Modi-Netanyahu and the spirit of collaboration
In a recent speech at the state memorial for David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “In normal times, a leader must be attentive to the hearts of the people... but in the times of crisis, when making critical decisions in the field of security, the public cannot always be a partner in the crucial considerations that must be concealed from the enemy.”
Amid the high escalation by Hamas, pressure from his cabinet colleagues and some sections of the media and public, Netanyahu has again demonstrated his ability to stand firm for the larger security interests of Israel. In vibrant democracies like India and Israel, where the popular sentiments do not necessarily represent the voice of the common people, the wisdom of a leader is the key. In India, during the last four-anda-half years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken some tough and non-conventional moves, which yielded high criticism in the beginning, but ultimately resulted in strengthening country’s strategic postures.
After the signing of Camp David Accords, former prime minister and the founder of Likud Party Menachem Begin said: “In the Jewish teachings, there is a tradition that the greatest achievement of a human being is to turn his enemy into a friend, and this we do in reciprocity.” When it comes to security and diplomatic initiatives, Netanyahu has sustained Begin’s legacy, and it is visible in Israel’s growing diplomatic leverage.
Today, Israel is expanding its relations with African and Gulf states, a crucial breakthrough which no one imagined before. In early July 2016, Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli premier in decades to travel to Africa when he visited four East African nations: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Since then the frequency of talks, exchanges and bilateral visits between Israel and African countries has increased.
In October, Netanyahu visited Oman, an Arab-Muslim state. Shortly after, Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz also traveled to Oman to attend an international transportation conference, where according to some media reports, he discussed plans to link the Mediterranean to the Gulf by rail via Israel.
Interestingly, in the current tide of Israel’s growing exchanges with African and Gulf states, the key talking points are Israeli innovations, technologies and ways to combat mutual challenges. In a way, Netanyahu has started a positive trend of engagements in the region.
In India, Modi, in his very first term has earned the recognition of being a champion of foreign relations. His foreign policy – sometimes called the “Modi Doctrine” – is seen as a fresh approach to diplomacy. The Act East Policy, SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), Neighborhood First Policy and Link West types of policy improvisations, combined with his personal charisma, have strengthened India’s strategic posture in many ways.
Whether it involves countries of Africa, Southeast Asia, or even Pacific Islands, India’s framework of collaboration is based on the priorities and needs of those countries. That is not a common trend in the established culture of foreign relations.
THE ELEMENT of openness to dialogue in Modi and Netanyahu’s foreign policy approach is something the world needs today. Modi often says: “Solutions to all problems lie in dialogue.” Both leaders believe in the strength of ideas and effective dialogue. The clarity in their approach encourages others to end their hesitations of the past and to move one step further; building such an atmosphere of engagements is crucial for the culture of global geopolitics.
The commonalities in both leaders’ foreign policy approaches have brought vibrancy in the India-Israel partnership too. The Modi-Netanyahu era is considered as the most promising phase of the India-Israel partnership which began with Modi’s standalone visit to Israel, a move which has ended the culture of the hyphenated foreign policy of the previous governments. During their subsequent visits, both leaders have demonstrated a high level of respect and friendship in their engagements. These kinds of gestures were missing during former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to India in 2003, which was the first visit of a sitting Israeli PM to India.
Both leaders’ commitment for their own countries transformation has pushed this partnership to maximize the common meeting points with initiatives, i.e., the India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund, the India-Israel CEO forum, the India-Israel Innovation Bridge, a renewed framework of the Indo-Israeli Agriculture Project, MoUs between the space agencies of both sides, and the direct cooperation initiatives between the different state governments of India and Israel. A number of Israeli investors and hi-tech entrepreneurs are now exploring ways to establish innovation hubs in India and further establish a network of like-minded associates in India for tapping global opportunities.
Some believe that political ideology is a key factor of mutual respect between Modi and Netanyahu. But a careful observation of both leaders’ approach can reveal that it’s not ideologies but their shared philosophy that has played a key role in this partnership. While hosting Modi on his first visit to Israel, Netanyahu had said on a lighter note: “When I do a relaxing Tadasana pose, in the morning I’ll turn my head to the right, India is the first democracy that I’ll see. And when Prime Minister Modi does a relaxing pose of Vasisthasana and he turns his head to the left, Israel is the first democracy that you can see.”
India and Israel are not only sustaining the culture of dialogue and democratic values among their non-democratic and hegemonic neighbors, they are also encouraging them to get engaged in a positive way. To deal with shared challenges of our times countries around the world need to join hands with a larger vision. Today, when many societies and nations are becoming more and more self-centered and the spirit to tackle common challenges is fading, Modi and Netanyahu’s collaborative approach can provide a model of global cooperation.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU with Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi.