Colombo, December 1 (Counterpoint): New Delhi's dependence on and ideological affinity with Israel are too deep for India to support the Palestinians, regardless of the suffering they are undergoing now and the bleak future that awaits them.
India's growing dependence on Israel for its defence, its burgeoning economic ties with that country (including the Adanis' investment in Haifa port),
and the strong ideological affinity between the Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindutva and Israel's Zionism, cumulatively make it very difficult for New Delhi to condemn Israel for its actions against the Palestinians, however brutal they may be.
India's pro-Israel stance was revealed clearly in the UN General Assembly plenary session on the“Question of Palestine and the Situation in the Middle East” held on November 28.
In her statement, India's envoy, Ruchira Kamboj. began by saying that the humanitarian crisis with civilian deaths was“clearly unacceptable” and that efforts by the international community to bring about a de-escalation and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Palestine was welcome.
But while saying that the terror attacks on Israel on 7th October and hostage-taking deserved“unequivocal condemnation” and demanding that the remaining hostages must be released, there was no condemnation of the Israeli carpet bombing of Gaza killing more than 11,000 people. Kamboj only urged the observance of international humanitarian law and that without naming Israel.
This was followed by a platitude about restarting of direct negotiations for a Two-State solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.
Adanis' in Israel
One of the major considerations in the BJP government's Israel policy is the Adanis' involvement in Haifa port in Israel. A consortium led by the Adani Group completed the purchase of Haifa Port for US$ 1.15 billion in January 2023.
When the head of Adani Ports, Karan Adani, was asked by Nikkei Asia about the fate of the investment after the Gaza war started, he said:
“The entire Haifa Port has been designed keeping such a situation in mind. When we look at our risk parameters, we are very confident that at the end of the day, even after this event, the economy of Israel, trade from Israel and the political stability will not get affected. We are very confident about our investment, as we have taken a very long-term view because such assets are coming with 30-or-40 year concessions.”
Haifa port is critical for Israel as 99% of all goods move in and out of Israel by sea and Haifa is a major trade hub on the Mediterranean.
Significantly, there is an India-China competition angle here too. In 2022, China's Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) had opened a new port in Haifa.
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in 2017, a MoU on India-Israel Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund was signed. India and Israel have established bilateral consultation mechanisms in all sectors of collaboration including water, agriculture, counter-terrorism and defence.
Indian software companies, notably TCS, Infosys, Tech Mahindra and Wipro are expanding their presence in Israel. Israeli companies have invested in India in renewable energy, real estate, water technologies and are also setting up R&D centers and production units in India, the website said.
The cumulative FDI from India, as of September 2019, was about US$ 118 million. During April 2000 – March 2021, Israel's direct FDI into India was reported at US$ 224.76 million.
During the deployment of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, Israel trained the Indian Navy's Marine Commandos (MARCOS) in destroying flat bottom boats of the LTTE operating in lagoons of the island nation. Personnel from India's National Security Guard (NSG) have also been training for counter-terrorism in Israel. During the Kargil Conflict in 1999, Israel was one of the few countries to provide direct military assistance to India, the website spslandforces recalled.
In November 2021, then Chief of the Army Staff General M.M. Naravane made a five-day visit to Israe's Defence Minister, Benjamin Gantz, visited India in June 2022. Marking 30 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries, Gantz and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh signed the 'India–Israel Vision on Defence Cooperation' to put together a comprehensive 10-year roadmap to identify new areas of collaboration.
The website lists the Indo-Israeli defence agreements as follows:
On October 24, 2018, the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced that India had awarded it an additional US$ 770 million contract to supply Barak-8 long-range surface-to-air missile systems (LRSAM). The contract was concluded with IAI's local partner, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which in turn was awarded a US$ 1.2 billion contract by Indian shipyards Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilder Limited (MDL) and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) to deliver the seven Barak-8 LR-SAM air and missile systems to the Indian Navy in September 2017.
In May 2017, a US$ 630 million deal, was signed for the supply of four Barak-8 LR-SAM systems to the Indian Navy.
Another deal signed in April 2017 between IAI and BEL, was a US$ 2 billion deal for the medium-range surface-to-air (MRSAM) missile defence systems; the land-based variant of the Barak-8.
The Barak-8 LR-SAM missile defence system has been jointly developed by IAI and India's state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in collaboration with defence contractors in India and Israel, including Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.
The two countries began joint work on the LR-SAM in 2006 with the first successful test firing of the missile system taking place in May 2010. The Barak-8 LR-SAMs were to be installed aboard Indian naval vessels. With the contract signed on September 2018, the sales of the jointly developed Barak-8 over the past few years totalled over US$ 6 billion.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), missiles, and radar systems have dominated India's purchases from Israel, totalling US$ 4.2 billion during the period 2001–2021. Project 'Cheetah', Indian military's Heron drones are set to be upgraded by Israel under a nearly INR 50,000 million deal. Under the project, the Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Israeli Herons, used by all three Services, will be upgraded.
Major Israeli defence equipment purchased by India include Derby Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missiles (BVRAM), Heron loitering munition, Python-5 BVRAM, SPICE-2000 guided bombs, Popeye-1 Air to Surface Missile (ASM), SkyStriker loitering munition; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – Heron, Searchers Mk-II, Harop; Sensors and Radars – EL/M-2075 Phalcon airborne early warning radar system, EL/M-2248 MF-STAR multi-function radar, EL/M-2084 multi-mission radar system, ELM-2238 naval radar system, EL/M-2052 airborne AESA fire control radar, Litening electro-optical infrared (IR) sensor system; four, Air Defence – Spyder medium-range Surface to Air (SAM) system, Barak SAM system, and five, Negev NG-7 light machine guns.
In addition to sensors and Heron drones, Israeli hand-held thermal imaging devices and night vision imaging equipment have improved the Indian Army's capabilities in counter-infiltration and counter-terrorism operations, especially against Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) and in counterinsurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir.
Israel's Elbit Systems and Bharat Forge (BF Elbit Advanced Systems), supplies artillery guns, guided munitions, and mortar systems to the Indian military. The IAI, Elbit Systems, and Rafael Advanced Defence Systems have set up joint ventures with Bharat Forge, Tech Mahindra, Adani Group, and Tata Advanced Systems to produce niche subsystems and homeland security systems.
IAI's subsidiary, ELTA Systems, has a joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems, called Hela Systems, to manufacture communications, electronic warfare, and homeland security systems.
The Bengaluru-based Tonbo Imaging, specialising in electro-optics technology, has been powering Israel's precision-guided bombs for years, .said.
In 2002, India and Israel signed an agreement outlining the deployment of TA UVEX, an Israeli space telescope array, on India's GSAT-4 navigation and communication satellite.
In 2008, TecSAR, Israel's first synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite was launched by India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). In 2009, India successfully launched RISAT-2, a synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite manufactured by the Israeli Aerospace Agency (IAI) in conjunction with ISRO, giving India greater earth observation, improved disaster management, and increased surveillance and defence capabilities.
The acquisition and subsequent launch of the RISAT-2 satellite was accelerated after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks to boost India's future surveillance capabilities.
India under the BJP has been an eager partner in Israeli efforts to envision and realize a“New Middle East” defined by forward-looking economic, technological, trade and transit initiatives intended to preserve and extend gains from globalization even in an era of rising global geopolitical competition, says Dr. Daniel Markey of the US Institute of Peace (USIP).
But Modi's posture is not solely informed by an enlightened international vision, Markey cautions.
“The BJP's Hindu nationalist identity is the main lens through which its members, including Modi, perceive the conflict between Israel and Hamas. India's Hindu chauvinists see Israel much like they imagine India: as an ethno-nationalist majoritarian state facing the existential threat of Islamist terrorism,” he says.
“More than that, they have doubled down on a securitized approach to dealing with their own political opposition and restive minorities that has led them to pursue extensive consultations with Israeli security experts as well as to purchase Israeli hardware and software originally intended for counterterror and related security missions.”
“ Rather than backing off this approach, as Modi steers the BJP into national elections in 2024, he will aim to bolster his credentials with hard line voters as a muscular defender of India's Hindu majority, committed to countering terrorism at home and to supporting like-minded partners abroad.” Markey predicts.
Given the above background, India's cold standoffishness on the Gaza war should not be surprising.