Game of Arms behind the Farce

Coming out of the pro-Israel closet, India has ended up becoming the biggest customer of its ‘field-tested’ defence weaponry

Sabika Zehra Delhi 

Less than two weeks before Israel launched its ongoing Operation ‘Protective Edge’ against Hamas in Gaza, India’s Defence Secretary RK Mathur had gone on a three-day visit to Tel Aviv to discuss military deals, including a key missile development programme and procurement of two more Airborne early Warning and Control Systems  (AWACS) aircrafts. Though there is little contention of the fact that India has been systematically strengthening its strategic relations with Israel, a similar consistency is not evident in its policy posture with the Palestinians. As a result, an intense public and scholarly debate has sparked over the past few years regarding India’s growing alliance with Israel and its transforming stance over the Palestinian issue. The pro-Israeli lobby in India argues that the shift in the orientation of Indian foreign policy is inevitable, realist, pragmatic and balanced, based on the transforming national interests and ever-changing political atmosphere of the Middle East. The critics, however, accuse succeeding Indian governments of a diplomatic double standard, abandonment of India’s independent foreign policy and deviation from the Nehruvian stand on the Palestinian issue. These critics are making an implicit assumption that India did in fact, once, take a historic, independent and principled stand in favour of the Palestinian people. 

All pretense of maintaining even a pro-Palestinian rhetoric evaporated when the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, initially refused to permit discussion on the situation in Gaza in the Indian Parliament on 15 July 2014. She dismissed the demand as being ‘uncalled for’ owing to India’s friendly relations with both Israel and Palestine. In addition to this contradictory posture, the Ministry of External Affairs issued an ambiguous statement expressing concern at the “steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, particularly heavy air strikes on Gaza resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives and heavy damage to property. At the same time, India is alarmed at the cross border provocations resulting from rocket attacks against targets in parts of Israel. India calls upon both sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid taking actions that may further exacerbate the situation and threaten the peace and security of the region.” 

The death toll in Gaza has since exceeded 1,500 and majority of those killed are civilians, primarily women and children. Approximately, 6,500 Palestinians have been wounded since Israel began incessant air strikes. The total number of people displaced constitutes almost 25 per cent of the population of Gaza – 1.8 million in the last census. 

The BJP-led government was criticised for acting as a silent ‘spectator’ even as hundreds of Palestinians were being massacred in Israeli attacks. Swaraj contested the criticism by saying that there had been “absolutely no change in India’s policy towards Palestine” and that India supports the Palestinian cause while maintaining cordial relations with Israel. 

In an interesting turn of events post PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Brasilia, India, along with 29 other countries (including BRICS), voted in favour of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution demanding an independent inquiry into purported violations of human rights’ laws by the state of Israel in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, on 23July. The implications of such a resolution can be assessed by the continuing atrocities by the Israeli Defense Forces. Israeli warplanes abrogated international humanitarian law by bombing UNRWA schools in the southern city of Rafah. Since its inception in 2006, UNHRC has criticised Israel on 33 different occasions. Ironically, year 2014, which was dubbed as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in the UN resolution A/RES/12, has proved to be one of the deadliest years in the history of the Palestinian plight. 

Lovers in Arms

Rafael, an Israeli arms company, had presented a Bollywood-styled video advertisement at the 2009 Aero India trade show in Bangalore that sums up a tasteless, yet fairly accurate parody of the present-day Indo-Israel relations. It features an Israeli man donning a leather jacket dancing with a woman dressed in gaudy Indian clothes, around missiles decorated with flowers. He sings a song promising to defend, shield and protect the lady as she croons to stay with him forever, offering him her heart. Rafael had secured $1 billion dollar contract that year to provide India with surface-to-air missile systems. Along the lines of the metaphor, former Israeli ambassador to India, Alon Ushpiz, hailed the relationship between these two countries as one in which two intimate partners who trust each other start thinking of challenges and solutions together.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2014