India, a one time strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, appears to be getting ready to jump from the sinking Arab ship to the Israeli yacht. Those who doubt this only need look at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's visit to New Delhi a few weeks ago to get support for his declaration of statehood (initially set for Sept. 13th).
To say the least, the ruling Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) very coolly dismissed him. In contrast, Shimon Peres' visit a week later was more favorably welcomed by the Indian administration especially after the Israeli foreign minister publicly extended his full support for India's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
A flurry of visits - first by Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, followed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, Deputy Chairperson of the Upper House of Parliament Najma Heptullah and the Marxist West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu - this past summer has taken Indo-Israeli relations to a whole new level.
Chief Minister Basu's visit was a total surprise given that the Indian left was traditionally the strongest supporter of the Palestinians. Singh's visit this summer was the first ever by an Indian foreign minister since diplomatic relations were established in 1992. This alone was a major gain for Israel in the court of international opinion.
It is a great victory indeed for Israel, particularly given the long track record of solid Indian support for the Palestinian cause. India was a strong supporter from the early days of independence.
"Palestine belongs to the Arabs I the same sense that England belongs to the English..." said Mohandas K. Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement. In fact, Gandhi stated unequivocally that it was "wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct."
He was also against the idea of giving over wholly or partly to the Jews because he felt it would be a "crime against humanity." The champion of non-violence also stated that "...according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds."
This attitude was adopted as Indian policy in 1956 when Jawaharlal Nehru openly broke ranks with London and joined the Palestinian camp. India remained in the Arab camp until 1992 when New Delhi recognized the Zionist state and moved to establish ties. At the time, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres had played well to Hindu extremist sentiments and stressed on the need for India and Israel to cooperate to combat "Islamic fundamentalism" and "terrorism".
"We have been a victim of this for a long time. We have to cope with tensions, with extremist Islamic attitudes," said Rabin in an interview with the Times of India.
The opposition to the growing relationship has diminished over time. Unfortunately, more and more intellectuals and journalists are advocating a shift to the Zionist camp. Astonishingly, some are even claiming that India has lost out over the years by siding with the Arabs - economically, politically and militarily.
Sadly, even the Indian Muslim response has been muted. The lack of any significant opposition from the Muslim community in 1992 and this summer is proof of Muslim acquiescence to the new ties with Israel.
Muslims have even been warned against siding with Palestinians. Former Union Law minister Ram Jethmalani openly said that every patriot Indian should welcome the relationship with Israel. In other words, Muslims had better not object unless they wish to reinforce their image as anti-nationalist and pro-Pakistani.
More recently, the two countries have moved quickly to develop cooperation in the economic, political, and military and intelligence areas. The burst of activity in these fields over the last few years is phenomenal.
Since 1992, the trade between the two countries has grown from $200 million to $1 billion and there are more than 150 joint ventures.
Israel's two national air carriers, Zim and El- Al, are active throughout India. Zim has fifteen offices and El-Al operates three flights a week from Mumbai. Much of the economic activity evolved from a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 1992 covering cooperation in trade, agriculture, solar energy, natural resources, tourism, and most importantly, research and development (read defense industry). During Singh's recent visit, an Indo-Israeli Joint Commission was set up to advance cooperation in the economic, scientific, energy and cultural spheres.
In terms of military, a number of commentators expect that Israel will become the largest source of military hardware in the next few years. In addition to the millions of dollars in advanced equipment which India expects to purchase from Israel, India is also hoping to benefit from technical know-how from the Israeli defense industry, considered to be among the world's best.
There is already cooperation in military intelligence and training. In fact, the former Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani told the Times of India "Mossad has no conflict of interest with India. Remember the kind of assistance they gave us during the Kargil conflict."
The focus of L. K. Advani's visit was on devising ways to combat terrorism. The discussions were firmed up during Singh's visit when the two countries agreed to set up a joint forum to combat terrorism (read undermine Kashmiri independence and the Muslim minority). In fact, according to Professor Barry Rubin of Bar Ilan University, Israel is the only country helping India to combat so-called Pakistani aided terrorists.
Sure, countries can and should cooperate to fight threats to their security and sovereignty, but the agenda of Hindu extremists and Zionists go beyond this. This fact is clearly illustrated by the track record of both of these groups.
Politically, the relationship is expected to bear fruits for both countries. India denies that the new relations will mean a shift toward Israel in the UN General Assembly and other international arenas. But Israel has made it clear that in exchange for support on the Kashmir issue and on the need to contain Pakistan, it expects India to vote in favor of Israel at the UN--a position confirmed on the record by none other than Peres who made this clear to Indian journalists.
Israel has achieved a major coup by winning over one of the staunchest pro-Arab voices. India, gets a boost in its bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and the support of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Washington.
The Hindu extremist leadership makes no secret of their admiration of the influential position enjoyed by Israel's supporters in the United States and their desire to make use of it. "The Jewish lobby has great understanding of the political process in the U.S.," said Shekar Tiwari of the Friends of India Society International (FISI).
Tiwari told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs that the lobby has been very favorable to India's interests. "Our efforts at lobbying are new and weak so we seek guidance form the Jewish lobby and they have helped us whenever they can."
Having the pro-Israeli lobby on board helps the BJP in all its major foreign policy goals - U.S. approval of Israeli sales of high-tech military equipment, the Kashmir issue, and with its bid for a seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council.
It should be noted that the cozy relationship with the pro-Israeli lobby is not new for India. Indeed, the Times of India once reported that years before BJP came to power, they would routinely schedule meetings with Jewish groups on trips to the United States.
The Arab and Islamic world reaction has been pred,ictable. A n,umber of Arab countries, including those represented in the Arab league expressed their concern by issuing a statement, but then went on with business as usual.
Meanwhile, some Muslim countries, including Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia have continued to strengthen their own relations with India and Israel.
Come October, officials from the two foreign ministries are expected to hold bilateral talks in Jerusalem. The Arab world must take a stand to apply the brake to this unholy alliance between the Zionist camp and the Hindu extremist BJP. Sure, the developing relationship cannot be put to an end, particularly when most Muslim and Arab countries are also rushing to work with Israel, but at the very least there must be an attempt to monitor the covert or hidden agenda behind this new alliance.
The Arab world is presently in an excellent position to influence the direction of the relationship if they act quickly. The economic weapon, if used, will have a great effect because, contrary to what many Indian commentators allege, India presently benefits much more from the Arab world than it does from Israel. The Middle East has served as the largest supplier of energy resources. Moreover, the Arab countries, and some Muslim countries, have been large and open markets for Indian goods and services benefiting the Indian economy to the tune of billions of dollars. In fact, the repatriation alone from Indian nationals working in the Middle East is in the billions - not including the billions more in black market money that is pumped into the Indian economy. The state of Kerala alone, for instance, receives the equivalent of more than 25% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from its residents working in the Gulf, according to the Trivandrum-based Institute of Development Studies.
The agenda behind the dangerous liaison - alienating Pakistan, undermining the Kashmir independence movement, and targeting the Muslim minority in India - makes it imperative for the Muslim world to take notice and monitor this relationship closely.
(Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and writer. He is also a columnist for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and a regular contributor to Iviews.com.)
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