not restricted to the burgeoning military relationship alone, but to the larger diplomatic one as well.

There are a number of dissimilarities between the two countries, just as there are numerous meeting points in their national interests. Israel, for starters, has been created on a national identity based on a single faith, unlike India. In that sense Israel is more like Pakistan, carved out of a land mass for a people who felt themselves to be a separate nation on account of their faith. India, on the other hand, is rooted in its identity as an inclusive geographically defined entity. It is easy to peg India within the sub-continent and astride the ocean, both which carry its name. Both Israel and Pakistan are carved out of the partition of historical territories, Palestine and India respectively. This results in Israel and Pakistan being uneasy, insecure and unsure of their regional identities. Both Israel and Pakistan, therefore, remain surrounded by neighbours with whom the relationship is testy, acrimonious and rough.

Which is where the relationship between India and Israel enters common ground. And which also makes an enduring one. The rise of global jihadist organisations has resulted in Israel and India being firmly placed in the cross hairs of terrorist operations. While some of the terrorist attacks are certainly home grown in both countries, there is, nevertheless, an element of the ‘international hand’ in a large number of the incidents. The chilling audio tapes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on Chabad House during the November 2008 assault on Mumbai is a reminder of this global threat and thread. The commonality of purpose, therefore, is live and very real when it comes to Indo-Israeli strategic relations.

There is a reality of diplomacy and security that seems to escape the notice of analysts and commentators in India, especially when it comes to the relationship with Israel. All seem to believe that Israel will somehow help India at any cost and in any event. But that is not how international relations work and the same holds good for India as well. The India-Israel-Iran triangle is a case in point. Try as it might Israel has not been able to rein India into its ‘attack Iran’ chorus. For India has a millennia old relationship with Iran and which thus explains its reticence in the face of Israeli and global pressures. Israel remains reticent about taking up cudgels against China or Pakistan, both of which are India’s principal national security challenges and competitors. A dose of realism is, therefore, always welcome and healthy. Especially when it comes to the long term interests of India and Israel.

 


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