India-Israel ties are no longer hostage to idealistic concerns
Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel has only underlined what has already been evident how important this small country is for India’s futureeditorials Updated: Jul 07, 2017 15:10 IST
Relations with Israel always pit a government’s interests against its instincts. There is a strong, instinctive sympathy among the public and among many leaders for the cause of Palestinian statehood. But there is an equally strong acceptance that Israel is a country that has become indispensable to India’s security and technological interests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to break both the taboo against State visits to Israel and end the hyphenation of Israel and Palestine makes it official that India’s realpolitik interests outweigh its idealistic concerns. The trajectory of New Delhi-Tel Aviv ties was such that Mr Modi’s decision seemed quite natural to most Indians. New Delhi put in the obligatory comments about supporting the two-nation solution but it is evident that India’s brain is somewhere else.
Modi’s State visit to Israel has only underlined what has already been evident how important this small country is for India’s future. Israel already is crucial in providing the fighting and security edge that India needs to face off its multiple enemies. Russia may provide the same fighters to India and China, but the electronic extras that Israel puts into the Indian aircraft contribute to India’s aerial superiority against its northern neighbour. Israel is probably the closest external ally India has in the area of cybersecurity. And, as the predominance of space in the agreements that Mr Modi signed indicates, space is the next hardware frontier in bilateral relations.
Yet, as Mr Modi indicated a number of times, Israel’s greatest contribution to India’s future may be in the most mundane of areas: Water. India is a severely water stressed country and has made things worse for itself with impractical agricultural and urban usage of this precious commodity. Israel is a superpower when it comes to water recycling, conservation, desalination and even such niche areas as detecting and repairing leaking pipes. How exactly India will be able to harness Israel’s knowhow in this field is still unclear, but the Modi government has done the right thing to have honed in on this specific issue and its related theme of agriculture. Defence, cyber, space, water, agriculture, startups: In these and more areas Israel is a global leader and India needs to do a lot of catch up.
Among the religious Right, whether Hindu or Muslim, there is a tendency to see the India-Israel relationship through the prism of domestic sectarian politics. Israel is not a model for anyone when it comes to communal relations. But given what Israel can and does contribute in the way of solutions to India’s many problems, New Delhi is right to no longer hold the bilateral relationship hostage to idealistic concerns.