Opinion |

Israel, Help India Fight COVID-19

The world is watching India's coronavirus catastrophe, and it could use any lifeline at this point. Israel could now help this Asiatic power overcome one of the most serious crises in its history

Oshrit Birvadker
Oshrit Birvadker
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An open crematorium in Bangalore, yesterday
An open crematorium in Bangalore, yesterdayCredit: Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Oshrit Birvadker
Oshrit Birvadker

Over the past week the number of new daily coronavirus cases in India reached over 350,000 people, turning that country into the most dangerous coronavirus arena in the world. What is going on there is starting to resemble a horror show.

Relations between India and Israel in recent years have grown much closer. Given that friendship is measured primarily in times of crisis, this second coronavirus outbreak in India is an excellent opportunity for Israel to prove its commitment to this bilateral alliance.

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There have been more than 1.6 million new infections in India in a week, and its hospitals have reached their maximum capacity. Unlike during the first wave, the beds are being filled by younger people, and it looks as if the Indian health system is crashing. There are shortages of vaccines, hospital beds and especially oxygen. The hospital overcrowding is having its effect, leading to additional tragedies. There has been increasing public criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the failed management of the crisis, especially after it had declared that India had defeated the pandemic.

Since the pandemic broke out in early 2020, relations between New Delhi and Jerusalem went up a notch in cooperation and mutual assistance. Despite the differences in scale, it seemed as if from the start of the crisis until the vaccinations began, the two countries’ situations were similar. At first it was India that sent Israel protective equipment and drugs, and helped get Israeli citizens back home when a general lockdown was declared. Later there was also scientific cooperation.

But once the vaccines became available, the two countries parted ways. Israel focused inward and led the world in vaccinations, while India took a mixed approach: It declared “the biggest vaccination campaign in the world,” and also sent vaccines to countries that couldn’t afford them. Israel is also doing “vaccine diplomacy,” and for years has said that humanitarian health aid is one of the most significant brand icons of Israeli foreign affairs. This got considerable exposure in recent years following Israeli activity on the northern border, which included treatment of wounded from the Syrian civil war.

Over the past decade there have been calls for Israel to increase its medical assistance to developing countries for financial and diplomatic reasons. A positive step to this end occurred in 2018, with the passage of Cabinet Resolution 4021, which led to the establishment of an interministerial task force for strategic planning on this issue.

Given all this, setting up field hospitals in India’s large “red” cities like New Delhi and Mumbai is a necessary step. The Israel Defense Forces field hospitals have for years been renowned as leaders in medical aid missions in disaster zones, and Israel was the first to respond to the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and in Nepal in 2015. Israel’s Medical Corps supplies advanced services under field conditions, include lab and imaging services, which are crucial to treating Covid-19 victims. It would behoove MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development, which is responsible for formulating and implementing Israel’s foreign aid programs, to launch a program of logistical aid to India until this coronavirus storm passes.

Medical aid to India during the current crisis embodies a commitment to the strategic partnership between Jerusalem and New Delhi. The India crisis is getting lots of coverage, and residents of Western and Muslim countries alike are watching. Many people may think that Israeli aid to India would constitute a drop in the bucket, but during a disaster any lifeline is welcome, and it’s possible that Israel could help this Asiatic power overcome one of the most serious crises in its history.

Dr. Birvadker is an expert on Indian foreign and defense policy, and is a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

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