After thirty-four days of relentless aerial bombardment and a ground invasion, Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon’s civilian population has come to a halt, at least temporarily. As the dust from the rubble of Lebanon’s ruined cities, villages, and infrastructure settles, and as bodies of victims are recovered and buried, and the human losses mourned by the people of Lebanon, serious questions are being raised about India’s increasingly cozy relationship with Israel. The Indian government cannot continue to expand military and economic ties with Israel and still expect to be untarnished by this association in the eyes of the world. More than a thousand Lebanese were killed by indiscriminate Israeli bombardment, the vast majority of them civilians. At the height of the Israeli assaults in early August, at least 45% of the dead were children. Approximately a million had been forced to leave their homes from an entire swathe of the country which Israel unilaterally and illegally declared its zone of operations, a virtual free-fire zone.
Waging a brutal and unrestrained war with the aid of U.S.-supplied weapons, Israel rained destruction upon civilians unable to defend themselves or even flee. Israeli bombs destroyed 97 roads, 75 bridges, 4 airports, 7 seaports, 8000 residential dwellings, 5 hospitals, 14 factories, 27 petrol stations, 9 army barracks.1 As each outrage shocked the world, the Israeli government with the overt and tacit support of its U.S. patrons announced further escalations and intensified this all-out war targeting the civilian population. As expected, the U.S. government stalled U.N. efforts towards a ceasefire and hastened the delivery of advanced munitions to Israel — the undisguised goal was to give Israel “time” to “do the job” of “destroying” Hezbollah, the Lebanese national resistance, a task that has now come to naught, leaving the movement basking in the light of unprecedented popularity throughout the Arab world and beyond. Israel has to date recklessly cultivated a reputation for being immune to international law or humanitarian norms, and its outrages continue to be condoned as “self-defense” under an umbrella of impunity afforded by the protective embrace of the U.S. government. Image 1, a map made available by Samidoun, a Lebanese grassroots coalition, provides a glimpse of the extent of destruction carried out by Israel.2
Click on the map for a larger view.
Image 1: Locations in Lebanon bombed by Israel, as of August 10, 2006. Maps are updated daily at maps.samidoun.org
India, the Israeli Arms Industry’s Prized Market
It is commendable that the Indian government, albeit “under pressure from the Left parties,” condemned the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and called for an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire.” However, the recent pattern of collaboration between the Indian and Israeli military and political establishments renders such condemnations and calls quite meaningless. Moreover, this official expression of concern came weeks into the bombardment, specifically in response to the brutal massacre of about 60 civilians, a majority of them children and women, in the city of Qana, which only ten years ago was the site of another horrendously similar Israeli atrocity. Statements and official pronunciations aside, what deserves greater public scrutiny is the pattern of relationships developed by India’s political elites with the Israeli state and military over the period of the last decade. Business Week reported in 2005 that India became Israel’s largest importer of weapons the previous year, accounting for about half of the $3.6 billion worth of weapons exported by that country.3 Not coincidentally, that year also proved to be the second best recorded year for the Israeli weapons industry, making Israel the 5th largest weapons exporter in the world and accounting for about 10 percent of the world’s weapons trade. Obviously, the Israeli armaments industry values India as a major new market for its weapons and as such has much to gain from maintaining and deepening the appetite for arms by the Indian state.
Since the 1970s, the Israeli armaments industry has had to adopt an aggressive export-orientation since the country’s own military only procures about a third of its output. Israel has a sordid history of supplying weapons and training to notorious dictatorships, including South Africa’s apartheid regime, Nicaragua’s Somoza, Pinochet in Chile, Marcos in the Philippines, Duvalier in Haiti, Mobutu in Zaire, dictatorships in Guatemala, Argentina, and scores of other African, Asian and South American countries where unpopular regimes utilized Israeli weapons, training and advice to ruthlessly suppress their populations through the 1970s and 80s. Weapons sales also became the “motor driving Israel’s foreign policy” during this period, as economic crises required bouts of intensified lobbying by Israeli arms merchants dispatched to dozens of countries to coax and cajole assorted defense ministries into purchasing Israeli weapons. Israeli foreign policy thus has a track record of being closely tied to the interests of its weapons industries, exemplified and facilitated by the interlocking relationships between elites in the highest echelons of the political structure, the military establishment, and arms industries, who together comprise the “security establishment lobby.” The close relationship between Israel’s foreign policy and the aggressive export-orientation of its arms industry is summed up in the following statement by Aharon Klieman, who wrote: “Arms transfers are a dual-purpose political-security tool, essential for Israel’s security position, and an unavoidable critical component of foreign policy. Consequently, Israel’s diplomacy of arms exports is a kind of extension of Israel’s general approach to foreign affairs.”4
By the late 1980s, Israeli weapons exports as a proportion of total industrial output rose to between 30 and 40 percent, from 31 percent in 1975 and 14 percent in 1967.5 Today at least 25 percent of Israel’s annual exports are armaments.6 It is in the light of this nexus of weapons export orientation and militaristic foreign policy that the new Indo-Israeli relationship becomes clear at one level. The new relationship developed since 1992 is not immune to the same logic driving Israeli foreign policy dominant since the 1970s — that of aggressively expanding markets abroad for its armaments industries and maintaining a military-centered approach to international relations consistent with the goals of the ongoing occupation of Palestine, as well as expansionist goals and related forays into Lebanon, and other neighboring countries. On the Indian side, both wings of the ruling class, tethered as they are to dreams of “great power” status, support the expansion of this relationship by subscribing to a hawkish attitude towards resolving international disputes, particularly with Pakistan, a posture that conveniently demands unrestrained military spending. Every visit by a delegation of Israeli officials either preceded or followed the cementing of ties involving the purchase of weapons or the training and/or expansion of cooperation between Israeli armaments interests and their Indian counterparts (see Table 1). There were also reports, in 2003, of the Israeli defense establishment dispatching “scores of agents” to persuade the Indian armed forces into buying weapons.7
Betraying the Anti-colonial Legacy = Betraying the Indian People
Such an unhealthy relationship built on the consumption of Israeli weapons necessitates the alienation and betrayal of broader friendships and historical ties that the people of India share with the people of the Arab world, particularly those in the countries and occupied lands bearing the brunt of aggressive Israeli militarism and allied U.S. aggression. Just as India stood on the right side of history in the case of apartheid South Africa, so should its present leaders take on the historic responsibility of aligning India with the forces of justice, equality, and peace — in support of the human rights and the right to self-determination of the people of Palestine and Lebanon. In the first three decades after independence, successive governments sought to project India as a country dedicated to decolonization. This posture offered the basis for the principled foreign policy of the Nehruvian state which drew its own legitimacy from the tumultuous anti-colonial struggle that brought about independence for the subcontinent in the late 1940s. Israel was reluctantly recognized as a state only as late as 1950, and no formal ties were established for almost four decades, in tacit recognition of the rights of Palestinians brutally dispersed to facilitate Israel’s creation. In 1975, India voted at the United Nations in favor of the resolution equating the ideology of Zionism with racism. India was also the first non-Arab state to recognize the PLO, welcoming a Palestinian embassy in New Delhi by 1988. In early 1992, anticipating the rapidly changing situation following the end of the cold war, and in the context of efforts by some Arab states to renegotiate relations with Israel (at the behest of the U.S.), another Congress government decided to establish formal ties with the state of Israel. In the decade following this normalization of ties, successive governments of both the centrist Congress and the right-wing BJP, irrespective of party ideology, have rapidly forged extensive military, economic, and political relationships.
Significantly, the shift within the Indian ruling classes from the official position of non-alignment and state-centered economic development towards the Washington Consensus8 facilitated and encouraged this changed attitude towards Israel. The Washington Consensus, perhaps best exemplified by India’s subscription to the IMF’s structural adjustment program of the early 1990s necessitated adherence to a U.S.-centered economic (and hence political) agenda emphasizing privatization of state assets, liberalization of trade, and the globalization of economic activities. Into this new arena of free-market fundamentalism entered the political maelstrom of Hindutva — which launched an assault on the secular, pluralistic pretensions of the post-independence state and openly advocated the further disenfranchisement and marginalization of India’s largely working-class Muslim population. Ideologically, the India’s ruling classes’ fantasies of “great power,” “emerging superpower,” etc. justified their growing servility to U.S. designs in the region, and opened the floodgates on unrestrained spending on weapons. Spending on social services and investment in crucial areas like agriculture and industry plummeted, as per the diktat of the neoliberal program. It is in this context of neoliberal restructuring and adherence to the Washington Consensus that the current trends in visibly expanded Indo-Israeli military and political relations emerged through the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century.
|1996||* Israeli President Ezer Weizman’s visit to India at the head of a 24-member business delegation.9|
|1998||* Indian Army Chief-of-Staff Gen V N Malik’s visit to Israel.10|
|1999|| * Ordnance and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) supplied to aid India in the Kargil war with Pakistan|
* Suspicions of secret nuclear cooperation
* Indian Deputy PM and Home Minister L.K. Advani’s visit to Israel
* Indian President Abdul Kalam visited to Israel 18 months prior to Pokhran nuclear tests.
|2000|| * Jane’s Defense Weekly reported in June that Israeli security officers regularly visited Kashmir.|
* Israeli submarines test-fired nuclear-capable missiles off the coast of Sri Lanka (see Footnote 5)
* Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh visited to Israel11
|2001|| * Joint defense cooperation group established. The JWG meets every year alternately in New Delhi and Tel Aviv to solidify defense deals, military ties, and coordination of security and intelligence relationships. |
* Deal for purchase of Israeli Phalcon (Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems) cleared after years of being stalled.
* Deals to upgrade artillery with Israeli firm Soltan
* August 14, 2001: “Israeli intelligence agencies have been intensifying their relations with India security apparatus and are now understood to be heavily involved in helping New Delhi combat Islamic militants in the disputed province of Kashmir.” — Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor, August 14, 2001
* “It was an ironic coincidence that Brajesh Mishra was closeted in his office in New Delhi on September 11, 2001 with his Israeli counterpart Major General Uzi Dayan and engaged in what was dubbed a “joint security strategy dialogue” when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred.”12
|2002||* Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’s visit to India. Peres had visited India “three times in the past twelve months.”13|
* Indian Minister of Communication & Parliamentary Affairs Pramod Mahajan visited to Israel
|2003|| * $20 million agreement with Israeli Military Industries for assault rifles, sniper rifles, night vision equipment, laser range finding and targeting equipment.|
* Israel to train four new special forces battalions in “irregular warfare” in Kashmir.
* Israeli defense industry has dispatched “scores of agents” to pursue sales to the Indian armed forces.
* September: Israeli PM Ariel Sharon’s visit to India, hosted by the BJP led NDA government. At the height of a brutal Israeli suppression of the Palestinian population, with Sharon’s international reputation as a ruthless enemy of Palestinians, this cynical display of Indo-Israeli bonhomie by the NDA government was intended to help rehabilitate him and to settle defense deals.
* Israeli Minister of Science & Technology Eliezer Sandberg’s visit to India, signing of an MoU with ISRO
|2004|| * $1.1 billion deal on Phalcon concluded.|
* Indian Minister of Commerce & Industry Mr. Arun Jaitly’s visit to Israel as head of the Indian delegation to the Joint Economic Committee.
|2005|| * 50 Heron Drones (spy UAVs) to be sold to India by Israel Aircraft Industries|
* Visits to Israel by Kumari Sejla (Minister of State for Rural Development), Kapil Sibal (Minister of State for Science and Technology), Kamal Nath (Minister of State for Commerce and Industries), Sharad Pawar (Union Minister for Agriculture).
|2006||* National Security Advisor of Israel, Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Giora Eiland visits India to hold talks with his counterpart Mr. M.K. Narayanan under the framework of the “Indo-Israel National Security Council dialogue.”16|
Congress-BJP: Same Love Affair with Israel
As opposition party in 2003, the Congress Party had vociferously protested when the BJP’s L.K. Advani and National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra proclaimed an emerging “strategic relationship” between the India and Israel. Jaipal Reddy, spokesperson for the Congress, was reported to have said: “Obsession with Israel on the part of the coalition government is strange and perverse . . . when Israel is facing international isolation. It shows the intellectual insolvency of the government.”17 Noting that the relationship between India and Israel “qualitatively differed” from that between India and the U.S., Reddy asserted that the two countries were separated by “ideological dissonance” as the Congress Party position towards the Palestinians was diametrically opposed to that of the Israelis. “There has to be a minimum ideological similarity for a strategic partnership.”
Barely a year after assuming office, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Congress Party agreed to continue expanding collaboration with Israel’s military industries after the third “Joint Working Group” meetings between defense and security bigwigs from both countries concluded in 2004.18 On the table were expanded purchases of Israeli armaments by India, including 50 Heron spy drones (UAVs), and an agreement to hold joint air-force exercises involving U.S.-built Israeli F 16s and Russian-built Indian Sukhoi Su-30Mk1s. These deals were signed with much fanfare by the UPA government led by the very same Congress Party that once invoked its commitments to Palestinian rights, to Indo-Arab relations, and to its supposed adherence to principled foreign policy. If the past NDA government led by the Hindu right BJP ratcheted up relations with Israel on account of its perceptions of an “anti-terror” (read anti-Muslim) axis between India, Israel, and the U.S., the Congress-led UPA government has maintained a steady intensification of ties between India and Israel while incredibly claiming that its commitment to all things principled in foreign policy remain untouched.
Notably, Indo-Israeli ties have expanded under the UPA to include a host of non-military economic relations as well. By 2002 Israel’s non-military trade with India had grown to more than 6 times what it used to be in 1992 (1.27 billion as compared to $202 million).19 A host of Indian cabinet ministers visited Israel in 2004, including the minister for Rural Development, Commerce & Industry, Agriculture, and Science & Technology. It is noteworthy that in a country reeling under the impact of a decade of neoliberal prescriptions, with millions of agricultural producers facing starvation and thousands taking their own lives, our leaders refuse to recognize the “intellectual insolvency” of collaboration with an Israeli state built upon the doctrine of racial exclusion, unending war, and expansionist aggression. Regardless of how much non-military ties have expanded between the two countries, Israel is India’s second largest seller of armaments after Russia. It is a disturbing truth today that India’s dominant political elites, with little variance across party-lines, display an unswerving dedication to developing India as a market for Israeli armaments industries.
Indo-Israeli Ties as Part of the Wider Anti-people Policies Pursued by the Indian Ruling Class
Supporters of this relationship argue that the current Indo-Israeli bonhomie is mutually beneficial and that ethical questions ought to be subordinate to the demands of pragmatism in international affairs since India’s security needs they argue, demand reliable sources of advanced armaments. The pragmatism argument fails the test of reason if subjected to scrutiny: is it pragmatic to aid and abet the destruction of much of the third world through the development of close military relations with an expansionist state that serves as the surrogate of the U.S. imperial power? Is it pragmatic to alienate the vast majority of humanity in the process of feeding the arms dealers of a renegade country and sucking up to its imperial patron? It has been argued that India’s emerging relationship with Israel is intimately tied to its increasingly subservient relationship with the U.S. Meanwhile, Israel’s close relationship to the U.S. imperial power and its hold on U.S. foreign policy in West Asia has often raised questions about the tail wagging the dog. Despite the obviously Orwellian implications of the claim that this relationship between India, Israel, and the U.S. can be seen as an “alliance of democracies,” it is not far-fetched to assume that the Indian ruling elites see their country increasingly as a regional surrogate for a U.S.-led agenda. In this view, the role of Israel as a “friend” supplying arms serves the purpose of cementing such an assumed alliance.
Great power illusions aside, the obvious material interests at play in this process ought to render all such assumptions nothing more than fantasies of delusional elites. Or in a perhaps more insidious sense, such assumptions merely represent the rhetorical language used to justify the diversion of resources away from the real needs of the Indian people, into the deep pockets of arms-sellers feeding off fear, insecurity, and increasingly, bouts of high-tech savagery against populations. And what about security? What are the security-needs of India’s people? Weapons purchases do not even begin to address the urgent issues of security from hunger, deprivation, disease, disasters, rampant inequality, oppressive traditions, unemployment, and the like. And why should India’s so-called “security” needs, divorced as they are from the real needs of India’s people, be sought at the cost of the human rights of Palestinian, Lebanese, or other populations brutalized and oppressed by our new “friends?” Wrenching the term “security” from its use in the one-dimensional sense of military security (and its linear logic of buying more advanced weapons) can help rescue the issue of real human security from the paranoiac pronouncements of professional fear-mongers in the elite establishment and their assorted mouthpieces in the media.
It is incumbent upon all peace-loving people in the world, particularly Indians and people of Indian origin, to demand that the Indian state’s leaders reassess the deepening relationship with Israel. India is Israel’s second-largest trading partner in Asia after China. This means Israeli industries are dependant upon India’s markets. India’s dependence on Israeli markets, however, is negligible: exports to Israel from India topped $800 million in 2002, while Indian exports to the UAE rose to $ 3 billion in the same year. Leveraging this power to rein in the rampaging policies of the Israeli state would be a sign of maturity and goodwill by a country that traces its own heritage to the anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century. However, this cannot happen while the projection of India as an open market for Israeli armaments continues to be the reigning priority of India’s political elites. Defense ties with Israel must be cut immediately or at the very least curtailed drastically in order to send a strong signal to the Israeli state that it cannot continue massacres of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians without costs to its long-term economic well-being.
Moreover, it is about time the Indian state re-evaluated its priorities: there is much more of a need for state spending on dealing with the dangerously underestimated agrarian crisis, related rural investment, urban and rural healthcare, primary and secondary education, disaster preparedness and management, among a host of other pressing needs that cannot be met so long as huge portions of the state coffer is funneled to international weapons dealers. Every rupee spent on Phalcons, Herons, and Baraks will not only increase the militarization of the subcontinent, thereby endangering the entire population, but also continue to be siphoned away from generating jobs, providing food, medicines, schools, and sustaining livelihoods for millions of India’s people. What is happening under the present dispensation is that farmers are being told they have to fend for themselves as subsidies are cut and cheap imports flood the markets rendering producers vulnerable enough to increasingly resort to suicide in the face of deprivation, while Israeli arms merchants are being told that they have free access to the largesse of the Indian state since presumably billions of dollars spent on bombs and guns are more important for the Indian people! The choice really is between Israeli weapons and Indian livelihoods as much as it is between Israeli bombs and Arab lives.
Additionally, the collaboration with Israel on the so-called issue of “terrorism” ought to be carefully scrutinized. What Israel is doing in occupied Palestine and currently in Lebanon is collective punishment, proscribed by the Geneva Convention and grossly in violation against international laws governing the inter-state system after 1945. Israel’s leaders perceive every Palestinian man, woman, and child as a legitimate target for physical liquidation, if not subjugation, through the force of arms. In the current aggression against Lebanon, Israeli leaders have repeatedly referred to Lebanese civilians as indistinguishable from Hezbollah and have carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians under the pretext of fighting “terrorists.” Why should India continue participation in any “Joint Working Group” with Israel on the issue of “terrorism” when this term is used openly by the leadership of that country as a code word to refer to every Palestinian and Lebanese individual? There are already historical and contemporary precedents for such official attitudes in the bloody excesses by the armed state, including paramilitaries and police forces in Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Manipur, and Andhra Pradesh, where critics and opponents of the government’s policies ended up labeled as “terrorists” and were frequently targeted for physical violence. Since the advent of Hindutva’s grip on the Indian elite imagination, Muslims have been frequently targeted and collectively impugned as “terrorists” even as genocidal state-sponsored violence against Muslims in Gujarat has not resulted in any punitive actions against responsible Hindutva organizations. Has the Indian state already begun emulating its new friend in more ways than it would like to admit? It would be a stretch to suggest that India has learned all these awful things from Israel, but it does not inspire much confidence to know that India’s leaders are busy building a regime of collaboration on “terrorism” with Israel, a state that so blatantly uses the term to justify its militaristic brutality against civilians in Palestine and Lebanon. Such collaboration helps expand the reach of undemocratic regimes of impunity enjoyed by the ruling interests in the Indian state, and works against the general interests of the people, particularly those already rendered vulnerable by existing inequalities in access to physical security, legal rights and protections under the law.
In conclusion, it would be in India’s best interests to sever military ties with Israel immediately — on ethical and political grounds, but also pragmatic and security grounds. India should not have anything to do with an openly expansionist state that has relegated the very meaning of the term democracy to irrelevance by its adherence to the ideology and practice of racism, state terrorism, and unrelenting brute force against the peoples of the lands it covets. India should not seek to purchase weapons of destruction from such a state, especially when these purchases are made at the expense of the needs of its own population, and when the increasing stockpiles of such weapons increase the collective vulnerability and insecurity of the entire population. India should cease collaborating with a state that relegates, with impunity, entire populations to the category of expendable human beings to be subjugated, their lands and resources stolen from them and in case of the slightest forms of resistance their bodies destroyed by advanced weapons. No country calling itself a democracy can continue to do so if its leaders see it fit to embrace a state like Israel even while the cries of human beings crushed by that aggressive expansionist state tear at the collective conscience of our humanity. Alienating the rest of the world in the pursuit of some sense of power, however real or illusory that may be, is not pragmatic, if pragmatism is to be seen as the means by which the best interests of the people of India are to be served. It is time for India to wrench itself free from Israel’s deadly embrace. Perhaps when Israel abandons its current trajectory, the issue of friendship can and ought to be revisited in earnest, but until then the Indian government ought to bid the Israeli government and its armed establishment a sincere goodbye.
1 July 2006 War on Lebanon Blog — figures compiled from Lebanese media. The blog provides daily updates by volunteers working with refugees and victims of the war. Updates on the lives of refugee children coming to terms with trauma and loss are particularly notable and have been featured on the Guardian‘s website.
2 Samidoun: “SAMIDOUN is a grassroots coalition that aims to work in a democratic and participatory atmosphere. The coalition is multi-confessional and diverse in terms of nationality. The coalition is also diverse in its composition in terms of supporting organizations, from student groups, to the gay and lesbian center, to arts and film production collectives, to small political parties, to environmental groups. But the bulk of the work is through young volunteers from all over the country, some of whom are refugees themselves” (Samidoun, “Who We Are”).
5 Jane Hunter, “Israeli Foreign Policy: Weapons Manufacturing Industry,” Israeli Foreign Policy, South End Press, 1987.
6 Persico, op. cit.
8 The Washington Consensus refers to the minimum range of economic policies aggressively advocated by the U.S. through Washington-based institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. The “consensus” sought to enforce neoliberal prescriptions on countries of the third world in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and centered on privatization of state assets, liberalization of trade, deregulation of markets, and the withdrawal of the state from its social responsibilities manifest most obviously in the enforcement of drastic budget cuts in social spending advocated by supporters of this “consensus.” The “consensus” essentially sought to force countries of the third world to reorient and subordinate their economic activities under the umbrella of U.S. led global capitalist interests. See “Unraveling the Washington Consensus, An Interview with Joseph Stiglitz,” Multinational Monitor 21.4, April 2000.
9 Subhash Kapila, “India-Israel Relations: The Imperatives for Enhanced Strategic Cooperation,” South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No 131, 1 August 2000.
19 Harsh V. Pant, “India-Israel Partnership: Convergence and Constraints,” The Middle East Review of International Affairs 8.4, December 2004. See, also, “India-Israel Economic and Commercial Relations,” Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Raja Swamy is in the doctoral program in Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is interested in studying the impact of neoliberalism in India with a focus on the political economy of natural disasters. A shorter version of this article appeared on Siliconeer Magazine.