NEW Delhi accorded formal recognition to Israel in 1950. In view of Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine and high stakes of India in Middle Eastern countries, India kept the relationship at a low key.
Normalisation came more than four decades after India recognised Israel. The post-9/11 scenario changed things and gave India an opportunity to exploit the situation to gain maximum from the West by taking a U-turn in its foreign policy. With the US granting India the status of a strategic partner, India was encouraged to snuggle closer to the US at the cost of Russia. The US and Israel have always enjoyed exceptional relationship. Hence, India has become a natural ally and strategic partner of both the countries. Its relationship with Iran remains unchanged, but it will be difficult for India to maintain the same tempo because of the open hostility of its new friends towards Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to India in 2003 gave birth to a new era of special relations between the two countries. The United States and Israel are not at all happy with India’s close ties with the Islamic regime in Iran. But if India has continued to pursue its policy of encirclement of Pakistan, it needs to maintain close ties with Iran, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries bordering Pakistan. The US and Israel have signalled many times to India to keep at a distance from Iran. But India continues to maintain close relations with Iran for economic reasons and to undermine Pakistan.
The Indo-Israeli relations are based on a rock solid foundation, posing a direct threat to Iran. Both countries are getting closer to each other with every passing day. The Israeli Vice Premier visited India in December 2004 along with an accompanying delegation of 100 businessmen. During the visit several agreements were concluded to boost cooperation between the two countries. Indian trade with Israel is growing exponentially with a target of US$5 billion in three years. In 2004, Indo-Israeli trade would cross US $2 billion.
On December 2, 2004, Indo-Israel Joint Working Group in New Delhi discussed measures to curb terror financing and denying terrorists the capability to use anti-aircraft missiles. The two sides were of the view that recent resolutions of the UN Security Council, particularly 1373, 1540 and 1566, provided a valuable framework for strengthening cooperation against terrorism at the international level. The two countries have repeatedly stressed on the growing need for counter-terrorism cooperation within the international community, specifically to strengthen political will and capacity building. While there is active cooperation between the two countries in the field, little of it is publicised for security reasons and sensitivity of the issue with relation to Iran.
Another agreement that was concluded during the visit of the Israeli Vice Premier relates to establishment of a bilateral R&D fund and R&D cooperation. Each partner will invest $1 million annually in the fund. The fund will be called the India-Israel R&D Cooperation Initiative (IIRDCI). Israel signed a letter of intent to promote research and development in areas such as advanced materials and nanotechnology to produce products targeting world market. Currently, there are 37 projects in Science and Technology between the two sides and there have also been many scientific visits.
The Israeli delegation to ‘India had representatives from 50 companies. During the four-day visit to Mumbai, Delhi and Banglore, Olmert met with ministers of Industry and Trade from several states, and with the Indian Minister of Agriculture, discussing cooperation between companies from the two countries, both in India and in Third Wrold countries. Olmert discussed the inclusion of Israeli companies in government tenders in India. Discussions were also held towards the signing of a future customs exemption/reduction agreement, in order to substantially boost Israeli civilian exports to India and improve cooperation between customs authorities in the two countries. A financial protocol was also discussed, as well as the inclusion of Israeli companies in the upgrading of agriculture in India. Meetings were also held with the Indian Minister of Communications and Information Technology for implementation of the R&D agreement for information technology, which the two countries signed in 2002. The penetration of communications technology, especially cellular technology, also came under discussion. The Indian Government plans to hook up every village to at least one satellite communications line (in order to avoid the high cost of installing land lines). The Government Communications Company will implement the project, but the potential for including Israeli companies is great. Talking to journalists, Ehud Olmert said he expected no difficulties in dealing with India’s Congress Party. “It was the Congress Government which established friendly relations with us and I find no difference in policy of the previous Government and the present regime,” Mr Olmert said.
During the visit India agreed not to pass Israeli defence technology on to Iran. Israel was assured of this at the highest level. This was in response to Sharon’s demand from India what he called “reciprocity”. In return for the Phalcon radar system and sensitive intelligence reports on terrorism, for instance, Israel asked India to disavow anti-Israel resolutions in the UN and other multilateral bodies. More significant, it also asked India to be mindful of Israel’s security concerns before developing even closer ties with Iran. Israel is seriously concerned about India-Iran ties.
The Hindutva philosophy has taken roots in India. The Hindutva philosophy of “cultural nationalism” looks at the world Muslim community as one nation. Hindutva’s cultural nationalism predates Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory by almost a century. The idea of a Muslim monolith is so deeply ingrained that even if they try to do so, Hindutva ideologues confess that they are unable to distinguish between Muslims of different countries. In time to come they would expect India to go along with Israel and the United States in destroying Iran, the second destination, after Iraq, in President George W Bush’s war against his “axis of evil”. A ‘nuclear Iran suspected of supporting Palestinians and organisations sympathetic to them, faces a great threat of attack on its nuclear installations, which may be sooner rather than later. India would support such an operation clandestinely, while opposing it in the eyes of the world, not to annoy Iran because of economic reasons.
After all, following destruction comes reconstruction in which India would not like to lose. “We hope that India will try to civilize the Iranians, “ the Israeli Vice Premier said during the visit. Israel is keen that India display greater awareness on how a possible possession of WMD by Iran could destabilise West Asia. The two sides freely exchanged views on the developing threat of WMD possibly falling into hands of terrorist organisations.