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July 16, 2017 5:58 pm

Israel and India: Is the Sky the Limit?

avatar by Jose V. Ciprut

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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu bids farewell to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO via Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Israel was an affirmation of readiness for an unprecedented expansion of collaboration between two democracies and two peoples. There is potential for this expansion on many levels: government-to-government, business-to-business, industry-to-industry, sector-to-sector and people-to-people. Israel’s technological expertise in critical domains, and India’s good relations with the Gulf nations, including Iran, should bode well for new synergies that could prove beneficial for the region and for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

India and Israel were reborn around the same time, in comparably nasty neighborhoods. They both faced turmoil inside and outside their boundaries, as they confronted partition on ethno-religious-nationalistic grounds. Yet each is a now a flourishing democracy.

For far too long, a variety of factors kept India from enjoying fruitful relations with Israel. These included India’s dependence on Arab countries in and around the Gulf for oil and liquid gas imports and cheap labor exports; India’s self-assigned “duties” to “the Palestinian cause” in the framework of its historical leadership role vis-à-vis “non-aligned” third-world “countries”; and its long alliance with the USSR, which brought with it a corresponding distance from all things associated with Israel and the US. It has taken 25 years since the fall of the USSR for Indian-Israeli relations to reach fruition.

Indian Prime Minister Modi, very much a pragmatist, relied on Israel’s agro/hydrotechnology when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is now extending to the whole of India Israel’s contributions to Gujarat’s development — and going well beyond agro/hydro-industrial projects.

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India and Israel can and should cooperate on government-to-government, business-to-business and people-to-people levels. The first level of cooperation could encompass defense, deterrence and anti-terror activity; the second, a wide array of commercial and industrial sectors that should include direct foreign investment, technology transfers, joint ventures and large development projects for India’s home and export markets. The third can include tourism, student exchanges, nonprofit ventures, etc.

As China’s longtime competitor for leadership of the non-aligned world, India would be wise to partner with Israel in helping the many late-developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America speed up their progress in fields ranging from agriculture, health, education, housing and communication to national defense, peace, and prosperity through gainful occupation. If this happens, UN voting patterns by members of the G-77 bloc could become less monolithic against Israel, as members come to know their benefactors.

One remarkable development, among others, has been the realization by overseas Indian communities in places like the US, Canada and Australia that the Jewish minorities in those societies seem to have greater political clout than their numbers warrant. For too long, the three million Hindus living in the US, adding up to 1% of the total US population, had been deprived of a seat in the US House or the Senate, whereas the six million American Jews — a mere 2% of the population — had not only several representatives on Capitol Hill, but many friends in high places as well.

Hindu communities in the US are now attempting to emulate US Jewry by developing intra-leadership networks across liberal professions in their communities, as well as by organizing lobbying campaigns. They have begun to build coalitions with local US Jewish communities over common causes such as fighting discrimination, racism, and terror; lobbying Congress on matters relevant to India; and India-Israel relations. These efforts are producing increasingly positive results.

One such victory was the attainment of representation in Congress for the US Hindu community. Another was the reversal of the Clinton-era prohibition on Israel’s transfer of Falcon/AWACS technology to India. The joint efforts of the two increasingly brotherly groups are expanding.

India’s new pragmatism in foreign policy is such that its excellent strategic ties with Iran and Afghanistan need not create an insurmountable obstacle to its expansion of ties with Israel, which has become one of its three major arms suppliers. After all, Israel is a longtime friend and ally of the US, with which India has begun entertaining overt links of alliance.

Modi’s decision not to go to Ramallah during his first visit to Israel should not feed speculation about some putative change in Delhi’s equations at the expense of Palestinian interests. Modi’s decision was just another manifestation of India’s pragmatic approach to parallel relations with the two parties in conflict. Should the opportunity to intercede arise, India could even serve as a catalyst for boosting the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Jose V. Ciprut is a social systems scientist and international political economist with professional and academic focus on peace and war econometrics, interregional geopolitics, and regional/local conflict. He has served as international industrial marketing development engineer in several continents and developing countries.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

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