ISRAELI prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Bibi, as Modi fondly calls him, is scheduled to visit our country from January 14-18, 2018. This visit, coming in the background of deepening Indo-Israel ties, notwithstanding the occasional hiccups like the recent vote on Jerusalem, is intended to further cement the blossoming relationship.
Our country never had historic relations with Israel, though both the countries were ‘born’ only a year apart. Historically, since our struggle for independence, we always stood with the cause of Palestine and opposed the repressive and expansionist policies of Israel. On the other hand, Israel always sided with the colonial and imperialist powers like the UK and US. Our support to the Palestinian cause was steadfast and was strongly expressed on all international forums, where India was a co-sponsor to various UN resolutions condemning Israel. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), of which India was considered not only as an initiator, but also as a ‘leader’, too stood with Palestine. India never had full diplomatic relations with Israel.
All these changed after the collapse of Soviet Union, which was a turning point even in Indo-Israel relations. The BJP was the first political party to call for establishing full relations with Israel, way back in October 1991. Israel was always looked upon as a ‘natural ally’ by the BJP, because of their shared antipathy towards Muslims. What made the then Congress government establish diplomatic relations with Israel and slowly strengthen them, is, their push for the introduction of neoliberal economic reforms. Opening up of Indian economy in the name of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation meant, giving away our self-reliance and depending on the Western countries.
Indian government started to court Israel in its efforts to cosy up to the international funding agencies. Simultaneously, the powerful Jewish lobby in the US, started interacting with Indian government officials. The World Jewish Congress too played an important part and helped Indian government with opening up access to US trade representatives. This had helped the government getting the initial, condition ridden World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of $2-5 billion. Even the US exerted pressure on Indian government to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, in lieu of getting economic and technological assistance. This was one of the reasons why the announcement of establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel was made to coincide with the visit of the then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao to the US in 1992. It was intended to signal the shift in Indian government’s intentions to walk away from its foreign policy precedents and towards the US. Even in 2008, Indian government once again depended on the Jewish lobby to push its case for the conclusion of the infamous, Indo-US nuclear deal. Thus, establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel are intrinsically linked with the implementation of neoliberal economic policies. It is because of this reason that Indian government is keen to become a vital cog in the Indo-Israel-US axis.
Economic liberalisation also meant opening up of Indian economy for the exploitation by Israeli corporates. Being home to more than 130 crores of people, India is a huge market that cannot be ignored by any country and Israel is no exception. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, defence and agriculture became two important sectors where Israel capital showed its interest. Israeli Foreign direct investment (FDI) came not only through the direct route, but also from the US, Europe and Singapore and invested heavily in energy, renewable energy, telecom, real estate, water technologies, apart from signing various defence deals. At present there are nearly 300 Israeli companies operating in the country.
INCREASING BILATERAL TRADE
According to sources, one of the main reasons and focus areas for discussion during the impending visit of Netanyahu is to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion from the current $4 billion and providing more opportunities for Israeli corporates in India. Efforts are also on to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and Israel and further strengthen relations, opening up services sector for exploitation. Indian universities have already entered into various sorts of tie-ups with their Israeli counterparts, which include cooperation in research, student exchange programmes and laid the ground for the entry of Israeli universities into our country.
Months before the general elections in 2014, the then UPA government had signed three important agreements on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, Cooperation in Homeland and Public Security, and Protection of Classified Material with Israel. Under the Cooperation in Homeland Security, four working groups were set up in the areas of border management, internal security and public safety, modernisation of police force and capacity building for combating crime, crime prevention and to deal with the increasing incidents of cyber crime. IPS officer trainees visited Israel in 2015 and 2016, as part of their foreign exposure visits. There is ongoing cooperation on counter-terrorism issues, including through a joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism. Sharing of intelligence between the intelligence agencies of the two countries also increased. The police force increasingly started using Israeli techniques and weapons. The pellets used to blind people in Kashmir are made in Israel.
The cooperation between India and Israel is not only permitted to homeland security. Even defence forces of both the countries are conducting joint military exercises. Recently, a 45 member Indian Air Force (IAF) contingent took part in the multilateral air exercise ‘Blue Flag 2017’ held at the Uvda Air Base in southern Israel from November 2-16, 2017. This was the first time that an IAF contingent has participated in air exercises with the Israeli Air Force. This is indeed a result of the ‘path-breaking’ visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel in July 2017.
Apart and above all these, deepening defence cooperation will be a major agenda for discussion, particularly after the cancellation of the $500 million order for Spike anti-tank missiles. The missiles were to be made by a joint venture between Israeli Rafael Systems, Bharat Dynamics Limited and Kalyani Systems. Indian obsession with Israeli weapons has another factor – our government wants to buy equipment only from vendors that do not sell such equipment to ‘Muslim countries’. This is naturally advantageous to Israel, given the common ‘animosity’ it shares with its current Indian counterpart, the BJP government.
India is a major importer of arms and Israel intends to increase its exports to India by 25 per cent in the next four years. Israel is the 10th largest producer and sixth largest exporter of arms in the world, with India becoming the largest market for its exports. India is hence extremely important for the Israeli defence industry. India is currently Israel’s top purchaser of weapons, accounting for 41 per cent of its arms exports. Behind Russia and the United States, Israel has become the third largest military hardware provider to India. According to the data furnished by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the Standing Committee on Defence (SCoD), Israel was way ahead of Russia both in 2013-14 and 2015-16 in terms of the number of contracts signed. Already, India has the largest fleet of Israeli drones in the world – even larger than what Israel itself owns. Israel is vying to exploit the lucrative Indian defence market which is expected to be worth $150-250 billion in the next 10-15 years. It is these prospects that make Netanyahu and Israel elated and made him state that “sky is not the limit”.
There is another angle in the growing proximity between India and Israel. Israel has always identified itself with the interests of the US. With the rising power of China and its growing clout in international affairs, both Israel and India are worried, along with the US. This binds the governments of these three countries further together, with the strategic objective of ‘containing China’. That is the reason why the US vetoed the Israeli sale of Phalcon early warning aircraft to China and recommended India as an alternative buyer. It is to closely knit all these loosely dangling strings together that Israel and the US are keen to engage with India.
DILUTING SUPPORT TO THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE
Indian government, blinded by its neoliberal philosophy and Hindutva ideology, is sacrificing the country’s interests to serve the cause of countries like Israel and the US. Defence industry is extremely vital for Israel as it is a crucial source of revenue and also employment. The money Israel earns from its armament exports are used to unleash violence on the Palestinian people and suppress them brutally. It is the money earned from armament exports to countries like ours, that are used to finance Israeli wars against Palestine, build the apartheid wall and expand its settlements displacing Palestinians from their homeland.
Indian government lured by Israeli weapons, has diluted its diplomatic support to the Palestinian cause. Gradually, India has stopped sponsoring resolutions for Palestine since 1993. A recent example was the vote in July 2015 when India abstained from voting on a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva condemning Israel’s aerial bombing on Gaza in 2014 which killed more than 2300 civilians. It is only Indian peoples’ continued sympathies for the Palestinians that forces the government not to completely abandon the Palestine cause. The fear of popular reprisal forced the Indian government to sign only one defence contract deal worth Rs 875 crores with Israel in 2014-15 (the year of attack on Gaza), while it had signed deals worth more than Rs 3751 crores in 2013-2014 and nearly Rs 2979 crores in 2015-16.
This experience shows us that if we continue to sustain the pressure on Indian government by mobilising people against the Israeli barbarism, we can financially strangulate Israel. The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement intends to precisely do this. It intends to isolate Israel by organising a boycott of Israeli goods. The purpose of Netanyahu’s India visit is to earn profits for Israeli corporates, sitting on Palestinian corpses. We should not allow it to happen, by protesting against the visit of Netanyahu.