New Delhi Dealings
By Jeffrey Colman
It was September 11, 2001, and senior Israeli and Indian officials were concluding critical talks on security cooperation in New Delhi. Together, the diplomats from the two democracies watched in horror as images of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were broadcast on international television. Few countries in the world had suffered as much as Israel and India from the actions of Muslim extremists who pervert Islam to justify the murder of innocent people. Now the United States was also a target.
The Israelis and Indians in New Delhi that day knew that they needed to cooperate more with each other and the United States to defeat terrorism. That process had begun in earnest in 1992 when India and Israel established full diplomatic relations. Since then, in parallel to warmer relations between India and the U.S., Indo-Israeli relations have blossomed at the economic, military and political levels.
Both countries see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by dangerous, well-armed neighbors that train, finance and encourage terrorist infiltrators. Both countries view their burgeoning bilateral relationship as a strategic imperative.
Relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi were not always as warm as they are today. Although both countries gained their independence from Great Britain within months of each other and both suffered through the pains of partition, the two nations found themselves headed in different directions for nearly four decades. India, as leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, with close relations with the Arab world and the Soviet Union, often saw Israel as a creation of Western imperialists. Fighting for its own survival, Israel linked its future to close ties with the United States and Western Europe.
India also had another constraint in determining its policies toward Israel: one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. India feared that close relations with Israel combined with Pakistani subversion efforts might somehow radicalize its Muslim citizens today numbering more than 130 million and hurt its relations with the Arab world.
Although India publicly kept a distance from Israel until the 1980s, there was in fact a great deal of bilateral activities between the two countries. India extended de jure recognition to Israel in 1950 and allowed Israel to maintain a consulate in Bombay to facilitate the voluntary immigration of thousands of Indian Jews to Israel. Thousands of other Indians have traveled to Israel for special courses and training in agricultural technology and community development. Following a devastating Indian earthquake in 2001, Israel sent an IDF emergency response delegation to India for two weeks to provide humanitarian relief and treatment for the victims. Israel also has provided India with military assistance during its wars with Pakistan.
Additionally, the Indians have always taken pride that their country is one of the only places in the world that has no experience with anti-Semitism. There is no history of persecution or discrimination of the Jewish community which dates back some 2,000 years. Some Indians like to compare this record to their neighbor, Pakistan, and its support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In recent years, India has become one of Israels largest trading partners. At a time when Israels economy has been devastated by more than two years of Palestinian violence, trade with India has reached $1 billion per year. Many of the worlds leading high-technology companies in Israel and India are forging joint ventures that are successfully competing in the tough international marketplace. Last year, more than 60,000 Israelis visited India, constituting five percent of the total number of tourists.
Israel has also become a major supplier of key military technology to India. Israeli-developed radar and surveillance systems, electronic components for military aircraft, and counterterrorism methods and technologies are examples of how Israel is helping India defend itself.
Senior officials in both countries acknowledge the growing importance of the Indo-Israeli partnership in dealing with the shared threats of weapons of mass destruction and Muslim Jihadi terrorism. Both countries see enhanced cooperation as essential to their national security interests.
*Colman is AIPACs Deputy Legislative Director. He recently returned from a week-long trip to India.
Source: Near East Report, (February 3, 2003)