Israel-India Relations Strong, but Low-key

Relations between Israel and India tend to grow stronger when tensions between Delhi, Islamabad rise.

Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz Correspondent
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Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz Correspondent

The visit of Indian Secretary of Defense Vijay Singh to Israel three weeks ago as head of a high-ranking military delegation passed quietly and was barely mentioned in the local media. The press releases said the officials discussed security-related purchases, including the sale of three Phalcon aircraft radar systems, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as missiles, helicopters, maintenance equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles. In the past decade, India has acquired Israeli weapons systems to the tune of $8 million.

However, two other issues were also on the table which were no less important: cooperation between Israel and India against Islamic terrorism, and the two countries' concern - along with that of other Western nations - over the expected dissolution of Pakistan, India's historic enemy and the first, and so far only, Islamic nuclear power.

"Our security cooperation with the Indians is excellent - there is simply no other way to put it," said a senior Israeli security official this week, who stressed that it is necessary to silence all criticism here against the Indian security forces' response to the terror rampage in Mumbai.

Relations between Israel and India tend to grow stronger when tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad rise, or when India experiences a rightward shift in anti-Muslim public opinion or in leadership. The incident that cemented diplomatic relations between the countries was the 1999 war between India and Pakistan over the Kargil area of Kashmir when, according to foreign news reports, then-Defense Ministry director general Amos Yaron arrived in India with an emergency shipment of artillery shells.

Diplomatic relations were officially established in 1991 during the long tenure of the Indian National Congress, but when the nationalist BJP party was at the helm, from 1998 to 2004, those ties blossomed. That period also saw the historic visit of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to India in 2003.

The INC is now in power again, and continues to maintain warm relations with Jerusalem, but prefers to keep details of them discreet, partly because it has Muslim members. Singh's visit, consequently, was decidedly low key.

Israel is prepared to do many things to maintain its relations with India. For example, in 2005, when the conversion in India of the Bnei Menashe community (residents of India's northeast, who claim to be descended of the lost Israelite tribe of Menashe) sparked controversy among local religious leaders, the government was urged to stop the conversions abroad, and instead conducted them in Israel once the new immigrants arrived.

The harsh criticism leveled within India at the current government for its handling of the Mumbai attacks bode ill for the INC, which is likely to lose again to the BJP in general elections at the start of 2009. If that happens, relations between Israel and India will likely only grow stronger.



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