Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s environment minister, during his visit to India in February this year, said that “The main purpose of my visit is to enhance the relations between India and Israel as well as to commemorate the 10th anniversary of our diplomatic relations”. The 44-year-old former justice minister elaborated further: “We share with India the same sensitivity on the problems of fighting terrorism. You have the same problem in Kashmir as we do [in Palestine]. Now India and Israel are on the same boat. You too want a partner who is sincere. We share the same values of democracy and I don’t know any other country with whom we share a closer destiny.”
It took 44 years for India to build up a “significant” relationship with Israel. In the pre-1948 period India opposed the creation of a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine. India did not subscribe to the partition plan for Palestine, and it voted against the admission of Israel to the UN in May 1949. However, India recognised Israel in 1950, but was always keen to maintain good relations with the Arab world, and so waited until 1992 to establish full diplomatic relations. India, with the world’s second-largest Muslim population, fears political instability, both internal and external. With Iran and the oil-rich Arab countries being its main suppliers of oil, India would also not want to risk alienating its primary sources of energy. India still votes against Israel in international forums. In all but one of the 19 anti-Israel resolutions in the UN during the past year, India voted against Israel. The exception was a vote on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, from which India abstained.
Official diplomatic communication between the two nuclear powers began in 1992, and dealings between the two countries have increased since then, particularly in the past two years. In March 2000 Jaswant Singh became the first Indian foreign minister to visit Israel. After this visit India and Israel set up a joint anti-terror commission. Economic ties between India and Israel have also strengthened considerably in recent years. When full diplomatic relations were established 10 years ago, the volume of mutual annual trade between them did not exceed $200 million. Today it stands at $1 billion, not including military transactions.
On June 13 president Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan expressed concern about Israeli-Indian cooperation, especially in military technology. He explained that “the recent Indian pilot-less plane which was downed over Pakistan is an Israeli-made plane and that the cooperation between India and Israel does not only relate to Pakistan, but the Middle East region as a whole.” Musharraf’s statement came two weeks after an Israeli delegation, including military and security experts, met in New Delhi with Indian experts to foster cooperation in the field of “fighting all forms of terrorism”.
It was the BJP-led government that initiated a policy of improved relations with Israel in 2000. Following the visit of foreign minister Jaswant Singh a procession of Indian delegations flowed to Tel Aviv. In June 2000 L. K. Advani, the Indian home minister, with the heads of all of India’s top security and intelligence agencies, visited Israel. The Indian delegation included the heads of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Border Security Force (BSF) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). They met such heavyweights of Israeli government as president Ezer Weizman, then prime minister Ehud Barak, former prime minister Shimon Peres, interior minister Natan Sharansky, and top security officials.
During the trip Advani said that India wanted to benefit from Israel’s experience in “various mechanisms of countering terrorism and managing tough borders”. Advani was also keen to gather advice, training and other assistance from Israel to combat the operations of the mujahideen in occupied Kashmir. A deal was signed by the Indian army with an Israeli company, SECO Technology of Tel Aviv, to install hi-tech security fencing, around some of its military bases in occupied Kashmir. Concerned about the security of its bases, which had been ‘infiltrated’ with embarrassing ease by the mujahideen, the Indian delegation discussed the purchase of advanced Israeli weaponry ranging from Uzi automatic pistols to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The delegation also discussed building an intelligence infrastructure and the possibility of Indian troops and security agents attending Israeli training courses.
Ozi Dayan, Israeli National Security advisor, visited India in 2001 and set up an Israeli-Indian joint working committee to exchange intelligence information and to train Indian security cadres. Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, visited India in January of this year and exchanged views with George Fernandez, the Indian defence minister, about security, terrorism and defence cooperation. Even before Peres left India, the Indian authorities arrested Arab students and raided their homes in various parts of the country on charges of being sympathisers and supporters of Hamas in Palestine. “Both Israel and India have a common nemesis in Islamic terrorism,” said Peres. Israel also assured India that it would help to develop highly sophisticated weapons and share its expertise in night warfare and air surveillance. By doing so Israel ensured that it became India’s second-largest defence partner, after Russia.
Peres also discussed a lucrative deal involving Phalcon early-warning aircraft, which was stalled by American sanctions. The sanctions were lifted a few months before Peres’ visit to India, although the US prevented Israel from selling the Phalcon system to China. Uncle Sam also assured both parties that it would not block the Israeli-made Phalcons’ going to India. According to Israeli and Indian reports, a contract worth $2 billion was signed between the Israeli aircraft industry and the Indian defence ministry. The report said that Israel would sell India ground-to-ground Barak missiles for $280 million, UAVs for $300 million and a radar system for $250 million. Israeli experts would also modernise other parts of the Indian army. The two countries also agreed to develop an integrated anti-ballistic missile system.
Shlomo Dror, Israeli ministry of defence spokesman, revealed during a recent interview that in the next 10 years Israeli tanks, which are supposed to be the best in the world, will be offered to India. “At the moment, the entire production is being absorbed by the Israeli defence forces,” Dror explained. Dror also said that India is eager to acquire more UAVs. Reports suggest that Israel supplied UAVs to India during the Kargil war. Dror also elaborated that in the next two years, the main areas of Indo-Israeli defence cooperation would be the UAVs, Python 4 and Derby (rated as the best air-to-air missiles in the world), anti-tank ballistic missile systems and Greenpine radar system. Upgrading tanks, aircraft and helicopters was also on the agenda.
There are interesting parallels between the situations in India and Israel. Israel, thrives on a racist ideology called Zionism; India continues to be ruled by a Brahminist ideology, suppressing more than 300 million bonded labourers (Dalits and ‘untouchables’), and humiliating more than 400 million Muslims, Christians and other non-Brahmins. The Indian regime is challenged by separatist movements in its northeastern states and the Punjab, as well as by the Muslims in Kashmir. Both countries’ policies were debated during the anti-racism conference in Durban last year, although India escaped censure.
India and Israel also share the common crime of brutally occupying Kashmir and Palestine respectively in 1948. India fought a crucial war with Pakistan in 1971, four years after Israel fought one with the Arab world. The victory of both countries resulted in two pacts. The Simla pact was signed by India and Pakistan without the involvement of the people of Kashmir; a similar pact was signed by Israel and Egypt (Camp David). Both India and Israel have also waged similar demographic wars on their occupied territories. Both Kashmir and Palestine were known as “paradise on earth” before the entry of their occupiers. The intifada of Palestine in 1987 was followed by a similar uprising in Kashmir in 1989. The humiliating defeat of Israel by Hizbullah in Lebanon was nearly matched by the mujahideen in Kashmir during the Kargil war.
The continuing Indo-Israeli military alliance will no doubt enhance India’s military sophistication and its brutal operations in Kashmir. However, it may prove impossible to prevent the growing alliance between the shuhada in Palestine and in Kashmir from developing. The power and eloquence of shahadah must neutralise the military might of kufr eventually.