The extraordinary nature of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to India is obvious. It is rare in international diplomacy for a visiting dignitary to stay in his host country for as long as six days. Bill Clinton stayed in India for five days in the year 2000, but that may have been intended to send a message to Pakistan where he spent only five hours.
If Netanyahu wanted to send a message, it was to tell the world that Israel has a firm friend other than the US. Otherwise, Israel does not have too many friends. Even India had maintained a hand-off relationship before Narendra Modi’s time. The ties between Tel Aviv and New Delhi under the Congress regimes were no more than formal.
The reason why they were not marked by warmth was known. It was India’s disinclination to annoy the Muslims at home who felt, along with not a few others in the country, that Israel had been less than fair to the Palestinians.
True, Israel had been attacked more than once by the neighbouring Arab countries on behalf of the Palestinians as well as themselves because they regarded Israelies as intruders in their land imposed by the British. Israel’s success in fending off the military offensives and in even taking the battle into “enemy” territory made the Palestinians to turn to terror as a weapon of war to their own disadvantage.
But they failed even in that endeavour with the Jews building an impenetrable wall between themselves and the Palestinians and even encroaching on the latter’s territory with their housing enclaves and interconnected roads and watch towers.
However, since it is human nature to sympathize more with the underdog than with the lords and masters, there has been an undercurrent of compassion and fellow feeling for the Palestinians all over the world if only because of the belief that Israel revels in humiliating them, which is why it has made no serious attempt to work towards a two-state solution as the international community wants.
That India, too, wants such a solution is evident from the latest joint statement issued by the two countries. India also refused to go along with the Americans over the latter’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, thereby making it Israel’s de facto capital although it is a city which is holy to the followers of all the three so-called Abrahamiac religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – and is, therefore, claimed by both Jews and Palestinians.
Israel’s quiet acceptance of India’s refusal to endorse the US decision shows that Tel Aviv’s interest in keeping on New Delhi’s right side is more than that of India to keep Israel in good humour. Among the reasons are India’s clout as a regional power and its prestige as a democracy. Israel, instead, has to constantly depend on the US to bail it out of critical UN resolutions.
Not surprisingly, Israel has also had to come to terms with India’s close relations with Iran which have been further enchanced by the cooperation between the two countries over the Chabahar port in Iran which India is developing in order to be able to open a trade route to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.
Considering that Israel regards Iran as a mortal enemy because of Teheran’s suspected nuclear prowess and was thought at one time of planning with the US to “take out” Iran’s nuclear installations, Tel Aviv’s acquiescence in India’s continuing and growing proximity to Iran underlines the sobering effect of realpolitik.
Even if Israel’s need for India is greater than the other way round, India, too, looks to Israel as a provider of sophisticated military hardware, greater knowhow in combating terror in view of Israel’s considerable experience in countering such threats and in the agricultural field, especially in water conservation in view of Israel’s vaunted reputation about making the deserts bloom.
All the three requirements have considerable value although the first two – military equipment and counter-terrorism techniques – are of prime importance. The bolstering of India’s arsenal is needed at a time when China is seemingly becoming even more of a bully in the wake of President Xi Jinping’s apparent desire to play the warrior-king to outshine Mao Zedong.
Pakistan, too, shows no sign of calming down despite President Trump’s repeated attempts presumably because it has greater faith in the protection offered by its “iron brother”, as prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, called China.
India, therefore, will be pleased about its closeness to Israel more for material reasons than for reasons of the heart in their marriage made in heaven, to quote Netanyahu. The ties will be cemented even further if Israel shows greater sincerity and initiative in reaching a settlement with the Palestinians. In that event, no community in India will have any reservations about Israel.