By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
As I write this, there are news reports that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel will visit India in September. Also in the news: Islamist terrorists killed Hindu pilgrims on the way to Amarnath. An Islamist suicide bomber wounded the army’s top brass in an attack on a camp near Jammu. On a regular basis, Palestinian terrorists kill Israelis.
India and Israel are both victims of Islamist terrorism. Indians and Jews have been victimized by Islamists and Christians for millennia. The Jewish Holocaust in Europe is exceeded only by the twin Indian Holocausts: one perpetrated by Muslims in 711-1857 C.E., killing an estimated 80 million Indians, and the other perpetrated by Christian colonialists in 1757-1947 C.E. (through avoidable famines they killed 30 million Indians; see Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis, Verso.).
Today, India and Israel are the only two states that are not caving in, in a giant Islamic crescent from West Africa to Indonesia: the only two states that defy dhimmitude.
Out of 148 nations in which Jews have lived, they have been oppressed in 147 of them, the lone exception being India. The Jews of Cochin, for instance, landed in 72 C.E at the great port of Muziris (Kodungalloor). They have lived there unmolested ever since, except when Portuguese invaded circa 1600 C.E. Today, visiting Israeli youth find this is one country where nobody hates them for being Jews.
After independence, the Nehruvian Stalinists in power deliberately kept aloof from Israel, but in the last few years, the relationship has thrived, and Israel has become India’s second largest supplier of weaponry. Israel had extended the hand of friendship earlier, but India rejected it. Just after they bombed and destroyed Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, the Israelis suggested doing the same to Pakistan’s reactors at Kahuta. This could have set back Pakistan’s “Islamic Bomb.”
By opposing Israel, India deluded itself that it would get preferential treatment from Arabs; however, all this goodwill and $32 still buys us a barrel of oil—no discounts there. And Arabs have not once (with the possible exception of Iraq) supported India in its quarrels with Pakistan. Supporting Palestine has brought India no dividends.
Working with Israel today should be beneficial to India, because there are opportunities for technical and military cooperation. Israelis are the world leaders in avionics and in security. They have plenty of experience in dealing with Islamic terrorism, too.
A strong India-Israel alliance does not seem to have too many negatives; on the plus side, the Arrow and Phalcon and similar weapons systems could help. Considerations of the national interest dictate such an alliance. The Sharon visit should kick this off.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Trivandrum, India.
No, the relationship would be problematic
By S. GOPIKRISHNA
An enemy’s enemy is a friend, seems to be the underlying logic in the recent flowering of Indian-Israeli relations. But are the two fighting a common enemy or different foes with little more than a superficial resemblance?
The bitterness of Indian-Pakistani relations contrasts with the respect (if not friendship) underscoring India’s relationship with Israel’s traditional enemies, Syria and Lebanon. The Indian avatar of Islamic terrorism is represented by various Al Qaeda-affiliated groups like Lashkar-E-Toiba, religiously anchored in Wahabi doctrine, a school so extremist that it clubs even Shia Muslims with the “kafirs.”
Israel’s bete noire is the Hizbollah, a Shia extremist group at loggerheads with various Sunni Palestinian groups fighting Israel. The Hizbollah has also practiced terrorism differently than Al Qaeda—its profusion of suicide bombers is in contrast to Indian Islamic terrorists attempting suicide sparingly (and often unsuccessfully). The lack of professionalism in the parliament house attacks are in stark contrast to the Hizbollah’s professionalism in attacking American barracks in Beirut.
India’s foes and Israel’s enemies are not the same, nor faces of the same coin; they are distant cousins at best.
India has long had an extensive trade relationship with the Middle East, through exporting its technical expertise and agricultural products. Saudi Arabia was the third largest market for Indian exports between 1997-1999 while India imports significant quantities of oil.
Since Arab countries construe relationships with Israel no differently than bulls would a red flag, the repercussions on Indian-Arab trade relations are a matter of grave concern. Irrespective of volume, Israel can never replace the Arab bloc as a trade partner.
Courting the Israelis will adversely affect the more-than-million-strong Indian expatriate community in the Gulf, literally marooned in a sea of Arabs. The Indian government should ponder over the precarious situation into which Indian nationals would be plunged should Arab passions get inflamed as a result of an alliance with Israel. Memories of India’s pathetic failure in rescuing its nationals from Iraq during Gulf War I leave no doubts about the latter’s fate should they be accused of being “Zionist spies.”
India should also remember Israel’s extreme cynicism regarding loyalty and relationships. In the 1980s, Israel simultaneously trained the LTTE in guerrilla warfare while training the Sri Lankan army in anti-terrorism operations. Should Pakistan make overtures to Israel, one shouldn’t be surprised if an alliance were struck to sustain the insurgency in Kashmir while Indian-Israeli efforts focus on containing the same.
Changing partners mid-game is seldom easy; one can only hope that India will not emerge sadder and poorer from the experience.
S. Gopikrishna writes from Toronto on matters pertinent to India and Indians.