By Seema Sengupta
Has India’s official stand on Palestine undergone a drastic change under the Middle East regime? Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s blunt refusal to condemn Israel, on the floor of Parliament, for using disproportionate force on civilians in Gaza Strip point toward a nuanced pro-Israel shift in India’s West Asia policy.
However, some analysts argue, on the basis of India’s sympathetic stand at the UN Human Rights Council, that even though New Delhi has decided to maintain deliberate ambiguity over the volatile situation in the region, a substantive policy reversal is not on the cards right now. The sizable number of expatriate Indians working in the Gulf and India’s substantial oil requirements will tie Modi’s hand inevitably.
Prime Minister Modi, in fact, is a signatory to the Fortaleza declaration adopted by BRICS countries recently, calling for an immediate end to continuous Israeli construction and expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The declaration unequivocally asserts that such an act by Israel violates international law, gravely undermines peace efforts and above all threatens the viability of a two-state solution.
BRICS member states even called upon Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations for creating an independent Palestine State existing side by side with Israel peacefully. Besides, India also favored the launching of an international probe into Israel’s recent Gaza offensive.
Though Modi’s boldness, of siding with a strong anti-Israel resolution, might ruffle some feathers in his own constituency as it is in sharp contrast to the stand taken by his party, it has undoubtedly restored India’s prestige in the Islamic world. New Delhi, unfortunately, has fallen behind everybody else, including her immediate neighbors, in condemning the dance of death in Gaza. The leadership of Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka unequivocally condemned Israel’s mindless military offensive and blood shedding in Palestinian territory in the Holy month of Ramadan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not hesitate to label Israel’s actions in Gaza as nothing but “genocide.” He lambasted the international community for failing to adequately rebuke Israel and called upon the world to stop the war-hungry Jewish State by all means from perpetrating brutal and naked aggressions repeatedly.
While the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina deplored the disgraceful killings of innocents, Sri Lanka underlined the urgency of recommencement of negotiations for finding a lasting solution to the festering conflict. Colombo even asked Tel Aviv to cease cross-border provocations without further delay.
Given India’s benign and “neither here nor there” position on Palestine, it seems that Modi will be more than happy to let his sub-continental counterparts do the bidding on behalf of New Delhi so far as condemnation of the latest Israeli assault is concerned.
For the first time in South Asia’s history there has been no India-led regional chastisement of Israel for causing maximum societal agony in neighboring Palestine. Considering the Modi government’s inclination to push for a self-defeating muscular foreign policy, it is not surprising that the strategic advisors of the government viewed any criticism of Israel as an empty moral grandstanding that also smacks of minority-appeasement. But is this balancing act on India’s part a sign of maturity?
Notwithstanding the bruised Palestinian sentiment and India’s seven centuries old relationship with Palestine, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes that India is displaying pragmatism by abandoning the pro-Palestine position maintained by successive governments.
They cite the covert logistical support that Israel gave to India during the 1971 war with Pakistan. The then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir got one of the country’s weapon manufacturers to replenish the dwindling mortar stock of the Indian Army artillery wing during the conflict. Not many are aware that some Israeli technicians were posted in war zone to help the Indian Army operate the new equipment that Tel Aviv delivered secretly.
As Israel continues to be a major shopping store for India’s completely import-reliant defense establishment, the Modi government believes that there are enough reasons to revisit India’s Palestine policy, which is primarily based on morality. However, this writer learnt reliably that New Delhi’s over-dependence on Israel is because of the country’s expertise in launching tailor-made “false flag operations” that helped sub-serve India’s strategic goals in volatile Kashmir rather than the sophisticated military hardware imported from the Jewish nation.
A source, who participated in some high value clandestine missions, also informed that Israel’s defense capability is, in fact, overrated. The Israeli security structure has several weaknesses that can be exploited by any worthwhile and disciplined Army with proper planning. It is only because they are fighting a ragtag militia with little firepower that the Israeli success is being exaggerated the world over. Without America’s backing, Israel cannot even withstand the conventional onslaught of an average military power, claimed the gentleman, an expert in guerilla warfare. Perhaps, there is some logic in his assessment. Israel has been the most pampered child of the West in many ways. The Israeli security apparatus has even penetrated a section of the hardline Palestine liberation groups and has been using them as a strategic tool. The current round of hostilities, that has its roots in the disappearance and eventual killing of three Israeli teenagers, is claimed to be a similar well-planned operation to scuttle peace-talks. With a pro-Israel BJP in power, New Delhi must use its trump card, retired Army Gen. JFR Jacob — highly revered by Israeli diplomats and intelligence officials — to rein in Tel Aviv. Such a move will provide India with the long-sought strategic toehold in Middle East.