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December 2003 - January 2004

Political News

Red Carpet for Ariel Sharon in New Delhi

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

" Terrorism is the worst kind of violence, so we have to check it, we have to take counter-measures. It might become necessary to fight terrorists with violence."
The Dalai Lama, quoted in The New York Times Sept 19, 2003.

The world has become such an increasingly unsafe place in recent times , thanks to the rise of religious and political extremism and terrorist violence that no less a man than The Dalai Lama, acknowledged to be the apostle of peace still walking the earth, was persuaded to say such a thing as this, sanctioning the use of force to fight terrorism . These are truly extraordinary days.Confronted with the modern-day menace of suicide bombers and spectacular terrorist attacks with mortars and rocket propelled grenade launchers, crossing international borders , trained to carry out terror missions with military precision, taking the lives of innocent men, women and children in the name of religion , India and Israel after a lot of soul-searching and deep deliberation finally decided to tie the knot and fight it together for sheer national survival. We are now living in the environment of a new-age sub-conventional warfare whose perpetrators aim to create a new world disorder. Given the circumstances of a fragile security situation and a heightened threat perception, it is not surprising that in the evolving Indo-Israeli relationship, forging innovative strategies in the fight against terrorism and defence co-operation have been given paramount importance.

Founding of the State of Israel - A throw back into history.

The Nazis had sent six million Jews to the gas chambers. The magnitude of the cruelty and the scale of the murders of the innocents, had outraged the world. The claims of high moral ground and civilisational superiority of the Europeans lay in ruins. Such barbarism was unheard off in the annals of human history. Although the crime was committed by the Germans under the boot-straps of Adolf Hitler, it reflected equally poorly on the rest of the Europeans, most of whom had ominously remained silent when the crime was being committed. After the WW2 ended in 1945, there was deep introspection followed by calls among the Europeans for an atonement of the sin.

As the post-war de-colonisation process started, the British Colonial Office came up with an idea for granting the long-suffering Jews a modern homeland of their own. A proposal was put forward as the Balfour Declaration in 1946 which recommended the creation of a State of Israel in the midst of the mandated Palestinian territories, which were then under British control. The location of the Jewish State, we are led to believe, had become a matter of debate among the enabling imperial powers. Since the Germans were guilty of the crime of genocide, questions were raised as to why the said homeland for the Jews be not created in the heartland of Europe cutting a piece of land out of Germany. But Germany was already divided into two halves viz., the Federal Republic of Germany, being part of the Western Alliance and the German Democratic Republic absorbed into the Soviet Bloc.

It was claimed that there was not much space left in the Federal Republic of Germany to carve out a third state. The German Democratic Republic was not even prepared to hear about it. Lord Balfour took the view, said to have been arrived at after wide-ranging consultations with authoritative sources, that given the lack of space in Germany and since the Holy Land of Palestine was the original historical home of the Israelites - a Biblical people - for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam 1400 years ago, the State of Israel should be lawfully carved out of the mandated Palestinian territories. Palestine was thus partitioned and the State of Israel came into being in 1948 along with a Palestinian Authority located next door.

The Palestinian Arabs refused to accept Lord Balfour's contentions and rejected in its entirety the idea of the creation of a separate homeland for the Jews with common borders with the Palestinian homeland . It is said that the Palestinians have unassailable historical evidence confirming that the whole of Palestine was their homeland, exclusively .

The Palestine Liberation Organisation, acting as the spokesman of the Palestinian people, has firmly stuck to this stand up until this day . This view is shared by the major terrorist outfits fighting to destroy Israel like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Hizbollah. The 22-member Arab League and the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Countries stand behind the PLO in refusing to accept the existence of the State of Israel.

To an independent observer, with the Israeli-Palestinian battle lines drawn, Israel comes out as a hapless underdog. It is a line-up of 57 Islamic Countries against 1 tiny Jewish State, the size of Wales and a population of 6 million. The steely determination of the Israeli people to survive in such a hostile neighbourhood has drawn world-wide admiration.

Recent Developments

The alleged excesses of the Israeli Government under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responding to intensified Palestinian terror attacks have attracted opprobrium in equal measure. In a recently published book entitled " Politicide : Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians " the writer Baruch Kimmerling, an Israeli academic, asserts that Israel under Sharon has become an agent of destruction suggesting that the central goal of its domestic and foreign policy is the "politicide" of the Palestinian people. The author defines the term to mean " the dissolution of the Palestinian people's existence as a legitimate social, political and economic entity ".

If Kimmerling is taken seriously, then there is no escaping the conclusion that Israel and Palestine are now locked in mortal combat, both determined to exterminate each other. The consequences of such a denouement can be horrendous with world-wide repercussions.

Therefore one can not over- emphasise the urgent need for creating a congenial environment to help cool the over-heated situation. Indicative of the deep concerns, a group of Israeli opposition politicians led by Yossi Beilin, intellectuals like Amos Oz, Palestinian former ministers led by Yassar Abed Rabbo united to propose an Alternative Peace Plan which was unveiled in Jordan on October 13, 2003 to put an end to the bloodshed in the region. A two-state formula is at the heart of the Plan that envisages the return of most of the occupied territories and the Palestinians agreeing to give up the right of return of the refugees who had left Israel in 1948. Former US
President Bill Clinton will be involved in the negotiations proposed to be held at Geneva.The Alternative Peace Plan has not, however, been well received by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but these are early days

Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister who became famous for opposing the US led War of Pre-emption against Iraq without full UN authority , contributed his own thoughts on the subject. In his Dimbleby lecture in London on October 19, 2003 he said that he believed that the spiral of violence could not be stopped unless there was recognition of Israel's absolute right to security and that of the Palestinian people to a state within the 1967 borders and invited the quartet of Europe, America, Russia and the UN to do it together. He wanted to speed up the implementation process of the Road Map by convening a Peace Conference. He proposed a collective monitoring mechanism and the deployment of a multilateral force.

One can see that there is an increasing interest in the international community to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine dispute. There is no such interest in the international community to find solutions to the quarrels between India and Pakistan. This is because India has shut the doors on the rest of the world on the Kashmir issue and declared that it is a bilateral issue with Pakistan and it is best left to the parties concerned. Given the existence of narrow geo-political interests and loyalty net-works of prospective mediators, no one can fault India's decision not to seek help from the outside world. Having said that , it is my belief that keeping the US completely out of a future Road Map of a Peaceful solution on Kashmir may be almost impossible.

India's Israel policy, the Early Phase

Two factors shaped India's early Israel policy. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was also his Foreign Minister, was a dedicated believer in secularism and also committed to pursuing a policy of anti-colonialism as a foreign policy goal. He saw Israel as no different from Pakistan . Both were created by colonial powers in the name of religion. They were inherently theocratic in nature and therefore ideologically regressive . Israel did not fit in with his interpretation of the secular ideal to which he was rigorously dedicated. Critics of Nehru have alleged that his personalised view of secularism, in its application to Israel, was misplaced. It was nothing more than an exercise in the appeasement of the Muslim opinion in the Arab World for dubious electoral gains. If there is any truth in this charge, it could have been because of the influence of his friend Gamal Abdul Nassar, the charismatic Egyptian leader, also a co-founder of the Non Aligned Movement and an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Nehru had also felt that Israel like Pakistan was created primarily to serve the biddings of the Masters from the Western Chancellories and therefore nothing will be lost, given India's anti-colonial stand, if New Delhi keeps away from Israel at least for the time being.

Whatever the reasons, judged by any yardstick, Nehru's decision not to establish normal diplomatic relations with the sovereign independent State of Israel in 1948 was uniquely short sighted and unfair to Israel. It would be wrong to interpret the present day close US-Israel relations as a vindication of Nehru's prejudices and suspicions.

1992 - Stepping out of Fudge and Stepping into Clarity.

The world seems to have more or less accepted the American contention that the Fall of the Twin Towers in New York at the hands of Islamic terrorists on September Eleven of 2001 changed the direction of modern history. It is true up to a point but it is not the whole truth. The US was like a sleeping giant that was raised to recognise a modern menace born in the battlefields of Afghanistan and take up arms to fight it.

The bigger event was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 at the hands of the Islamic Mujahideen created and sustained by the USA. There was a precariously established balance of power in the international system from 1945 to 1989 which was now seriously disrupted. There was widespread instability such that it is beginning to look that its is going out of control. I hope that such prognostication is proved wrong. 9/11 was the consequence of this instability. The good thing is that the world

is seeing the maturing of America as it is goes through a baptism of fire in Iraq and Afghanistan after its own Wars of Pre-emption. If Washington succeeds in establishing democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan , the world will have a lot to thank America for. This will also ensure that the US remains engaged with the world.

The destruction of the Soviet Union orphaned India. There was nothing ideological about Indo-Soviet friendship. It was realpolitik that brought them together. India had nowhere to look to for protection after 1989 in the event of an emergency. A quick reassessment of security options became necessary in New Delhi.

One of the first steps undertaken by India after 1989 was to send feelers to Washington for mending fences and building an architecture of friendship with the US. It was Rajiv Gandhi who personally took the initiative to raise the issue with US President Ronald Reagan during his visit to Washington. It came as an eye opener to India when Reagan politely advised Gandhi to first establish the long over-due normal diplomatic relations with Israel which, it seems to me, the US President, in good faith , might have thought would help speed up the Indo-US friendship. That set the ball of Indo-Israel relationship rolling. Reagan wanted to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone and succeeded. The diplomatic master-stroke benefited all the three nations although in different degrees .

The strange thing was that New Delhi failed to take a vitally important foreign policy decision on its own initiative. It took 44 long years since the birth of Israel as a sovereign state to upgrade a moribund relationship, prodded by the US, to a full-fledged diplomatic status. The momentous decision was taken by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. It was no coincidence, however, that the year that heralded the change from benign neglect of a potentially productive relationship to constructive engagement, was 1992, when Fundamentalist Islam's extremist violence and murder and mayhem were mushrooming everywhere.

Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism - India and Israel on the hit list of terrorism .

The Shia Revolution in Iran in 1979 gave birth to a new phenomenon called Islamic fundamentalism. Iranian Shiism, historically the minority denomination in Islam, in its triumphant mood challenged the dominance of the majority Sunnis. It caused enormous internal tensions within Islam. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve in 1979 - a knee-jerk overstated strategic reaction to the return of Ayatollah Khomenei to Tehran in the same year - was a heaven-sent opportunity for the two pillars of Islam's Sunni fundamentalism - Wahaabi Saudi Arabia and Deobandi Pakistan - to consolidate their age-old alliance partnership and together challenge Shia triumphalism. If the Red Army could be defeated in the battlefields of Afghanistan, such a victory would impact in curbing the rising influence of Iranian Shiism, thus preserving the primacy of Sunni Islam. The Afghan War was, therefore, a manifestation of this gargantuan power struggle for dominance that was going on between the Shias and the Sunnis within Islam.

The US, just as the Soviets before them, had no business to poke its nose in this family dispute within Islam. Although out of place in this theological configuration, Washington was determined to push its own Cold War agenda for defeating the Soviet Union through a proxy war. It decided to partner with the forces of Islam's Sunni fundamentalism, providing them in the Afghan War ( 1979-1989 ) with material support and tilting the balance in favour of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. One can see why Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini, the supreme spiritual leader of the Iranian Shia Revolution , went on to describe America, out of much frustration and a great deal of anger that, it was the Great Satan, in other words an interventionist power and an unwelcome spoiler. The historic turning point of the defeat of the Soviet Union at the hands of the Mujahideen, united the forces of Shiism and Sunni Islam against the US, now fundamentalist Islam's newly targeted adversary.

Fired by its successes in creating widespread chaos and instability, Islamic terrorist net-works widened their hit list to include India and Israel in addition to America and Russia. The consolidated fire-power of Sunni-Shia fundamentalist terrorism can be seen on the TV screens in full cry against the Israeli people and in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Hizbollah is backed by Shia Iran, while Islamic Jihad finds support from Sunni Syria and Wahaabi Saudi Arabia. The patrons of Hamas include all the three and others in the Arab World. Those fighting India are Pakistan's ISI-created front organisations - Lashkar e Tayyaba, Jaish e Muhammad, Hizbul Mujahideen and others ; ideologically they are Deobandi and Wahaabi Sunnis. Al Qaida and the Taliban are Wahaabi and Deobandi Sunnis fighting the US. The Chechens fighting the Russians have the support of Al Qaida apart from the other outfits mentioned above.

These organisations are all inter-linked and net-worked, yet the US gives the impression that they are not. That is why a terrorist attack against the US is treated as terrorism while terrorist violence against India is not quite treated as such. That explains why India keeps complaining of US double standards. There is a widespread view in India that as long as Pakistan - the epicentre of Islamic terrorism - remains a close ally of the US in its war on terror, the US can not be regarded as a serious ally of India in its own War on Terror . There are lurking suspicions in India that the US may have a secret agenda of its own that may be at variance with New Delhi's own concerns and vital national interests in the region.

"The Tipping Point "

Malcolm Gladwell, in his insightful international best seller "The Tipping Point - How Little Things can make a Big Difference" says that there are occasions when a simple Idea transforms itself through a magical process and crosses the threshold moving into a mode of high-energy momentum of " tip and take off ". Post 9/11 of 2001, such a point in Indo-Israel relationship seems to have arrived .

Both the nations see each other as hapless victims of rising Islamic Terrorism . Worse they are favoured with only limited sympathy from the international community.

As the terrorist attacks on India and Israel intensified during the last about three years and also as India embarked on a programme of massive modernisation of its armed forces, the need to come together on a common platform became paramount in the minds of the policy planners in both New Delhi and Tel Aviv. What influenced the Indian leaders were memories of the unreserved help extended by Israel in supplying the much needed critical military hardware during India's 1999
Kargil conflict with Pakistan. Indicative of a covert but productive informal relationship that existed between India and Israel, Tel Aviv had also supplied valuable military equipment way back in 1962 at the time when China had attacked India. New Delhi had also noticed the sophistication of Israeli military production and its high quality research and development work in the field of defence. The willingness on the part of Tel Aviv to co-operate with New Delhi in the fight against terrorism as well as in the field of defence - assured by the lure of the giant Indian market - was seen by India as an opportunity to develop a strategic bilateral relationship. India's decision to develop close relationship with Tel Aviv over-ride the fact that Israel does not provide New Delhi with the attraction of a large market for its own products and services. What counts above everything else is that both the nations are democracies and share the common values of freedom and liberty.

Ariel Sharon in New Delhi

For Ariel Sharon, a highly decorated retired General of the Israeli Army , the historic 3-day visit to New Delhi beginning 9th September 2003 was the first ever by an Israeli Prime Minister to India. The welcoming ceremonies in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan - the Presidential Palace - were marked by extraordinary warmth. India truly laid out the red carpet. Sharon had never seen anything like it ever before .

Accompanied by a high-powered 150-member delegation, Sharon and the Deputy Prime Minister Yosef Lapid held wide-ranging discussions with the Indian leaders covering subjects
like the fight against terrorism, defence co-operation, partnership in space and economic co-operation.

Two suicide bomb attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on the day of Sharon's arrival in India claiming 15 lives forced the Israeli PM to cut short his visit by a day. Lapid lamented that the very reason that brought us to India is responsible for cutting short the visit - Terrorism '. Before leaving for home, Sharon invited Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to visit Israel, which was reportedly accepted with "much pleasure".

Although the fight against terrorism dominated the joint statement issued at the end of Sharon's visit, defence remained the vital component.

Richard Boucher, the US State Department spokesman said " We are happy to see our friends make friends with each other and work together ". The strategic underpinning of the India-Israel equation was provided by the National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra's call for an India-Israel-US alliance to jointly fight terrorism. Mishra's suggestion was to make the two bilateral arrangements, trilateral. Co-operation in the nuclear field and space programmes were also discussed in depth and important decision taken. Confirming what Brajesh Mishra had earlier floated, Yosef Lapid said that there is an " unwritten and abstract " axis between the US, India and Israel to combat terrorism. " There is American support for the development of this unwritten axis ". What looked like a low-key but significant statement attributed to Lapid was : " Mankind's existence would be threatened the day terrorists laid their hands on nuclear weapons ".

The formidable list of Israeli arms sales to India discussed at the India-Israel Summit in New Delhi on September 9 and 10, 2003 were as follows :

1. Three Phalcon airborne early warning and control systems to be mounted on Russian IL-76 aircraft. Total cost $1.29 billion. The trilateral Russia-Israel-India deal was formalised on October 10, 2003.
2. Arrow anti-ballistic missile system estimated at $2.5 billion.Its sale has not been cleared as yet by the US which funded its research and development.
3. Ten anti missile defence systems in addition to the 7 alreadyinstalled on Indian warships
4. An unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles costing $142 million .
5. Electronic warfare systems for the naval ships costing $105 million.
6. Three patrol boats
7. 3400 Tavor assault rifles, 300 sniper rifles, night vision devices for the new special forces group trained by Israeli specialists to fight Islamic militants in Kashmir.
8. Avionics for 40 Russian made SU-30 fighters
9. Assistance for high-tech fencing for military bases in Kashmir
·10. Upgrading IAF's Russian made MIG 27 attack planes and British made Jaguars and Sea Harriers.

With these massive acquisitions, Israel took the place as the second largest arms supplier to India after Russia. Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak, a retired IAF officer and a security studies specialist, commented that the significance of the acquisition of The Phalcon AWACS goes beyond immediate threat-matrix ; it creates long-term capabilities-based defence . The system will act as a strategic force multiplier integrating a whole range of combat missions and air support platforms. Washington had rejected the Israeli sale of the Phalcons to China in 2000.

The usual Sour Note from Pakistan.

Pakistan did not lose much time in delivering a warning that it would do whatever it takes to match any advanced weapons systems that Israel may sell to India. To quote Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri " We will do whatever is required to make sure that minimum credible balance is maintained. We have done that for 56 years ". President Pervez Musharraf while attending the OIC Summit in Putrajaya in Malaysia, upped the ante when he warned on October 15, 2003 that Pakistan's policy is to maintain a "No-Win" military balance with India. It is an undisguised attempt at nuclear black-mail unbecoming of a supposedly responsible nation.

Reaction in the Arab-Muslim World

Closely following Sharon's India trip, at the Organisation of Islamic Conference ( OIC ) Summit in Malaysia, Abdelouahed Belkeziz, the Secretary General of OIC, raised on October 16, 2003 the issue of the " self-determination of the Kashmiri people " and urged India to allow its delegation " to inspect conditions in the Indian-controlled part of the State ". Such an outburst, belied the prediction of Ms Bronwen Maddox, Foreign Editor of The Times on October 10, 2003 who had predicted that the real damage to India-Arab relations would show in the long run, not this week. The angry OIC reaction, under pressure from Pakistan came within nearly a week. India promptly rejected such a call. An Arab diplomat in New Delhi commented " What really worried us was not the visit itself but the euphoria with which Sharon was welcomed … We felt terribly out of place ". Prime Minister Vajpayee made matters worse for the Arabs when he decided to visit Ankara, Turkey immediately after Sharon's Delhi visit giving grist to the mills of the conspiracy theorists of an India-Israel-Turkey axis in the making.

The Arab indifference to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is a sure sign of the existence of a serious fault-line between India and the Arab-Muslim world. Saudi support to Wahaabi terrorism in India remains a matter of much concern. The refusal by the OIC to acknowledge India's large Muslim population rankles India no end. The Arab world is on notice that its support to the Palestine cause should not be taken for granted any more.

The time has therefore come for all concerned to put fresh thinking for developing a more pragmatic Arab-India relationship taking on board the new political realities. New mechanisms of engagement will have to be planned and implemented soon. Qatar and Sudan have gone ahead and sponsored India's case for an Observer Status at the OIC Summits . Opposed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, their moves did not succeed. Russia has been given the status of an Observer at the last OIC Summit in Malaysia, the initiative having been taken by Mahathir Muhammad , the Malaysian leader personally.

One can observe changes already underway in the Middle East. Oman has allowed construction of Hindu temples. For the first time the UAE has allowed cremation grounds for Hindus and Sikhs.On Gujarat riots, Saudi Arabia has maintained silence.


Gen Ashok Mehta, a strategic thinker and a columnist in The Pioneer, an Indian daily newspaper wrote : " Israel is the biggest victim of terrorism and suicide attacks. It follows a no-compromise and shoot first policy against terrorists. … India cannot expect to win the war against terror by simply importing technology and techniques. It has also to produce a stock of political will and killer instinct , the stuff which is not in the Indian genes and without which terror can only be fought without hurting the enemy ". Strong stuff indeed .

The coming together of India and Israel was like a meeting of minds between two very different models of state craft. Israel is acknowledged to be a " Hard State " while India, despite its protestations to the contrary, cannot escape being regarded as a " Soft State ", at least as of yet. General Ashok Mehta's comment above is witness to this body of opinion. One should not however turn a blind eye to the fact that India is fighting a proxy war run by a nuclear-armed terrorist state, unlike the Palestinians, and hot pursuits, except under extreme provocation, like the one Israel tried out recently by attacking alleged Islamic Jihad training bases in Syria, can end up in a disaster. As inter-actions intensify and the learning process from each other's experiences progress, one can expect certain readjustments in their policies which will be for the good of both the nations. Israel may become less hard just as India may be persuaded to become less soft.

The question that will remain uppermost in the minds of both the Indians as well as the Israelis is that apart from arms-transactions and technology transfers, what else they can do to each other to help secure their future within safe borders. The answer to this question will determine the future of the relationship.

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