Time for closer ties with Israel 

M.L. Sondhi

The Pioneer, March 19, 1993

India’s political landscape is unlikely to remain the same after the March 12 bomb blasts in Bombay, since it is no more possible to send ambiguous signals on the question of terrorist acts in the name of a realist political dialogue with Palestinians, Iranians, Libyans and Iraqis.  For too long has political discussion in New Delhi been held hostage to India’s Third World friends in West Asia and there is today unmistakeably mounting disenchantment with the one-sided pro-Arab foreign policy.  Most Indians now believe that the price that has been paid for distancing Israel from India has been too high.  The visit of the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to New Delhi would have provided a major opportunity for a coordinated interpretation of current events.

The stresses and strains of “Ayodhya” on Indian foreign policy should have led to an astute assessment of the parameters of security cooperation between Jerusalem and New Delhi; instead South Block made the Peres-Rao summit an object of its projected fears, and its depiction of the post-Ayodhya situation did not see any political payoffs in adhering to the original programme of the Israeli Foreign Minister’s journey.  A thorough conceptual reassessment of the first face-to-face encounter between Indians and Israelis in New Delhi should now be under way if India is to withstand the offensive of international terrorism in the months ahead.

The inertia of political interests has slowed down the process of upgrading political and economic relations between the two countries.  It is not enough to convey at the bureaucratic level that both sides recognise the future potentialities of the new relationship.  The structural perception of the threats facing the two countries should lead to new political thinking at the highest levels of government.  If a narrow view prevails we can only witness development of bilateral relations in social and economic spheres without encompassing crucial changes in the policy process at the global and regional level in a systemic perspective.

It would be counterproductive for Indian diplomats to see the new phase of relations with Israel as only requiring a temporary change in tactics at the bilateral level in order to achieve public relations success with the American Jewish lobby.  There is no alternative to a change of paradigm in India’s relations with political and social forces in West Asia if New Delhi wishes to profit from a substantial dialogue with Israel and control its security risks.

he tendency to take a one-sided view of the peace process by a blanket endorsement of Palestinian self-government must yield place to an objective analysis of the positions of both the parties and Indian policy makers should look at the ground realities rather than at the out-of-date images developed in the period of chilly diplomatic relations with Israel.  India should refrain from introducing frustration and bitterness into the debate by endorsing extreme demands.  Instead of demanding a sweeping transformation of Israeli-Palestinian relations, India should use its diplomatic skill in putting incremental measures on the public policy agenda.  India’s strength lies not in rhetorical practices in favour of states and groups which are antagonistic to Israel, but in providing a political vision which can help the West Asian region to tackle its many political, strategic and economic problems.  New Delhi’s grasp of terrorism and fundamentalism in East Asia remain woefully inadequate and new thinking has hardly made any impact on the Indian foreign policy debate which is still centred on the intergrationist thrust of pan-Arabism.

New Delhi does not appear to have much difficulty in the vigorous pursuit of trade links with Israel and in raising the level of cooperation in the sphere of science and technology.  There are, however, very few signs of breaking out of the entrenched state of inertia in New Delhi in relation to conflict management among adversaries in West Asia.  Bombay’s catastrophic encounter with international terrorism raises crucial questions which cannot be answered by the kind of romanticization which advocates of Third World unity have been articulating in the national media.  A coherent and efficient policy against international terrorism is now an absolute necessity for India and New Delhi has to recognise that Israel is in a unique position to share its intellectual and institutional strength for dealing with this scourge.  The days are gone when it was sufficient to call in Yasser Arafat or Colonel Gaddafi to help New Delhi cope with the burden of responsibility on West Asian Issues.  The inbred ideas of third worldism and Arab triumphalism cannot help India to live up to its national and international responsibility to meet the new dangers and challenges.  Prime Minister Narasimha Rao should no longer shy away from recognising the reliance of India and Israel on each other for the world wide struggle against the chaos and instability which both countries have to pursue as “front-line” states.  The early holding of the India-Israel summit will send a strong signal that New Delhi does not shirk its international task in combating terrorism, and will be the starting point for a serious Indian effort to contain the aggressive forces unleashed by anti-democratic regimes and groups.

The Indian-Israel summit may of course catalyse changes in doctrines of national security on both sides; it can also clear the way for a more constructive participation in the peace talks.  India can start a process which brings up new ideas and priorities for tackling international terrorism and also strengthening its bargaining position vis--vis the Arabs by articulating the interdependencies between itself and all the participants in the West Asian peace process.  During his recent visit to India, Mr. Yossi Gal a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official presented proposals and suggestions which would help New Delhi and Jerusalem to produce mutual trust and lasting peace.  He made a good case for a substantial dialogue to further the momentum for a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli question.  The Indian diplomatic response reflected a greater sensitivity to the problems mentioned by Mr. Gal.  Unfortunately India’s conceptual framework remains contradictory and South Block is content with improvised measures and adhoc techniques of diplomatic management and there is no serious attempt to produce operational policy forecasts.  This position is at sharp variance with China’s which has used its Israel connection to make a conceptual reassessment of its West Asia policy.   It is hardly surprising that a radical overhaul of concepts has given the policy makers in Beijing increased salience in West Asia.

Mr. Rao must now work to remove the structural impediments which hinder the development of an adequate security policy in which the threats inherent in terrorism of West Asian origin have to be effectively contained.

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