Dawn of a new era in Indo-Israel ties
Relations with Israel have entered a new phase with de-hyphenating the Palestine issue.
Narendra Modi's recent visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992, not only heralded a new chapter in bilateral ties but also gave a new direction to India's foreign policy towards West Asia.
The three-day visit by Modi from July 4 has brought the hitherto tacit cooperation that included defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism, agriculture, water technology, and space to the forefront.
By undertaking this visit, Modi has sent a signal that India can no longer keep its West Asia foreign policy hostage to its relations with the Arab world and the Palestinian cause by ignoring Israel.
Earlier, most political visits from India to Israel also included Palestine. However, the Prime Minister skipped Palestine. This indicated that he wanted to make India's ties with Israel more open and transparent, unlike his predecessors who avoided such relationship fearing perhaps, adverse reaction from Muslims in India and the Arab world. This standalone visit signifies the importance India attaches to its relations with Israel.
The visit shows that Palestine is no longer a major factor in India's relations with the Arab world and that India stands on its own in global politics. India-Israel relations have entered a new phase with the de-hyphenating of the Palestine issue.
Reflecting India's commitment to the Palestinian cause, days after the Prime Minister's visit, the Union Cabinet chaired by him approved the signing of two agreements between India and Palestine on cooperation in the fields of health and medicine, information technology, and electronics. The two agreements were signed during Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's state visit to India in May.
The cabinet note on the two agreements stated that "India has strong political support to the Palestinian cause at international and bilateral levels. India has been contributing material and technical assistance to the Palestinian people."
Contrary to the fear that India might be abandoning the Palestinian cause, the joint statement issued after Modi's visit called for a just and durable peace in the region.
Although it did not talk about the two-state resolution of the Palestinian issue, the Prime Minister, during the visit of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, had made it clear that India was to keen to see the "realisation of a sovereign, independent, united Palestine, co-existing peacefully with Israel." Also, in interviews to Israeli Press on the eve of his visit he talked unequivocally about India's support for a two-state solution.
In the run up to his visit to the Jewish state, the Prime Minister visited separately United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ostensibly sending the message that India valued its relations with the Arab world and at the same it cannot ignore strengthening its ties with Israel. He also went to Iran, a country that is dead against the existence of the Jewish state.
There have not been any open reaction from the Arab world on the Prime Minister's visit but observers feel that it might not have gone down well with many Arab countries.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei was obviously unhappy with Modi's visit. A few days before the visit, he, for the first time in seven years, talked about Kashmir in his Friday sermon. He equated the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with that of Yemen and Bahrain.
No doubt that the visit was a bold move by the Prime Minister and the biggest achievement of this was the de-hyphenation of India's relations with Israel vis-à-vis the Arab world, particularly Palestine.
With Prime Minister enjoying good relationship with key players in the Arab World, particularly Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE, India can play a positive role in developing good ties between Israel and the Arabs.
For Israel, the Prime Minister's visit has led to its wider acceptance among the international community. India being home to the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia, the visit may in the long run enable the Jewish nation to garner acceptance among Muslim states. Currently, it has ties with Egypt and Jordan.
India has been maintaining a very positive image in the Arab world but when it comes to its ties with Pakistan the Arabs tend to side with Pakistan.
Most Arab countries particularly the Gulf States supported Pakistan during the 1965 war with India. In 1969, there was little support for India when, on Pakistani protests, it was requested to leave a meeting in Rabat (Morocco) which created the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
During the 1971 Bangladesh war too, the Arab world, except Oman, Syria and Iraq, did not support India. Algeria remained neutral. Israel, on the other hand did extend support to India. Israel also assisted India during the Kargil war with Pakistan.
When India established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 during the premiership of P V Narasimaha Rao the reaction from the Arab world was uniformly negative. Prior to establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, India took the Palestinian leadership into confidence.
In fact much was achieved in the defence, intelligence and security ties between India and Israel even when there was no diplomatic relations.
The two countries elevated their ties to a strategic partnership while agreeing to combat growing radicalisation and terrorism and expand cooperation in cyber security.
Defence ties are set to receive a further boost since India in April signed three missile deals with Israel worth USD 2.6 billion and is expected to receive armed drones.
Apart from defence, agreements on space, agriculture, water resources are also on the anvil. Cooperation in agriculture is particularly relevant as Israel is a country that turned the desert green with its agriculture technology.
Highlighting the significance of the visit, the joint statement said the historic visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Israel raised the bilateral relationship to a new level in order to solidify the enduring friendship between peoples of the two countries.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, both the countries have benefitted immensely. There has been cooperation between the two countries in many areas like defence, intelligence, agriculture, water technology and space. India-Israel trade has also seen significant increase. The key to the growing ties is in the realm of security and defence. India has purchased radar and surveillance systems as well as electronic components for military aircraft from Israel. Israel has also helped India defend itself through training in counterterrorism.
(M Shakeel Ahmed is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views are strictly personal.)