Modi Visit to Israel: A Pernicious Alliance

THE visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel is more than symbolic.  Apart from being the first ever visit by an Indian prime minister, it is also the first time that a top Indian leader is visiting Israel and not going to Ramallah and the Palestinian territory. 

Modi’s trip to Israel marks the culmination of a shift in foreign policy which has developed over the years – the forging of a strategic alliance with Israel and the steady downgrading of India’s commitment to the Palestinian cause. The "strategic partnership" announced in the joint statement is the open declaration of this alliance which was kept under wraps so far.

At the heart of the strategic alliance is a military and security collaboration with Israel which reinforces the colonial occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.  It is also an alliance which helps the Israeli role of being an instrument of US imperialism in the region. Modi’s visit has occurred on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.  Since then, the security and defence collaboration with Israel has developed steadily under successive governments. But it is during the BJP-led governments that the alliance with Israel has got deepened and given an ideological construct.   

Since the mid-nineties, Israel has become a prominent supplier of arms and defence equipments to India. In the last decade, Israel emerged as the largest seller of arms to India till that position was taken over by the United States.  In April 2017, India has contracted to buy 2.6 billion dollar worth of short range and long range Barak-8 missiles from the Israeli Aerospace Industries.  The buying of surveillance drones are in the pipeline. India has launched Israeli spy satellites through ISRO rockets. Israeli security experts have been advising India on internal security measures.

The Hindutva outlook of the BJP has close affinity with the ethno-nationalist stream of Zionism. The rightwing ruling Likud party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are ideological soul-mates of the BJP and Narendra Modi.  The RSS and the BJP admire Israel for the way it has oppressed the Palestinian people and taken on the Arab countries. It is their anti-Muslim bias that makes them want to emulate Israel, something VD Savarkar exhorted Bharat to do in 1952. It was during the Vajpayee government’s tenure that the security ties with Israel deepened.  LK Advani, as home minister, visited Israel in 2000 to develop intelligence and security relations. The hawkish Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit India in 2003 to strengthen military and counter-terrorism relations. 

By openly identifying with Israel and paying only lip service to the Palestinian cause, the Modi government has jettisoned India’s long held principle of support to the national liberation struggle of the Palestinian people. 

Modi has praised the democratic system of Israel.  What prevails in Israel is a travesty of democracy. The 1.7 million Arabs living within the original boundaries of the Israeli state and who constitute 21 per cent of population of Israel have become second class citizens; the prospects of their status being further downgraded when Israel is to be formally declared a Jewish State. For the 4.6 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the reality is of an apartheid State. Their lands are stolen, Jewish settlements dot the West Bank appropriating the best lands and resources; an eight meter high wall has cut off urban Palestinian settlements from their own lands; Gaza is under perpetual siege with its people even deprived of electricity.  The reality is that Israel has perpetuated a brutal colonial occupation for 50 years since the 1967 war. 

Both sides have resolved to jointly fight terrorism.  However, for the Israelis, it is the Palestinian organisations fighting the occupation and the Hezbollah in Lebanon who are terrorists. Netanyahu considers Iran as the major source of terrorism in West Asia. For Modi, there is no difference between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the youth protesting in Kashmir against State repression – both are terrorists.

Among the seven agreements signed during the visit, one is on water management.  Much has been made about Israel’s vaunted ability in developing solutions to water scarcity and judicious use of scarce water resources.  This has been widely propagated through the mainstream media in India.  What is covered up is the theft of water resources of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.  For instance, Israel controls the Mountain Aquifer, 80 per cent of which lies beneath the West Bank and it over-extracts this water for agriculture as well as for use in illegal settlements. Israel’s daily per capita consumption of water is five times that of the Palestinians. 

The strategic alliance with Israel is part of the rightwing foreign policy shift under the Modi government.  The abandonment of a non-aligned, independent foreign policy, the turning back on the commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people and the pursuit of the Hindutva ideal of a US-Israel-India axis – all reflect the change in the domestic correlation of forces and the rightwing shift within India. The fight to change the pro-imperialist and regressive foreign policy has to be part of the fight against the Hindutva forces who are in power in India.  They are both pro-imperialist and proponents of an exclusivist Hindu nationalism which is inimical for democracy and national sovereignty.

(July 5, 2017)

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