Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in New York City in September 2014. Photo: Avi Ohayon / GPO via Flickr.
The editor-in-chief of one of India’s most widely circulated English-language dailies claimed on Sunday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reported upcoming visit to Israel in the summer is of major significance, both by virtue of its historical nature and in the lack of an angry response to it on the part of the Arab world.
In an op-ed in the Hindustan Times, Bobby Ghosh wrote:
This is nothing short of astonishing to anyone who, like your humble servant, grew up in the India of the 1970s and 80s, when it was routine for New Delhi to join the Arab chorus of condemnation for Israel at Tel Aviv’s every turn. Whether it was because of India’s need for Arab oil, or because there were so many Arab members of the benighted Non-Aligned Movement, or because the Jewish State was tied to the US while New Delhi was chummy with the USSR, or simply because so many in this country genuinely sympathised with the Palestinian cause, a succession of Indian governments avoided diplomatic relations with Israel.
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He continued: “If you’d told me then that an Indian PM would one day be making an official visit there, I’d have laughed you out of the room. But that prospect is no longer surprising: The two countries began building close ties in the 1990s, and are now locked in a tight embrace of economic, defence and security interests.”
But what about the Arab world? According to Ghosh, there are three main reasons for the “absence of even a murmur of protest” from that corner.
One, he said, has to do with the understanding and “resigned acceptance” that India and Israel have a common enemy in Islamist terrorism.
Another, he claimed, involves “Palestine fatigue,” either because the problem appears “interminable and intractable,” or due to more pressing issues, such as the carnage in Syria.
But the most striking of the reasons cited by Ghosh is the fact that many Arab governments themselves – such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain — would “like an accommodation with the Jewish state.” Indeed, he said, both of those Sunni-majority countries have been reported to be engaging in back-channel communications with the Israeli government, a phenomenon that has increased since the signing of the nuclear deal between Shiite Iran and world powers in July 2015.
This, he noted, is in spite of their having no formal relations with Israel, or even recognizing its right to exist.
“For six decades, their propaganda machines have portrayed the Jewish State as an abomination, and have normalised anti-Semitism among their citizenry,” he wrote. “The rulers of these states cannot now afford to be seen breaking bread with Israel, and so can only play a form of diplomatic footsie — or rely on sympathetic intermediaries to ferry little notes between them.”
He concluded, “If Modi does hear from Arab rulers before his visit to Israel, it may very well be in the form of requests to convey cautious felicitations. And it’s just conceivable that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will want Modi to carry a message for Saudi King Salman, who is expected to visit New Delhi later in the year.”
Last month, as The Algemeiner reported, Netanyahu met in Jerusalem with Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to discuss Modi’s Israel trip, which could take place in June. This, the report said, was part of blossoming ties between Jerusalem and New Delhi.
Last November, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin traveled to India, just over a year after his Indian counterpart, President Pranab Mukherjee, visited Israel. And in February, it was reported that Modi had approved a $2.5 billion deal to acquire an Israeli aerial defense system for his country’s military.
Netanyahu and Modi met for the first time in New York City in September 2014 on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly gathering.
Following Modi’s Israel visit, Netanyahu is expected to make a reciprocal trip to India by the end of next January. In 2003, the late Ariel Sharon became the first and so far only Israeli prime minister to travel to India.
In addition, Air India — the country’s flag carrier — announced it was planning to renew direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, last week, India inked a $1 billion deal to purchase Israeli anti-tank missiles.