Monday 15th of April 2024

What India Needs to Learn from Israel's Foreign Policy
Region : Asia, South Asia, India, Middle East-North Africa,
Issue : Security, Terrorism, Politics,
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began their current terms in different styles. While Modi (his first term) romped home to an unexpected victory to head a majority government in 2014, Netanyahu had to struggle in the 2015 elections and at one point was not expected to win at all. His comeback (though by a small margin) was as stunning and surprising as Modi's victory.

Geopolitics in South Asia and India's relations with its neighbours may not have changed much since Modi's win, but there is little doubt that Israel's neighbourhood and its relations with adversaries/major powers, far and near, have changed dramatically.
Netanyahu's role may be significant, though small, but there is no denying that Israel has pro-actively helped in the creation of a positive environment for itself in the volatile Middle-eastern neighbourhood probably for the first time since the early 1990s.
Take some recent examples of successes for the Jewish state. Syria, a constant threat to Israel's northern borders, is now weakened, both politically and militarily. Assad may still want to be thorn in Israel's flesh but he will have to contend with a weakened army, and Russian reluctance to countenance any military adventure against Israel. This now brings me to the second point, which is the dramatic improvement in Israel-Russia relations in the past few years. Vladimir Putin, Russian and Netanyahu, appear to share some chemistry and this appears to have helped the two countries forge a better relationship even though there are disagreements over Syria.
ISIS has been routed and Donald Trump has replaced Barack Obama's disastrous Israel policy with one that's beneficial to the Jewish nation. Trump is moving the US embassy to Jerusalem along with strong support for Israel, again a welcome change from the odious Obama years. Netanyahu must count himself lucky here. Trump's victory was a huge blessing. The last but not the least. The growing but important levels of contact between Israeli-Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf nations. Relations are nowhere near normal but what Netanyahu/Israeli diplomats have achieved here is quite remarkable. A slow warming of relations between the two countries based on defeating one common enemy, Iran.
In contrast, India's neighbourhood has been growing more and more hostile. Modi's approach to pressing problems with Pakistan and China has changed in the past three years in part due to growing intransigence shown by both Islamabad and Beijing. A country's foreign policy has to adapt itself to the behaviour of other countries and Modi and his foreign policy team appear to have realised that a carrotand-stick approach along the lines followed by previous administrations will not work. This is sensible but a lot of hard work remains to be done especially to push back Pakistan and Chinese attempts to subvert Indian territorial integrity.
Israel here offers a very good example of the approach, the mentality and tactics needed to counter and checkmate adversaries. Firstly, its hard-nosed, tough-talking stance on matters concerning its core national security objectives is worth emulating. There are enough examples of the success of this approach and India should not cave in when the time comes for a muscular approach to issues dear to its national security. If this means more cross-border raids into Pakistan and a steady build-up of forces along with Chinese border to show how India can hit back, then so be it! For too many years, India has been seen as a country too soft. This has to change. Secondly, the enemy of your enemy is a friend. India should not be afraid of forging relationships wherever possible to checkmate or counter Pakistan and China whether it is with Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam or Japan. When Iran became a bigger threat, Israel did not hesitate to exploit the fear of Saudi and other Gulf rulers to the rising threat from across the Persian Gulf.
When relations between himself and president Obama deteriorated, Netanyahu did not sit quiet. He toured the world building relationships with Putin, Xi Jinping and Modi. Today, Israel can count on better relations it has with all these major powers to offset the decline in relationships with European nations. This is like an insurance policy. Israel does and so does India. Thankfully, the arrival of Trump and his dramatic decision to put Pakistan on notice and recognise and upgrade India's role in the 'Indo-Pacific' shows that some of the diplomatic efforts along with the rising importance of India's economy appear to be having an impact. In the real world, hard power matters and matters more than ever. It is okay to speak in a soft voice but you must always carry a big stick! That's the big lesson from Israel's experience for India.
This article originally appeared in The Economic Times
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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