Shalom Ne­tanyahu

Mail Today - - COMMENT - By Harsh V Pant

IS­RAELI PRIME Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu will be in In­dia for a four-day visit next week, mark­ing an­other high point in the rapidly so­lid­i­fy­ing ties be­tween the two na­tions. In a his­toric move, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi be­came the first In­dian prime min­is­ter to make an of­fi­cial visit to Is­rael in July 2017. More sig­nif­i­cantly, he clearly sig­nalled that In­dia would no longer be hy­phen­at­ing Is­rael and Pales­tine when he did not make the cus­tom­ary stopover in the Pales­tinian Author­ity in the West Bank.

The Modi gov­ern­ment has taken In­dia-Is­rael ties out of the closet and made it a cen­tre­piece of In­dia’s en­gage­ment with the wider Mid­dle East. Ne­tanyahu’s visit will also be about much more than merely de­fence co­op­er­a­tion and will take him to Agra, Ahmed­abad and Mum­bai. In a sign of their close per­sonal bond, Modi will be ac­com­pa­ny­ing Ne­tanyahu dur­ing much of the visit. A road­show in an open jeep in Ahmed­abad which will take the two lead­ers to Ma­hatma Gandhi’s Sabar­mati Ashram will be the high­light of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter’s Gu­jarat visit.

Re­cent set­backs

Ne­tanyahu’s visit to In­dia comes at a time when Indo-Is­raeli ties seem to have suf­fered some set­backs. New Delhi re­cently can­celled a $500 mil­lion (`3,100 crore) deal to de­velop Spike anti-tank guided mis­siles (ATGMs) from Is­raeli state-owned de­fence com­pany Rafael Ad­vanced De­fence Sys­tems. Given In­dia’s strong push for trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy in weapons pro­cure­ment from for­eign de­fence ma­jors as part of its am­bi­tious ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive to en­cour­age do­mes­tic de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing, Rafael’s reser­va­tions per­tain­ing to such a trans­fer have re­port­edly been a deal-breaker. But now there are re­ports that In­dia might be con­sid­er­ing pur­chase of Spike ATGMs from Is­rael via the gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment route.

Also last month, de­fy­ing spec­u­la­tion to the con­trary in some quar­ters, In­dia voted in favour of a United Na­tions res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing US Pres­i­dent Donald Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to recog­nise Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal. Is­rael ex­pressed its dis­plea­sure through diplo­matic chan­nels even as In­dia ex­plained its de­ci­sion sit­u­at­ing it in the wider re­gional con­text. Ne­tanyahu’s visit will be an at­tempt to put these con­tro­ver­sies be­hind and will sig­nal that the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship is ma­ture enough to take such tem­po­rary set­backs in its stride.

Ne­tanyahu’s visit will also be an at­tempt to make the re­la­tion­ship with In­dia more broad-based. He is com­ing to In­dia with a big busi­ness del­e­ga­tion and will be reach­ing out to the In­dian cor­po­rate sec­tor in Mum­bai. There is a ma­jor out­reach planned to­wards the film in­dus­try where the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter will show­case his coun­try as an at­trac­tive desti­na­tion for the shoot­ing of In­dian films by of­fer­ing tax breaks and fa­cil­i­ta­tion. Bi­lat­eral trade which is hov­er­ing around $4 bil­lion (`25,400 crore) can be given a boost by en­hanc­ing high­end tech­nol­ogy co­op­er­a­tion as well as ex­plor­ing new av­enues in wa­ter man­age­ment and agri­cul­ture.

The next stage of the In­dia-Is­rael eco­nomic part­ner­ship is likely to see In­dia lever­ag­ing Is­raeli start-up con­cept for gen­er­at­ing more em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and to work to­gether on tech­nolo­gies to en­hance agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity. Though dif­fer­ences ex­ist be­tween In­dia and Is­rael over is­sues re­lated to tech­nol­ogy trans­fer, end-user agree­ments and a pro­posed free trade agree­ment, but they are in­creas­ingly viewed as man­age­able in the broader scheme of things.

De­spite the re­cent Spike con­tro­versy, In­dia con­tin­ues to have a strong de­fence part­ner­ship with Is­rael. New Delhi has re­cently placed a big or­der to pur­chase tor­pe­does for its new sub­marines from Is­rael and is plan­ning to buy as­sault ri­fles for the Army from Is­rael as well. Is­rael’s cut­ting-edge mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies con­tinue to add to In­dian mil­i­tary fire­power and are fur­ther re­in­forced by close in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two na­tions.

Com­mon val­ues

Is­rael and In­dia not only share com­mon val­ues and in­ter­ests but are also tar­geted by a com­mon ad­ver­sary — Is­lamist ex­trem­ism. Ne­tanyahu will be vis­it­ing Chabad House in Mum­bai where he will be ac­com­pa­nied by Moshe Holtzberg — who was just two years old when his par­ents, Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg, were killed along with six oth­ers in the 2008 ter­ror at­tacks. Is­rael’s ex­pe­ri­ence in tack­ling ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism can cer­tainly help In­dia as it builds do­mes­tic ca­pac­ity and con­sen­sus on the best way for­ward. There are dif­fer­ences in the two op­er­at­ing en­vi­ron­ments but Is­rael’s ex­pe­ri­ence can be used by In­dia to strengthen its de­fences.

While de­fence trade as well as agri­cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal col­lab­o­ra­tion re­main im­por­tant, the Indo-Is­raeli bi­lat­eral ties will in­creas­ingly be shaped by the rapidly evolv­ing geopo­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties in Asia and the Mid­dle East. In the Indo-Pa­cific, the rise of China is chal­leng­ing the ex­tant re­gional or­der and In­dia, along with other re­gional states, is com­ing to terms with it. Is­rael will have to fig­ure out its own re­sponse to this Asian flux. In the Mid­dle East, the Shia-Sunni ri­valry has mor­phed into a Saudi-Iran con­tes­ta­tion. A Saudi Ara­bia-Is­rael-US seems to be emerg­ing and New Delhi will have to nav­i­gate the choppy re­gional waters as the re­gional tur­moil grows fur­ther.

Un­der­ly­ing re­al­i­ties

In­dia has sig­nif­i­cant stakes in the Arab world and In­dia’s re­cent vote at the UN against Amer­ica’s move on Jerusalem was a re­flec­tion of that un­der­ly­ing re­al­ity. New Delhi’s long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with Iran, in par­tic­u­lar, poses a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge to the bur­geon­ing In­dia-Is­rael ties. To its credit, Is­rael has so far re­fused to make In­dia’s ties with Iran cen­tral to its own In­dia out­reach. For its part, there is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion in In­dia that tak­ing re­flex­ively an­tiIs­rael po­si­tion at the UN or else­where has not re­ally made much of a dif­fer­ence in the way Arab states have man­aged In­dia. In care­fully cal­i­brated diplo­matic ma­noeu­vring, Modi reached out to In­dia’s Arab part­ners like Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE be­fore he vis­ited Is­rael.

As In­dia and Is­rael chart out an am­bi­tious agenda for tak­ing their part­ner­ship for­ward, it would be re­ally help­ful if the two are can­did with each other about the lim­its of this re­la­tion­ship as well. After all, that’s what long last­ing friend­ships are made of!

The writer is Pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional

Re­la­tions, King’s Col­lege Lon­don

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