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India will need to do a smart balancing act as it gets closer to Israel

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As it gets closer, Israel will need to understand India’s predicament on Iran and Palestine.

It was a foregone conclusion with ascension of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister that strategic issues, including defence preparedness and concerns on cross-border terrorism, will occupy centre stage in India’s foreign policy. Improvement of ties with Israel, which also suffer from terrorism as India does, has been part of the BJP’s agenda, irrespective of it being in power or out of it. It was, therefore, no surprise that Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in July last year, after India setup diplomatic relations with the country in 1992.

India’s risk-averse Ministry of External Affairs took years to realise that the country’s security concerns are equally, if not more, important as principles on which support to Palestine cause was based. Indian diplomats have now realised that developing friendship with Israel may not offend India’s Arab partners, because many of them have also transformed their relationship with Israel. 

Israel is known to have put in place various measures to effectively control and monitor movement of people across its borders. This is key because securing its borders remains key to India’s effort to fight cross-border terrorism. Monitoring PLA activities along the unsettled border with China has also acquired importance in India’s strategy in dealing with a powerful neighbour.

India would also like to develop covert capabilities of striking deep inside enemy territory to target forces inimical to its interests. The capability will also help India neutralise attacks within the country in a far more professional way. This will require acquiring tactical weapons, protective gear, surveillance equipment, and necessary skills and training. Israel has no issue in fulfilling these needs. 

L.K. Advani was the first Indian home minister to visit Israel in June 2000 to study its security architecture, paving way for security cooperation. Rajnath Singh made Israel his first destination outside India after becoming home minister.  There have been several visits at official level, primarily from security agencies to identify areas of cooperation. A Joint Working Group has also been set up for intelligence cooperation.

Israel has been a dependable supplier of India’s needs of latest technology in defence, border management and acquiring tactical capabilities. Israeli equipment like UAVs, thermal imagers, night vision devices and unattended ground sensors have been force multipliers in anti-infiltration grid in J&K. Technology provided by Israel can be easily used by jawans on the ground. The results are obvious in the successful interdictions by the army of terrorists trying to sneak in.

This level of security cooperation between India and Israel causes serious concern and apprehension in the Pakistan establishment. Pakistan-based terror groups widely believe it to be a ‘Zionist-Hindu’ conspiracy against Muslim Pakistan. This has led them to target Jewish interests during Mumbai attacks. The defence analysts of Pakistan caution that India could use the capability of Israel in hitting precision targets in far away places, in order to take out Pakistan’s strategic assets in any conflict situation. Nuclear blackmail is the bedrock of Pakistan’s proxy-war with India.

But in its keenness to expand the scope and dimension of its counter-terrorism cooperation with Israel, India has to be mindful of the fact that the source and nature of terrorism are different for both the countries. Israel accuses Iran of supporting terror groups that targeted it. On the other hand, Iran is of considerable strategic importance to India—providing an alternative access to Afghanistan.

Therefore, the cooperation between the two countries would require a lot of smart balancing act by the government. India successfully carried out the same when it voted against the US on the issue of Jerusalem, which was amply reciprocated by Palestine by recalling its ambassador from Pakistan for sharing the stage with Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Israel will certainly understand India’s predicament. 

Avinash Mohananey is a former intelligence officer who has served in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

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