In politics, enemy’s enemy can easily become a friend.
Israel has supported Saudi Arabia’s recent move to boycott Qatar. Saudi has made such a move mainly to corner Iran in West Asia. Diplomats believe the move may bring Saudi and six other Arab states close to Israel.
According to sources close to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the current political situation in West Asia allows India to slightly adjust its foreign policy in order to maintain a balance between the Arab world and Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken three years to build a good rapport with West Asia. And in these three years, he has strengthened India’s ties (mainly defence) with Israel without notifying the global community.
Although External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced in 2015 that the PM would visit Israel in 2017, Modi made a trip to Riyadh in April 2016 (ahead of his Israel tour). Before catching the Tel Aviv-bound flight, the premier managed to bolster India’s trade ties with Saudi Arabia. During this period, the Arab world’s commercial dependence on India has increased and the Arab nations’ attitude towards Israel has been a little positive. It seems to have given Modi an extra benefit.
A senior External Affairs Ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Many Arab nations are strengthening ties with Israel. Yes, India is communicating openly with Israel. But, they are also communicating with the Jewish nation in a different way.” Interestingly, the Arab world publicly criticised India when the South Asian country established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992, added the official.
In fact, Egypt signed a peace accord with Israel in 1978. But, their relationship did not improve. Israel opened a small embassy in Egypt again in 2015 and Cairo lifted some restrictions imposed on the Jewish state in 2016. In the same way, Saudi Arabia (Israel’s declared enemy) has made some progress in bilateral relations through track-two in January 2017. Even, former Saudi security chief held a meeting with former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to discuss ways to normalise ties. According to a report published in ‘The Wall Street’ journal a couple of months ago, Saudi was considering to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
Earlier, PM Modi criticised his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh for not visiting some countries. In Canada, he said it was unfortunate that no Indian PM visited the country in the last 42 years. He made the same comment during his trips to Portugal and Australia. Significantly, Modi made no such comment in Israel.
New Delhi has been working closely with Tel Aviv on different issues, like security and terrorism, since the 1999 Kargil War. However, it has never been highlighted. The timing of Modi’s visit to Israel is crucial, as he arrived in Jerusalem at a time when there was an increase in cross-border terrorism in India and the situation in Kashmir also deteriorated a lot. In such a situation, the Indo-Israeli joint statement has put neighbouring Pakistan under tremendous pressure. Although Islamabad is yet to make any official comment on India-Israel friendship, the Pakistani media have given a special importance to the Indian premier’s Israel visit.
In a joint statement issued in Jerusalem earlier this week, Modi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We recognise that we are being challenged by the forces of terror that seek to undermine our world, our countries, the peace and stability of our common civilisation, and we have agreed to co-operate in this area.” The two PMs also stressed that there could be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever.
In Jerusalem, PM Modi said that India and Israel live in “complex geographies” and are aware of “strategic threats” to regional peace and stability. He added: “India has suffered first-hand violence and hatred spread by terror. So has Israel. I and Mr Netanyahu agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also co-operate to combat growing radicalisation and terrorism.” As expected, PM Netanyahu welcomed his Indian counterpart’s comment, saying that Israel would always back India’s right to defend itself against terrorism. According to the Israeli premier, Jerusalem believes there is no difference between Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hamas group operating in Israel and Palestine.
Now, it is upto New Delhi and Jerusalem to walk the talk.
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