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The India-Israel-US Nexus

September 10, 2003

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to India will reinforce the strategic ties between India and Israel within the broad framework of a US-Israel-India alliance.

If it was just a coincidence that India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra was closeted in his office on September 11, 2001 with his Israeli counterpart Major General Uzi Dayan discussing 'joint security strategy,' when the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon occurred, it is calculated scheduling that brought Sharon to India during the second anniversary of the attacks.

India and Israel were among the few countries which enthusiastically applauded President Bush's declaration of the war on terror with its famous injunction 'with us or with the terrorists.'  While Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his letter of October 2, 2001 to President Bush, eloquently mixed obsequiousness towards the US with hawkishneess towards Pakistan placing cross-border terrorism in the framework of the war on terror, Sharon got on its bandwagon, declaring that 'Arafat is our bin Laden.'

India and Israel signed a joint agreement along with six agreements on environment protection, drug trafficking, visa-free travel for diplomats and cooperation in health, education and culture. But the more important secret pacts will be scrupulously kept away from public gaze and there will be little reference to the bourgeoning military ties.

The rationale behind the US-India-Israel strategic partnership was expounded by Brajesh Mishra before a responsive audience of the American Jewish Committee this May. Only a 'core' consisting of democracies such as India, Israel and the United States can deal with terrorism, he maintained. 'Distinctions sought to be made between freedom fighters and terrorists propagate a bizarre logic,' he pontificated. The theme of India, the United States and Israel being 'prime targets of terrorism,' having a 'common enemy,' and requiring 'joint action' which Mishra explained had already found favour in the three capitals. 

In fact, immediately after the September 11 attacks, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal featured an article arguing that Israel, India and Turkey were Washington's only 'allies for the long haul' in the coming war against terrorism. While an increasingly democratic Turkey turned out to be a major disappointment for the US, the three way ties between Israel, India and the US grew fast spurred along by precisely the same forces in Washington which championed the invasion of Iraq. Some of the biggest boosters of US- Indian military ties both inside and outside the Bush administration are also prominent neo-conservative with close ties to Israel's ruling Likud Party.

The visit takes place at a critical juncture when the entire strategic calculus in the Middle East and South Asia stands totally changed due to events of September 11, the Afghanistan war and Gulf War II.  Professor Martin Sherman in an article in the Jerusalem Post on February 28, 2003 argued, 'An alliance between India and Israel openly endorsed by the US would create a potent stabilizing force in the region and could contribute significantly toward facing down the force of radical extremism so hostile to American interests in Western and Central Asia.'

Sherman pointed out there were major considerations beyond regional stability that made a strong case for a vibrant India-Israel axis. 'For example in the emerging balance of geo-strategic power, the growing Chinese challenge to US primacy will almost invariably dictate the need for a regional counterweight to Chinese domination.'  Similar views on meeting the Chinese challenge were expressed by Lloyd Richardson of the Hudson Institute, a think tank very close to the US administration, when he said that India 'is the most overlooked of our potential allies in a strategy to contain China.'

It was in the vacuum in technological imports and military supplies, created by US sanctions on India, in the wake of the nuclear tests that Israel stepped in as India's friend in the hour of need. The Kargil war, utilized by Tel Aviv to prove its special relationship with New Delhi, made India's military establishment deeply indebted to Israel. Despite pressures from various quarters, not to supply ammunition to any party engaged in war, Israel responded within days to India's desperate requests by supplying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for high altitude surveillance, laser-guided systems and many other items.    

Washington gave its special blessing to the Israel-India strategic alliance when it gave the clearance to Israel to sell their powerful Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System to India. It is actively considering approval to sell the more militarily important Israeli anti-missile system jointly developed with the US. The US calculates that both these systems will serve also its own interests. It has openly stated that any strengthening of India's military capability is in America's interest.

India and Israel are nuclear powers, the former a declared one and the latter an undeclared one. Of particular interest to the Israelis now is cooperation with India in the nuclear field.  In Israeli perception the emerging strategic imperative is the development of sea-borne second strike capability.  This can be operative only from the Indian Ocean and hence strategic cooperation with the Indian navy is essential.  It is presumed that India's own perception cannot be otherwise as the credibility of its second strike capability would largely depend on the sea-borne leg of its nuclear triad. The first meeting of India's Nuclear Command Authority held just a few days before Sharon's visit assumes significance in this connection.

In spite of the proforma reiteration of India's 'unwavering support' to the Palestinian cause, during the hastily arranged visit of Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabeel Sha'ath just a few days ago, the red carpet welcome to Ariel Sharon sends a clear signal of India's approval for Sharon's policies. An Israeli commentator Lev Grinberg wrote in June 2002, anticipating the US invasion of Iraq: 'Sharon is deeply satisfied with Bush's Middle East plan that practically means a global war managed by the 'Busharon' team in which Bush will play the role of the global Sheriff, imposing a new order in the Islamic states. Sharon has been nominated as the regional Sheriff and allowed to impose a new order in his area of influence.'

President George Bush endearingly called Sharon 'a man of peace' on the occasion of the launching of the 'road map,' the plan for the Palestinian state. Sharon's call for an end to 'occupation' prompted a false sense of hope among many. Sharon did not indicate any willingness to relinquish Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza strip, merely expressing instead a desire to end any Israeli responsibility for the Palestinian population, a statement echoing Israeli prime ministers from 1967. Focusing on Sharon's use of the word 'occupation' or possible dismantlement of 'outposts' blinds us to the larger reality of an apartheid style Palestinian 'Bantustan,' where the fig leaf of autonomy hides the reality of continued Israeli occupation. One Sharon initiative that has sparked deep antagonism among Palestinians is 'The Wall,' the 347-km long 'security barrier' 8 metre high 2 metre thick fencing, in the entire West Bank north to south, 'a ghastly racist wall' in the words of Edward Said.

The high profile welcome by the Indian government to the 'regional sheriff' is another clear illustration of India's subjugation of its national interests to the US' strategic designs for Asia.

The writer is a political activist and commentator based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and is the author of The War on Terror: Reordering the World, LeftWord Books, New Delhi,2003


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