Why no one protests against Modi’s Israel visit
Here’s why it’s a good time for the Indo-Israeli relationship to come out of the closet.
No other country has been given the sort of access to the Indian national security apparatus as Israel. Whether it is the country’s advanced weapon systems, counterterrorism, cybersecurity and even the nuclear arsenal – Israeli agencies and firms are there. At some point, what was common knowledge to everyone, including the Arab world, would have to receive an official stamp of approval.
But that is happening this week, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Israel, partly because of an unusually conducive external environment.
One is that enmity to Israel is now overshadowed by the other battles tearing apart the Arab world. Just count them. There are the civil wars in Syria and Iraq that are being fought on roughly Shia-Sunni lines. There’s the larger struggle for Persian Gulf mastery between Tehran and Riyadh. Let’s not forget the divide between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab monarchies and military rulers. And then there are the on and off interventions of Turkey, the United States and most recently Russia.
Some of the Arab governments concerned are not above trying to get Israel on their side. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been hoping Israel will use its famed air force to take out Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. Even the Islamic State has avoided attacking Israel as its prime enemies are the Syrian and Iraqi regimes. Israeli officials say when Islamic State shells hit their soil, they often receive an apology from the local IS fighters. As a former Israeli national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror, wrote, “The radical Sunni groups on the northern and southern borders pose no immediate threat, and while they may deliver unpleasant surprises, they have more immediate enemies to fight.”
Two, New Delhi is in a position to manage its relations with the countries still hostile to Israel. Turkey, for example, switched from being a close friend of Israel to being an enemy and, most recently, to one of tense neutrality. Despite Modi’s predilection for Israel, Turkish President Recep Erdogan made it a point to visit India this year because of Turkish desire to enter the Indian market. Iran, like Turkey, has taken up anti-Israeli stances largely to win support among Arabs or shore up its “Islamicist” credentials.
Again India is unconcerned. As the Iranian ambassador to India said recently at a gathering, “Iran will not dictate to India who it should be friends with and India should not allow its friends to dictate its relations with Iran.” In other words, India’s relations with Israel and Iran will run on independent tracks – and Tehran accepts that.
Three, the Palestinian nationalist cause is an international orphan. The dominant strand, led by the Muslim Brotherhood inspired Hamas, is too Islamicist for New Delhi to stomach. The Brotherhood’s rhetorical support for Kashmiri insurgents has not won it points. The secular nationalists, which rule the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, are in an uneasy embrace with Israel – driven by a common opposition to Hamas.
India won’t be budging on its support for a two-state solution. But Modi’s visit officially breaks any link between India’s relations with Israel and its relations with Palestine. Given how many West Asian governments have frozen out the Palestinians or even turned hostile, India actually comes out looking well.
Four, India has more diplomatic leeway because a number of Arab states seen it as a major geopolitical player. With Washington in Never-Never Land, Beijing too far away and Russia having tainted itself by allying with Iran, many Arab countries are looking for other external players to help stabilise their region.
The United Arab Emirates is among those who has anointed India as the geopolitical. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also wooing New Delhi. Arab leaders from afar as Morocco and Oman to have come to India in the past few years attracted by India’s market and Modi’s political strength. None have cared what the prime minister thinks about Israel.
Modi believes India has become important enough to no longer hide what it actually believes. As a senior Indian diplomat said, “The prime minister believes India can afford to bat with its front foot forward.”
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