By Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Special Forces veteran
The Indian Foreign Policy in the past, formulated by Nehru had always downplayed relations with Israel. This was primarily for appeasement of the muslim countries of Asia. It was also due to the congress fear that it would alienate its vote bank within the country comprising 170 million Muslims. However all this appeasement never stopped the Muslim Countries from backing Pakistan against India. However during Indira Gandhi’s area, India for the first time started building up its relations with Israel on many fronts, albeit secretly. Though Israel has always kept India on a high pedestal. After all India is the only country in the whole world where Jews have been allowed to lead a peaceful life free of prosecution and never been harassed in the past 2000 years or more of the Jewish history.
Now Modi, as one of the popular PM and nationalist leader, keeping India’s National Interest above everything else, is embarking on a historical trip to Israel with little concern for international or domestic fallout. He is not even trying to diplomatically balance out things and is just blatantly skipping a similar visit to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Though during Abbas visit to India in May, Modi had told him that India has been unwavering in its support of the Palestinian cause. And India hoped to see the realization of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel. This still remains true because lasting peace in the area will come only through this. However it has to be achieved mutually and bilaterally between Israel and Palestine only and not through coercion by any outside force. India’s relationships with Israel and the Palestinian Authority are separate, and a visit to one does not necessitate a visit to the other. A major break from the past is that India is no more apologetic regarding this type of approach to International diplomacy due to its own National Interest.
Now this visit commencing July 4 is going to primarily stress on security and economic ties with Israel. Both the countries are now having a significant defence partnership. There is a deep cooperation between the two as India seeks advanced weapon technologies in addition to relying on Russia for most of its other military technology not available within India. PM Modi is also interested in looking for new agriculture technology which he had already done as CM of Gujarat. Israel had a big role in greening or rather fruiting of Kutch.
The major significance of Modi’s visit is precisely that it would be the first visit by a serving Indian Prime Minister to Israel since 1947. Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings India think-tank expects this visit to be a continuation of cooperation between India and Israel, not just on defence, but homeland security, pharmaceuticals, information technology, agriculture, and tourism.
Of course, the number one priority is going to be on defence with focus on high-tech weapons for modernisation program of the Indian Defence Forces. Presently India is one of the world’s largest arms importers and has emerged as Israel’s biggest defence buyer. India has a plethora of state-owned defence firms which are rather obsolete and saddled with low technology with slow bureaucratic procurement process. All this is changing at a fast pace under Modi as India faces serious regional security threats. Aim of this present govt is to further speed up the modernisation process of the Indian defence manufacturing and become an exporter of Arms instead of being an importer.
Since April, India has already inked three missile deals with Israel worth $2.6 billion these are for Barak 8 missiles, Spike anti-tank missiles and air to air missiles. India’s Air Force will be getting two Phalcon airborne surveillance radars from Israel at a cost of $1.16 billion, while the army is buying 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel’s Advanced Defence Systems, along with 321 launchers, for nearly $500 million.
Another major deal is to be for armed drones which would provide India with new military capabilities for eliminating terrorist hideouts across the Line of Control that in Kashmir and also in any other part of Pakistan.
Graph indicating arms purchase from Israel is shown below:
The Indo -Israeli trade has grown over the years from about Rs 1300 Crore in 1992, when the two countries established diplomatic relationship, to nearly Rs 28000 crores in 2016 according to figures released by Economy Ministry of Israel. Alongside Modi’s visit, the two sides are due to set up a CEO’s Forum that will seek out more opportunities for cooperation and investment.
In Israel, their focus during Modi’s visit will be on deepening of cooperation with India in areas such as cyber security, telecommunications and hi-tech. Israel is establishing stronger commercial ties with India to ensure that both the countries stand united against all odds in the international arena especially at the United Nations and in other international forums. After all the Asian giant is now slowly turning into an International giant.
Recently only. the Israeli cabinet had approved a 280 million shekel budget to facilitate cooperation with India in a variety of areas, including water and agricultural technology. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also trying to draw Bollywood producers to film in Israel, and to encourage tourism from India. India is a central and important destination for the development of Israeli exports as per the Economy Minister Eli Cohen. Thus stronger military, economic and diplomatic ties with India and the historic visit of an Indian prime minister to Israel will lead, beyond defence exports, to growth in trade of goods and services too.