By- Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Amongst South Asian nations, India and Nepal have full diplomatic relations with Israel, while Pakistan started economic relations with Israel few years back. Saudi Arabia started economic relations with Israel back in 1982, though, Bangladesh, being a country, which could greatly benefit from its relations with Israel both economically, technologically as well as in actively combating terrorism and Islamist militancy, is left far behind in taking any positive step in building a bridge of cooperation with Israel. It is greatly anticipated that, several pro-Iranian mindsets in the government and administration as well as anti-Bangladesh elements are against the theme of establishment of relations between Dhaka and Jerusalem. It may be mentioned here that, Bangladesh continues total ban on the democratic state of Israel, though later is amongst the first four nations to recognize the independence and creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Amongst the South Asian nations, India has already built a strong base of relations and mutual cooperation with Israel. While India is the largest democracy in the world, Israel is the only democratic nation in the Middle East. The Republic of India and the State of Israel, both territories formerly administered by Great Britain, were established less than a year apart (India in August 1947 and Israel in May 1948). From the beginning, relations between the two new states proved rather arduous. Since the 1920s, the leaders of the Indian liberation movement Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had fervently opposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state on this territory. On November 29, 1947, India’s representative to the UN General Assembly had voted against the partition resolution. In 1952, India reluctantly permitted the opening of an Israeli consulate in Bombay and maintained a fairly hostile posture toward the Jewish state in the following decades. Relations in real sense between Israel and India did not exist until 1992 but since then the two countries have developed relationships. India did not establish full diplomatic relations with Israel for two main reasons. Firstly although India belonged to Non-Aligned Movement, it was an ally of the USSR, and yet followed the general pattern of non-aligned countries with regards to foreign relations. Secondly, India was a strong supporter of Palestinian independence. In 1947 New-Delhi proposed to the Special Committee of the United Nations on Palestine (UNSCOP) the creation of a federal Palestine with autonomous status for the Jewish population.
After the Kashmiri insurrection in 1989, the collapse of the USSR and the military escalation with Pakistan, the political framework changed, resulting in the establishment of relations between India and Israel in 1992. The loss of the Indian National Congress in the general elections and the coming of the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with concerns about Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent are also to take into consideration. Establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel also was a step in strengthening relationships with the United States. The level of collaboration between the two countries was pursued even after the Indian National Congress returned to power in 2004. Israel is now India’s second largest arms provider after Russia. India is viewed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians as a trustworthy intermediary. According to an international opinion survey conducted in 2009 on behalf of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, India is the most pro-Israel country in the world.
India and Israel have increased cooperation in military and intelligence ventures since the establishment of diplomatic relations. While India and Israel were officially “rivals” during the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Islamic terrorism in both countries have generated a solid strategic alliance. India’s commerce minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, visited Israel in February 2010 to discuss a free-trade agreement. He met with Israeli president Shimon Peres; Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and representatives of Israel’s water technology and high-tech industries. During the visit President Shimon Peres offered New Delhi his country’s complete cooperation in the fight against terror saying, “India’s security is as important to Israel as its own.”
Bilateral trade, which was at $200 million in 2001, grew to $4.1 billion by 2009, excluding defense trade. This includes manufacturing, satellite launch, agriculture and diamond industries. In 2008, PBEL, a joint venture of two Israeli real estate firms and an Indian developer, announced an investment of $1 billion in real estate projects in India. The plan is to build 10 million square feet of world-class residential and business space in three cities. A formal free trade agreement was on progress as of 2010 for a two way agreement that would give Indian industries access to the Israeli high technology sector, and Israel access to Indian domestic market. This is a step ahead of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) that a Joint Study Group (JSG) set up by the two countries had recommended improving trade ties. It is estimated that bilateral trade would exceed $12 billion in 5 years with this trade agreement. The current areas that are to be given focus are software, communication, homeland security, science and medicine, bio and agro-technologies, water.
Counter terrorism remains one of the greatest areas of cooperation between the two countries, stemming from the constant terror threat facing both states. Counter terrorism cooperation has involved the exchange of information on terrorist groups, their finances, recruitment patterns, training, and operations; it has also entailed comparing national doctrines and operational experience. India and Israel have also focused their efforts on border security: Israel has sold India movement sensors and other monitoring equipment to track infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Israel also sold Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to India for high-altitude surveillance and has offered to provide anti-insurgency training for Indian forces in the area as well. In 2000, India and Israel established a joint commission to combat terrorism at the ministerial level.
Fighting terrorism is a major issue and challenge for both India and Israel. Both are democratic, pluralistic states with large domestic Muslim minorities, and both face the scourge of Islamist terrorism, which is sponsored by their neighbors. This shared dilemma has led to a better understanding of each other’s concerns. It was in this respect that the Indian national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra, outlined a proposal in a speech to the American Jewish Committee in Washington in May 2003 that India, Israel, and the United States should unite to combat the common threat of Islamic fundamentalism. He argued that democratic nations that face the menace of international terrorism should form a viable alliance and develop multilateral mechanisms to counter this menace. Israel also supported this and has even gone to the extent of saying that an “unwritten and abstract” axis with India and the United States has been created to combat international terrorism and make the world a more secure place.
While there has been no attempt to form an explicit alliance among the three states, India and Israel have definitely started cooperating more closely on the terror front. India has found it increasingly beneficial to learn from Israel’s experience in dealing with terrorism since Israel has also long suffered from cross-border terrorism. And the terrorism that both India and Israel face comes not only from disaffected groups within their territories but it is also aided and abetted by the neighboring states, mostly under non-democratic regimes, increasingly capable of transferring weapons of mass destruction to the terrorist organizations. States such as Pakistan in South Asia, or Iran and Syria in Middle East, have long used terror as an instrument of their foreign policies. There are, thus, distinct structural similarities in the kind of threat that India and Israel face from terrorism. It is also important to note that when the extremist mullahs call upon their followers to take up arms in support of an Islamic jihad, their topmost exhortations have always been the liberation of all of mandatory Palestine, Kashmir, and the annihilation of the United States.
This realization has drawn the two nations closer, with India being the first close friend Israel has to its east and Israel being the first close friend India has to its west. Israel, which has faced relative isolation across the globe, views India as its strategic anchor in Asia. Israel also sees major benefits in coming closer to a country with a big Muslim population, the second largest in the world, hoping that it might help dilute the importance of the religious component in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both states are also islands of stability in an otherwise largely chaotic region stretching from North Africa to the Himalayas, which some have argued should be seen as a single strategic region. The search for strength in each other’s inner reserves is natural for India and Israel in their quest for security and the fight against terror.
As a result, a basic understanding has emerged between India and Israel that despite the fact that circumstances surrounding the nature of terrorism they face are different, there can be no compromise with terror. The declaration signed during Sharon’s visit to India condemned states and individuals who aided and abetted terrorism across borders, harbored and provided sanctuary to terrorists besides giving financial support, training, or patronage. India sees Israel as a source providing training for its personnel and materiel in its fight against terrorism, and Israel is more than willing to offer India both material and moral support in this regard.
India and Israel not only exchange crucial intelligence information on Islamist terrorist groups but Israel is also helping India to fight terrorism in Kashmir by providing important logistical support such as specialized surveillance equipment, cooperation in intelligence gathering, joint exercises, and cooperation to stop money laundering and terror funding. The level of intelligence cooperation between India and Israel may be even more extensive than between India and the United States. The tactics used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the guerilla and urban warfare it wages against Palestinian terror in the West Bank and Gaza Strip can be fruitfully adopted by the Indian security forces in countering insurgency. These tactics have even been found useful by the U.S. forces in Iraq who had to learn IDF strategy of urban warfare to tackle growing insurgency there.
Israel’s long experience in training, equipping, and operating elite undercover units deployed in Palestinian towns and villages to gather intelligence, spot targets, and engage Palestinian gunmen, is useful for the Indian security forces facing similar situations in Kashmir and the Northeast. Other areas where Israeli know-how can be incorporated by India include tactics aimed at lowering the risk of ambush, use of infantry and commando units seeking out and destroying arms caches and terrorist bomb-making capabilities, and the use of dogs, robotics, and specially trained sappers to detect hidden roadside mines.
It is important to note that Jews have been a part of India for well over a thousand years. The most distinctive aspect of the Indian Jewish experience is the complete absence of discrimination by the host majority. Jews have lived in India without any fear of persecution, a fact that has been well appreciated by Israel. Even though the Jewish population in India is estimated to be around 6,000 – following the emigration of over 25,000 to Israel between the 1950s and 1970s – the community’s contributions to India remain substantive.
In the past two decades, companies in Israel and California’s Silicon Valley developed close ties as Israel provided cheaper engineering labor and research and development centers for major American technology companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Google. However, as Israel’s high-tech industry has matured and business costs there have risen, many Israeli high-tech firms are similarly outsourcing part or all of their development to India in order to remain competitive. Today, IT professionals from America, Israel and India collaborate on a variety of projects, creating well-paying jobs in all three countries. Israeli firms Amdocs, a software developer and Ness Technologies, an IT service firm, have contracted many of their engineers from India.
In 2006, American investor and billionaire Warren Buffett purchased Iscar Metalworking Co., an Israel-based company and the world’s second largest producer and supplier of metal cutting tools used by major car manufacturers such as GM and Ford. Iscar currently operates and has been thriving in India, which has prompted Buffett to schedule a trip there in March 2011 along with Israeli Eitan Wertheimer, son of Iscar founder Stef Wertheimer. During an annual shareholder’s meeting in May 2010, Buffett said he had decided to go to India because Iscar is doing very well there.
Netafim is a Tel Aviv-based company that provides irrigation solutions for agriculture and landscaping and has carried out numerous projects around the world, including in India. India became Netafim’s second largest market in 2008 and continues to grow. In 2008, Netafim opened a second factory in the southern Indian city of Chennai, making India the only nation to have more than one Netafim factory outside of Israel. Netafim reached sales of nearly $500 million in 2007 and plans to double that number by next year partly due to its growth in India. Netafim also bases its global engineering and planning in India, although it remains an Israeli company.
In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, known as the Rice Bowl of India, Netafim has conducted agricultural training programs including irrigation scheduling, fertigation and crop protection. The project put 14,826 acres (6,000 hectares) of land under sprinkler and drip irrigation which were used for numerous crops such as sugarcane, citrus fruits, mango and cotton. In the same state, another Israeli multinational concern, Elbit Imaging, is involved in establishing one of the country’s largest dairy farms.
Taking the excellent example of Indo-Israel relations for decades into active consideration, Bangladesh should definitely lift all barriers in having initially economic relations with this only democracy in the Middle East. Such relations not only will help Bangladesh in much effectively combating Islamist militancy and cross border insurgency, it will also help Bangladesh in increasing its current food production as well as in resolving the existing acute power crisis in the entire country. Power crisis is seen as the biggest challenge for the current government in Bangladesh.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is globally renowned Journalist, Columnist, author & Peace Activist. He is the Editor of “Weekly Blitz” and “Daily Frontline”. He is the recipient of PEN USA Freedom to Write Award 2005, AJC Moral Courage Award 2006, Key to the Englewood City, NJ, USA [Highest Honor] 2007; Monaco Media Award, 2007. He can be reached at [email protected]