The dust has settled after the frenzied activity of India’s general elections, and the resounding victory of the BJP’s Narendra Modi, allowing a more considered assessment of the ramifications, including a judicious look at the likely impact on an important element of India’s external ties — New Delhi’s strategic ties with Israel.
The first piece I wrote on the strategic significance of the Indo-Israeli relationship was in the late-1990s. It was a policy paper entitled “Indo-Israeli Strategic Cooperation as an US National Interest”, which I co-authored with a prominent Indian intellectual, the late professor M.L. Sondhi. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first work involving an Israeli academic that identified the strategic potential inherent in a partnership between these two very different but very similar democracies — the one comprising a minute sliver of land on the eastern flank of the Mediterranean Sea, the other a gigantic land mass in South Asia. Both emerged from British colonialism, less than a year apart, in the latter part of the 1940s. Together, they straddle a vast swathe of western Asia, comprised of an assorted blend of tyrannies — ranging from military dictatorships through nepotistic monarchies to despotic theocracies.
We characterised the affinity between the two countries not as a narrow and transient “perception of common interests” but as a far broader and enduring “common perception of interests” — in other words, not so much a transitory confluence of common prevailing goals, but a long-term common understanding of what national goals should be. The difference is profound and significant and likely to become more so, especially in light of the emerging global changes the international system is presently undergoing — particularly in regard to the shifting balance of global economic power and the changes in the US-Israel relationship.
We pointed to the remarkable resilience of democracies in both countries: “…the political milieu of both India and Israel is one that might have been expected to be highly conducive to the growth of dictatorship. Both countries have had to contend with threats to national security, periods of economic hardship, political assassination and ethno-religious rivalries. The fact that authoritarianism has not taken root in either country bears eloquent testimony to the deeprooted commitment of both to the principles of liberty, pluralism and the right of dissent.”
Is the relationship now poised to go into “overdrive”? While it is true that diplomatic relations were established under the rule of the Congress party (in 1992), there is little doubt that the warmth between the two nations increased perceptibly after the BJP came to power in 1998. It is also true that when the Congress surprisingly regained power in 2004, the fear that the relationship would deteriorate significantly did not materialise. However, it is difficult to deny a sense of reticence in the relationship with Israel on the part of the Congress, formed, as continued…