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Bibi doctrine and why India visit is important for Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip is important to him. With scandals swirling around him and his family at home, with domestic rivals making his political life extremely difficult, this trip will cast him in his favourite light: world statesmen

opinion Updated: Jan 15, 2018 20:16 IST
Netanyahu,ISrael India ties,Madrid Conference
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Air Force Palam airport, Delhi, January 14, 2018(Arvind Yadav/HT)

In power since 2009 — his second time as premier — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has developed his own doctrine governing Israel’s foreign relations: call it the Bibi Doctrine. And it is a doctrine in which India plays an important role.

Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, a number of different doctrines have governed Israel’s foreign relations.

The first, and most famous, was named after Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. This doctrine held that given the country’s hostile neighbourhood, and no chance of alliances with any of its immediate neighbours, Israel would have to build alliances with non-Arab countries on its periphery: Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia. This doctrine governed the country’s foreign policy for nearly the first three decades of its existence.

In the 1990s, following the Madrid Conference, the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan, and the heyday of the Oslo process, another doctrine held sway: that Israel’s relations with the world would significantly improve as peace would blossom with the Palestinians.

It was during this period, following the fall of the Iron Curtain, that there was a burst of diplomatic ties with countries with whom formal relations had either never been established or were frozen after the Six Day or Yom Kippur wars. The peace process served as the pretext for the opening of ties, including formal ties with India in 1992.

But now, with Iran implacably hostile, Turkey downright unfriendly, and with no peace process with the Palestinians to pave the way to better relations with other countries on the horizon, the Bibi doctrine is built upon a different basis altogether: what Israel has to offer the world.

“We’re in the midst of a great revolution, a revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations,” Netanyahu said at the UN General Assembly last September. “This is happening because so many countries around the world have finally woken up to what Israel can do for them.”

India is a case in point. The relationship between the two countries has soared not because of a sudden change of heart in New Delhi regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but rather because of a realisation that Israel has a great deal to offer. The Jewish state today has much more to export than just Jaffa oranges.

Netanyahu’s doctrine is simple. The world wants Israeli technology across a wide range of fields, and needs its expertise in fighting terrorism. But Israel’s tremendous intelligence capabilities cost an extraordinary amount of money, and Israel’s technological developments – be them in the sphere of cyber security or new weapons systems, water or agriculture technology – also are expensive.

To be able to afford all this, the country needs a strong economy. And for a strong economy, Israel needs to expand its markets.

Netanyahu’s current visit it part of an ongoing effort to open markets around the world.

Extensive Israeli diplomatic outreach in Asia and Latin America have been accompanied by similar efforts in Africa, but there the focus is less on opening markets, and more on changing voting patterns.

Africa, like India, is hungry for Israeli technology and security expertise, but what it stands to give Israel in return is less a market, and more a change of voting patterns at the UN. There are 54 African states in the UN, and if even half of them start abstaining on Israel-related resolutions, Israel’s diplomatic situation would improve considerably.

In this doctrine, India is important both because it is a massive potential market, and also because of the prospect of it changing its voting pattern, something that could influence others from the ‘non-aligned’ bloc to do the same.

Netanyahu’s trip, however, is important to him for another reason as well. With scandals swirling around him and his family at home, with domestic rivals making his political life extremely difficult, this trip — and the images of it that will be broadcast back home — will cast him in his favourite light: world statesmen.

Netanyahu wants the media at home to focus on what he is best at — meeting world leaders, delivering speeches, articulately defending Israel in interviews. This is what he wants the Israeli public to see and to remember — especially since there is widespread speculation in Israel that new elections, which must be held by November 2019, may be held sometime within the year. And if indeed they are held during this time frame, this current trip to India, accompanied throughout by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will provide valuable campaign footage.

Herb Keinon is diplomatic correspondent, The Jerusalem Post

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 15, 2018 17:14 IST