Modi’s trip to Israel: symbolism or real gains

Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel – the first by an Indian prime minister – is being hyped as a key shift in the global power axis. What is the strategic significance of the relationship in the current global scenario?

According to Michael Kugelman, deputy director, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, India’s deepening ties to Israel, coupled with its warm relations with Middle East heavyweights strengthen its ‘rising-power’ bonafides.

And Indian politician Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of Majlis Ittehadul Muslimin and a Member of Parliament says: Modi’s visit to Israel coincides with two important milestones. It marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel. It also marks 50 years of the occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights by Israel.

Further, Modi’s visit to Israel will attract more attention than normally the case, not just in India and Israel, but also in West Asia and the Arab world — even Pakistan and the neighborhood.

Modi gave an interview Monday to the newspaper Israel Hayom in which he talked about how Indian-Israeli relations could improve. A facet of the relationship gaining attention is the attitude both hold vis-a-viz protests in Palestine, Gaza and Kashmir. In response to a question about whether both countries are “facing the same threat of terrorism,” Modi replied: “India and Israel could cooperate even more closely and complement each other’s efforts to fight with the menace of terrorism.”

In a joint Times of India article authored with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and published Tuesday, Modi reiterated this statement, adding: “We both recognize the threat terrorism poses to our countries and to global peace and stability. India and Israel are committed to working together to fight this scourge.”

India and Israel cooperate on intel, security, etc. Exchanges between Mossad and R&AW predate 1992 and have intensified since — they cooperate covertly though on matters affecting India in the region. That includes Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen David Ivry and Mr Brajesh Mishra had established the NSA level dialogue in 1999, barely a year after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

It is therefore hardly surprising that Israel has emerged as one of India’s preferred partners for defense cooperation, emerging as the third largest supplier after Russia and the USA. In April, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries announced it had won a deal worth close to $2 billion to supply India’s army and navy with missile defense systems.

The defense deals also include purchasing counter-terrorism technology, something that reflects Israel and India’s shared security concerns, despite their geographical distance.

Relations have developed in other sectors too– agriculture, efficient water utilization and desalination, space, innovation, IT and intelligence, security, etc.

Notwithstanding Modi’s earlier visits to the Arab world and Iran, the announcement of a ‘strategic partnership’ with Israel will generate concerns in the AfPAk region — even China, according to some observers.

Kugelman adds:

There’s no denying that Narendra Modi’s visit is saturated with symbolism. It marks 25 years of formal India-Israel diplomatic ties and the first visit to Israel by an Indian premier.

Still, there’s more to this trip than symbolism. Modi’s foreign visits tend to produce panache and photo-ops but also major deals that advance Indian interests. Witness, for example, how he has inked billions in infrastructure investments from the UAE and an oil exploration accord with Vietnam. Modi’s Israel trip should be no exception.

A flourishing defense relationship could produce new arms deals. Planned meetings with leaders of Israel’s impressive start-up industry could bring Israeli high-tech firms deep into the ‘Make in India’ tent. Existing cooperation on water and agriculture could spark new initiatives to enhance water management in India—no small matter for an increasingly water-insecure nation that consumes more groundwater than any other country in the world.

The India-Israel relationship is freighted with strategic significance. For Israel, India is a loyal friend at a time when Israel has alienated some European partners because of its hard line domestic positions. For India, growing friendship with Israel represents another nail in the coffin of its once-unassailable non-alignment policy. Additionally, India’s deepening ties to Israel, coupled with its warm relations with Middle East heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia, highlight New Delhi’s increasing global profile and strengthen its rising-power bonafides.

Similarities abound between Modi and Benjamin Netanhayu include conservative politics and tough-on-terror positions; similarities between the two countries are their highly imperfect democracies in unfriendly neighborhoods.

Convergences in personalities and geopolitical circumstances suggest a growing friendship could well flower into full-fledged strategic partnership, adds Kugelman.

PS: We can reasonably expect a robust US-Israel-India relationship to grow in the region and in the larger landscape — not necessarily to balance or checkmate Pakistan and China relationship but against ‘terrorism, extremism’. In a June visit to the U.S., the Indian prime minister announced greater intelligence sharing with US. It is likely that after his three-day Israel trip, there will be a similar announcement, the Newsweek reports.


The original article appeared here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *