TALK POINT: Is PM Narendra Modi’s trip to Israel more about symbolism and less about real gains?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the joint press meet on July 4. Source: PIB

Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel – the first by an Indian prime minister – is being hyped as a key shift in the global power axis.  What is the strategic significance of the relationship in the current global scenario? We ask experts.

India’s deepening ties to Israel, coupled with its warm relations with Middle East heavyweights strengthen its ‘rising-power’ bonafides – Michael Kugelman, deputy director, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

There’s no denying that Narendra Modi’s visit is saturated with symbolism. It marks 25 years of formal India-Israel diplomatic ties and the first visit to Israel by an Indian premier.

Still, there’s more to this trip than symbolism. Modi’s foreign visits tend to produce panache and photo-ops but also major deals that advance Indian interests. Witness, for example, how he has inked billions in infrastructure investments from the UAE and an oil exploration accord with Vietnam. Modi’s Israel trip should be no exception.

A flourishing defence relationship could produce new arms deals. Planned meetings with leaders of Israel’s impressive start-up industry could bring Israeli high-tech firms deep into the Make in India tent. Existing cooperation on water and agriculture could spark new initiatives to enhance water management in India—no small matter for an increasingly water-insecure nation that consumes more groundwater than any other country in the world.

The India-Israel relationship is freighted with strategic significance. For Israel, India is a loyal friend at a time when Israel has alienated some European partners because of its hard line domestic positions. For India, growing friendship with Israel represents another nail in the coffin of its once-unassailable non-alignment policy. Additionally, India’s deepening ties to Israel, coupled with its warm relations with Middle East heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia, highlight New Delhi’s increasing global profile and strengthen its rising-power bonafides.

Similarities abound between Modi and Benjamin Netanhayu include conservative politics and tough-on-terror positions; similarities between the two countries are their highly imperfect democracies in unfriendly neighbourhoods. Convergences in personalities and geopolitical circumstances suggest a growing friendship could well flower into full-fledged strategic partnership.

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Modi visits Israel on the 50th anniversary of its occupation of West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights — Asaduddin Owaisi, Leader, Majlis Ittehadul Muslimin, MP.

Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel coincides with two important milestones. It marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel. It also marks 50 years of the occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights by Israel.

Until now, Indian authorities visited both Israel and Palestine to bolster their ties with Israel as well as to reaffirm their support to the Palestinian cause. But Modi will be the first Indian dignitary who will visit Israel but will shun the Palestinian Authority. This would apparently help Israeli propaganda effort around this visit to whitewash its highhandedness in Palestine and the occupied territories and refusal to withdraw from these occupied territories despite hundreds of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. In a departure from its earlier stand, India has stopped condemning Israeli actions.  When the United Nations Human Rights Council report affirming that Israel had committed war crimes in the occupied territories was tabled, India abstained from voting, one of the five countries of the world to do so.

We must continue to support the Palestinian struggle against foreign occupation and denounce Israeli aggression. Other countries do so and still enjoy bilateral ties with Israel. Bilateral ties have expanded defence, internal security, agriculture, science and technology, space and foreign trade. India is now the No. 1 importer of Israeli military equipment. Modi has given contracts to the largest Israeli armaments company which was earlier blacklisted by UPA for indulging in kickbacks.

But the much-touted border control electronic sensors are ineffective and infiltration from Pakistan continues. Israeli drones too have failed in India.

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A strategic partnership with Israel will attract attention in the Arab world, and concerns in Tehran — Rakesh Sood, former deputy chief of Indian mission in Washington D.C.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel will attract more attention than normally the case, not just in India and Israel, but also in West Asia and the Arab world.

High-level visits at a political level have become more routine though India has been slower in reciprocating. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was the first to visit India in 1993 and Jaswant Singh reciprocated in 2000 though since then, the exchanges have been regular. President Weizman visited in 1997, but President Pranab Mukherjee’s return visit was in 2015. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli PM to visit India in 2003, and it was clear from the time that Modi took over in 2014 that a return visit would take place soon.

At the official level though, exchanges have been robust and extensive. Foreign Secretary JN Dixit was in Israel for establishing a regular dialogue process within months of the 1992 decision by PM Narsimha Rao to establish full diplomatic relations between the two countries. Exchanges between Mossad and R&AW predate 1992 and have intensified since. Gen David Ivry and Mr Brajesh Mishra had established the NSA level dialogue in 1999, barely a year after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

It is hardly surprising that Israel has emerged as one of India’s preferred partners for defence cooperation, emerging as the third largest supplier after Russia and the USA. Relations have developed in other sectors too– agriculture, efficient water utilisation and desalination, space, innovation and IT etc.

Notwithstanding Modi’s earlier visits to the Arab world and Iran, the announcement of a ‘strategic partnership’ with Israel will generate concerns, particularly in Tehran.

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There are structural limitations to India-Israel defence relations — Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Senior Fellow, Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies.

The India-Israel relationship needs a reality check. What we must understand is that there are structural limitations that prevent our bilateral defence relations from going any further.

Israel does not manufacture full weapons systems – rather it makes subsystems and weapons that must be integrated onto US, French, Swedish or other platforms, which usually have equally competent systems pre-installed on them. Disturbing this pre-integration can have disastrous consequences and assures sub-optimal results, much like trying to impose an Android OS on a jailbroken iPhone.

The sharing of source codes and parts of the design can help overcome these integration problems, but it is complicated by the fact that most of India’s equipment is Russian. Since Russia is the prime supplier of equipment to many of Israel’s adversaries, they absolutely do not share the codes for deep integration into Russian platforms. This is a bitter lesson India learnt over the failed integration of Israeli jamming pods on the Su-30MKI and reinforced by the continuing inability of India’s Phalcon AWACS system to share data with the Sukhois.

Technology sharing too has its limits given India’s over-hyped but under-performing engineers – which is why India failed to deliver its developmental share of the Barak-LR anti-aircraft missiles; and despite a previous technology transfer of gallium arsenide radars, India still has to buy radars from abroad.

All this is driven by a schizophrenic foreign policy masquerading as strategic ambiguity that does not allow India to settle on any one military philosophy. The severe overestimation of our scientific capabilities will not let us evolve a military technology philosophy of our own either. Ultimately if India-Israel are to grow beyond the hype, they have to be based on realism and introspection & no amount of diaspora dance performances can fix that.

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The bonhomie is based on xenophobic nationalism already present in Israel, and knocking now on India’s door — Mohammad Sohrab, professor, Academy of International Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia

Indian premier visit to Israel from Tuesday carries great symbolism as well as great material and diplomatic expectations. This visit is definitely going to put an end of any kind of ethical and moral bashfulness. The secret love affair which started much earlier is going to become public.

It is another example in the ongoing process of setting aside of considerations like colonialism, imperialism, apartheid in our foreign policy choices. The relationship is based on strategic interests and political-ideological resemblance.

India’s so called de-hyphenated approach is favouring Israel and is disadvantageous for all the forces, including the Palestinian people, which are pitted against any kind of injustice and immoral political acts. India is providing a big market for Israeli goods and services and a great source of revenues for its arms industry.

India is compromising on its soft power values and civilizational assets; whereas the Israeli gain is colossal in terms of diplomatic supports for accomplishing the project of Zionism in the form of greater Israel. In the long term, this will disfavour India. Because of fundamental ideological changes taking place in India based on Islam and Muslim-bashing, the voice of rationality and sanity is not being raised against India’s relationship with a state whose defining characteristics are settler colonialism, apartheid, concocted myths-driven irredentism.

The so-called strategic weapons and other things India is getting can be procured from any source; but the assets which India is surrendering amounts to an irreparable loss with huge implications for politics inside India and its future foreign relations.

The bonhomie in the so-called strategic relationship is based on xenophobic nationalism already present in Israel, which is unfortunately knocking on India’s door too.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A no brainer. First Iran is a vendor and no great friend. Forgotten the deals it backed out of? And most recently the rant about Kashmir? Israel is fully supported by Saudis and the Sunni group. But most importantly Israel has more to offer India than any country in the world. So let the PM go full steam ahead and court Israel as only he can. This is going to be one great trip.

  2. This Visit by Modi is more a matter of satisfying his Islamophobia than any tangible gain.As observed by writer Israel supplies sub systems to be integrated at home One should not loose sight of fact that Israel could steal drawings of Mirage V but could copy jet Engine of Mirage Israel made Kfir jet that was copy of Mirage could not match the performance of Mirage

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