By Dr Subhash Kapila
The January 2018 visit of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly reaffirmed the Israel-India Strategic Partnership signed in mid-2017 and which the Israeli Prime Minister had then very aptly described it as “Seizing the Future” and which was analysed in detail in my SAAG Paper No.6277 dated 10 July 2017 and so titled.www.southasiaanalysis.org
Israel and India exist in two contiguous volatile regions of the Middle East and Indo Pacific plagued by strategic uncertainties demanding the coalescing of democracies with convergent strategic perspectives on the threats to security and stability hovering over the horizon. Israel and India with strong attributes of power are therefore well-placed to be ‘natural allies’ to complement each other’s strengths to meet the emerging challenges.
In my Paper quoted above I had stressed that by converting the Israel-India bilateral ties into a “Strategic Partnership” was an act of statesmanship. To formally elevate this vital partnership was a geopolitical recognition of prevailing realities and that this was in any case the “Advent of the Inevitable”. India’s diffidence to solidify unapologetically the strong bilateral security ties into that of a full-fledged Strategic Partnership had finally to await PM Modi riding into power in New Delhi.
The same Paper also highlighted that in terms of politico-strategics Israel had invested in India’s great power potential and also marked Israel’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ in which India implicitly would emerge as the centrepiece. Similarly, defying decades of Indian political establishment’s hesitation in establishing substantial relations with Israel out of undue sensitivity of Muslim nations, India had broken out of that diffident shell recognising prevailing geopolitical realities.
Before indulging in further analysis it needs to be stressed that Strategic Partnerships are not a one way street. There are corresponding obligations and sensitivity considerations incumbent on both Strategic Partners. India’s siding with a motley group of nations in the UN Resolution voting against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was ill-timed and ill-advised. At best, India could have ‘abstained’.
Israel has been gracious in not holding this act as an unfriendly act by India and has expressed an understanding of the factors that prompted it. But then there cannot be a repeat of such acts by India, if India wishes to “Seize the Future” with Israel as it aspires to ascend the global power calculus ladder. .
In terms of “Seizing the Future” a robust Israel-India Strategic Partnership without any ambiguities confers major strategic gains for India in terms of a valuable additive and acceleration of India’s aspirations to emerge as leading Global Power.
India’s aspirational goals rest substantially on the robustness of India’s preferred Strategic Partnerships, the geopolitical expanse of such robust Strategic Partnerships and the inputs that such Strategic Partners can inject into build-up of India’s military power by virtues of arms sales, transfer of advanced defence technologies and strategic convergences with India’s national security interest.
Israel- India Strategic Partnership in view of cotemporaneous security environments of Israel and India must primarily focus on forging strong geopolitical convergences and a vibrant comprehensive strategic partnership spanning arms sales on a government –to-government basis cutting out India’s bureaucratic hassles, defence production technology transfers and joint military training.
Geopolitically, the Israel-India Strategic Partnership imparts to India the presence of a strong and valuable friend on the farthest edge of the Middle East and it could also be said that of the strongest power in the Middle East. Israel enjoys the overwhelming political and military support of the United States and that adds considerable set of strategic convergences between the United States, Israel and India. The advantages are obvious.
Curiously enough, Israel does not stand isolated diplomatically in the Arab Muslim world of the Middle East .It has ‘Peace Treaties’ with Egypt and Jordan. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar have diplomatic dealings with Israel. This political reality robs many critics in India critical of India’s strategic partnership with a country which the Muslim world shuns. Recent reports indicate that Saudi Arabia has taken pains to enhance its relationship with Israel. Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Muslim world should be giving full support to Palestine but then geopolitics seems to override that. India therefore cannot be accused of double standards.
The only sticking point for India in this case is the balancing of the two Strategic Partnerships that India has with Iran earlier and with Israel from last year. Surely, PM Modi and his policy advisers would have taken into account the fine balancing that India would have to do to respect the sensitivities of both. In this connection Iran’s deep relations with Russia can be cited as an example in that Russia also has sound relations with Israel concurrently with Iran whose security Russia underwrites.
In terms of Israel’s global geopolitical significance it needs to be pointed out that while the United States enjoys a rock-solid strategic relationship with Israel, one also witnesses Russia and China bestowing assiduous strategic attention on Israel. Both Russia and China are looked upon by the Islamic world as countervailing powers to the United States. India therefore geopolitically cannot be the odd man out more so when India and Israel enjoy long civilisational ties and with India being the only country where Jews have never ever suffered persecution.
Israel has proved itself beyond doubt that it is a solid and dependable friend of India with its past demonstrated record of defence collaboration and cooperation with India in the 1971 and 1999 Wars that Pakistan imposed on India. This was done by Israel despite the fact and unreservedly too, even when India had not established full diplomatic relations with India.
In terms of retrospective analysis it can be asserted Israel had a clear vision that India mattered even that far back in time and that India and Israel were destined to be natural allies. It is now for India as a ‘pay-back’ gesture to audaciously grasp and “Seize the Future” with Israel.
Israel’s weapon systems and the advanced technologies that go into them are battle-tested in the many wars that have been inflicted by its Arab neighbours. Further, many of these advanced defence technologies are US-derivatives. India’s access to them for its own military build-up in 2018 can be accelerated by the strength of strong complementary Israel-India and US-India Strategic Partnerships.
China has emerged as a serious threat of concern in the areas of cyberwarfare and space warfare—-both fields requiring highly advanced technologies which nations do not like to share. Indicators are available that Israel is willing to collaborate with India in these two crucial fields. This can be a good supplement to India’s own advances in these fields.
In terms of intelligence and counter-intelligence related to Islamic terrorism, cooperation exists and needs to be further reinforced. Israel is a peer in this field and has a vast network in the Middle East of which India can derive benefit. One would venture further to suggest that India could seek assistance from Israel in streamlining of its intelligence agencies so that Indian intelligence agencies can function on a more highly motivated and dynamic mode.
The emergence last year of an institutionalised Israel-India Strategic Partnership marks a geopolitical milestone in the policies of Israel and India which now binds together two dynamic nations into a comprehensive partnership held back for decades by India’s domestic political compulsions.
In conclusion, it needs to be stressed that the existing geopolitical uncertain realities in the Middle East and Indo Pacific place a higher call on politically and strategically robust countries like Israel and India to reinforce and raise the Israel-India Strategic Partnership to newer heights in terms of substance and nuances. This would ensure that a strong existential counterweight emerges in these two contiguous regions contributing to regional and global security.