Modi’s quest for a clout in the Middle East – Saddam Hussein

Narendra Modi shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem. —AP

Subtle yet biggest realignment of the world order is happening at the moment. In the backdrop of this, India seems desperate in searching for new opportunities of partnerships, as the unfolding regional crescendos are by large going against Indian interests.

This Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel on a historic three day trip – the first ever by any Indian Premier. The visit coincided with the silver jubilee of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992.

Reciprocally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Mr. Modi a red-carpet welcome at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv as he began his three-day visit. It is important to mention here that only a select few world leaders received Israel’s splendid reception at Ben Gurion International Airport most notably the President of the United States, and the Pope. Thus it did not go unobserved that Prime Minister Modi received the same red carpet treatment.

The two leaders pledged to work together on issues including security, agriculture and energy. “It is my singular honor to be the first ever prime minister of India to undertake this groundbreaking visit to Israel,” Mr. Modi said. Mr. Netanyahu responded by saying that “we’ve been waiting for you a long time. We’ve been waiting almost 70 years in fact, because yours is truly a historic visit.”

From the above statements, one can grasp for sure the intimacy between the two leaders and the strong urge for long term partnership between the two people.

Currently, around 40 percent of Israel’s defense exports go to India, making Israel its third largest defense supplier. The Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced a deal worth nearly 2 billion USD in April making it the largest defense contract in Israel’s history. The package offers sophisticated air and missile defense systems to the Indian army.

Israeli weapons will bolster India’s armed forces against the country’s key geopolitical opponent, Pakistan. Some analysts in Pakistan also opine that Islamabad need not worry about India-Israel meet-up as Pakistan is not under the immediate radar of Israel. Their (Israel’s) priority at the moment is the Middle East. Plus, Pakistan has and is still bagging several new partnerships in the region in connection with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), giving it an edge over India.

India seems to be gradually entering the USA-Israel-Western and Europe-Saudi-Egypt-Japan axis and apparently leaving the old USSR axis which is metamorphosing into Russia-Iran-Syria-China-Turkey-Pakistan axis.

On the other hand, The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has voiced its concern over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision not to meet President Mahmoud Abbas during his historic three-day trip to Israel.

It is ceremonial for world leaders to travel to Ramallah too in the occupied West Bank during official trips to Israel. Even US President Donald Trump held talks with both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas on his visit in May. The snub by Modi also enticed condemnation from tenants of the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank.

India, which has an antiquity of supporting the Palestinian cause, opened up proper diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. During the Cold War, India was a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries and sided resolutely with the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel. Before 1992, India would not even permit its residents to enter Israel on an Indian passport. But since then, the two nations have nurtured warm ties, predominantly in the areas of technology and defense cooperation.

The Palestinian frustration with India started more than a year ago when India refrained from a UN Human Rights Council vote, which left the Palestinians stunned. Historically, India was one of the chief supporters of the Palestinian political movement. Presumably, India has decided to enhance its cooperative relationship with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.

For many years India had tiptoed its way around its rather blooming relations with Israel. But Modi’s tour of Israel has broken old patterns and embarked New Delhi on a new path that demonstrates the fact that India has turned over a new leaf.

And despite past military and political ties between the nations, the debut of India’s Prime Minister in Israel holds a practical and symbolic significance. Without doubt the evolution of Indo-Israel ties is driven by pragmatism. However, Modi’s Palestine snub has symbolically injected a departure from Delhi’s mute yet existing moral support of the Palestinian cause which may turn out to be significant in South Asian context in the coming times.

Saddam Hussein is a Research Fellow at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad, while pursuing his MPhil. in Public Policy from School of Public Policy, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad.

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