By D. Sharma
After Bibi Netanyahu’s victory on Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted in Hebrew, “Mazel tov, my friend Bibi @Netanyahu. I remember our meeting in New York last September warmly.”
His tweets were followed with an English translation, congratulating Prime Minister Netanyahu on his Likud party’s huge win in the recent election.
The Indo-Israeli defense relationship is likely to grow stronger with the Likud party’s win. Netanyahu’s comments after meeting Modi in New York during the UN General Assembly meetings in September suggest that the “sky is the limit” between the two allies. They recently signed the long-awaited $144 million deal for India to buy Barak-I missiles.
In November, before President Obama’s visit commemorating India’s 65th Republic Day, New Delhi and Tel Aviv tested the Barak-8 anti-missile system. New Delhi has acquired almost $700 million dollars worth of Israeli arms since Modi took power.
So the Indo-Israeli strategic relationship is likely to be on firmer footing with Netanyahu’s win.
Historically, Indo-Israeli ties are much warmer when Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) is in power. The Modi government’s anti-terrorism and pro-business stance is compatible with deeper defense and economic relations with Tel Aviv.
When India’s Congress Party is in power, the pendulum often swings the other way. This has been the case as far back as the 1955 Bandung Conference when Pandit Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, briefly considered but decided against inviting Israel to the meeting of non-aligned nations. He was trying to appease the Arab states in the Middle East by openly siding with the Palestinian cause. This set in motion India’s foreign policy for the next half-century.
However, despite this trend, Israel was India’s steadfast ally during the 1962, 1965, and 1971 wars.
Now that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty seems to be in disarray, the ‘secret love affair’ between India and Israel is likely to continue. After all, both nations were founded in the heydays of post-colonialism. Despite their public posturing, both nations stand to gain from the new alignment taking shape in the Asian Pacific region.
As China and Russia seem to be aligning with Pakistan, Israel and the U.S. may lean towards India.
According to Bruce Riedel at Brookings, a long time South Asia expert, “This past January, when President Barack Obama traveled to India to watch the Republic Day parade in New Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, the country’s strong man, was in China meeting his counterparts. The geopolitics of Asia was on vivid display. The region’s dual axes and their evolving relationships – India and America on the one hand, and Pakistan and China on the other – will be central to the global order in our times.”
The emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Vietnam, are also calling for greater action by India in the South China Sea.
India cannot remain on the sidelines; it must embrace a more active role in the world bolstered in part by the strength of the longstanding Indo-Israeli ties.
Dinesh Sharma is associate research professor at SUNY Binghamton, editor of “The Global Obama” and a contributor to Algemeiner.