Analysis: Terror will bring us closer

By Saikat Datta, December 4, 2008

India and Israel have shared concerns over Islamic terrorism and cooperate in such diverse fields as agriculture and defence.

Culturally, they have sought mutual comfort in a divided world. Every year, nearly 30,000 Israelis spend months in India. Annual bilateral trade is pegged at nearly $3 billion, even if you discount the military hardware that India buys from Israel every year. Add in such defence purchases and you could add another $6bn to the total.

So Israeli criticism of the military operation in Nariman House was greeted in India with shock, hurt and disappointment.

There were many in Israel who said that Israeli security forces should have been deployed in the operation. But how could a sovereign, democratic nation such as India allow foreign troops to operate on its soil? And how could India, with the second-largest Muslim population in the world — India has 150 million Muslims — let Israeli troops operate in India? It simply could not.

Palestine was once a distant construct to Indians. Today, it echoes in Muslim-dominated areas in cities like Delhi, where posters brand Israel as the “enemy”. So India’s engagement with Israel is delicate and continues to be low profile, at times deniable and, depending on the ideology of the government, uncomfortable. For the Indian military, the relationship with Israel - a relationship it has actively promoted, nurtured and at times insulated from political exigencies - has always been special. Senior officers point out that the Israelis stood up to pressure from the Americans and helped build and deliver the Phalcon early warning airborne systems to India.

The current coalition government has taken steps to insulate this special relationship from a kickbacks investigation into the Barak missile deal, and is also contemplating a joint research programme with Israel for a next generation missile.

The attack in Mumbai, therefore, is a reason to ratchet up cooperation in critical areas that are deliberately low in profile but magnificent in what they achieve.

Pakistan, in the first throes of a failed state, threatens global security like nothing else. It is a nation that has actively helped nuclear proliferation in countries such as Iran and North Korea and yet managed to escape any international sanction. We are now looking at the distinct possibility of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons falling into the hands of non-state actors as a homegrown Taliban threatens to take over Pakistan.

If ever there was a time for India and Israel to work together even more closely on a range of security issues, then it is now, albeit under tragic circumstances.

The writer is senior correspondent at Outlook India

Last updated: 3:59pm, December 4 2008