Implications for Pakistan

Should Pakistan have any concerns about the deepening ties between India and Israel? Ordinarily, a third country should have no concern about relations between other countries. But India-Israel ties are increasingly focused on Israel’s efforts to tip the balance of power in the region in favour of India, especially against Pakistan. Consider the following facts:

First, Israel is now the second biggest defence equipment supplier to India, supplying 41pc of its foreign purchases during 2012-2016 according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Second, the equipment and systems supplied include: 

(a) Medium-range advanced surface-to-air missile system (MRSAM) that includes advanced phased-array radar, command and control, mobile launchers and missile with advanced RF seekers (already in use of IAF, supplied in April 2017 by Israel Aerospace Industries in a $2 billion deal, the biggest ever sale for Israel);
(b) Long range air and defense missiles system (LRSAM) to be fitted to locally produced aircraft carrier;
(c) $500 million Spike Anti-Tank missiles (a sale that India had cancelled earlier), Barak 8 Air Defense System, which can detect threats more than 60 miles away (already in use by the Indian Navy);
(d) Cutting edge technology in cyber security;
(e) Heron Drones; and
(f) Phalcon Airborne Warning Command and Control System (AWACS)

Third, many of the equipment supply deals are associated with technology transfer agreements as well as joint production with Indian counterparts. Fourth, many of India’s indigenous efforts and tests for developing capabilities for cruise and ballistic missiles are the result of abusing the dual-purpose nature of such technologies (acquired from multiple sources) for civilian use, such as in space research.

What binds Israel and India together, located as they are thousands of miles apart across so many countries? There at least three things that are prominent. First, as Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has stated India and Israel share an enmity with Muslims, despite India and Israel being home to proportionately large Muslim populations. It was not surprising, therefore, to see the Israeli prime minister facing protests not just from Muslims of India but also from liberals who see the Zionist state as an embodiment of usurpation of lands and repression of local populations (Kashmiris and Palestinians). Second, both countries face anti-state struggles for the right for self-determination and against the occupation of their territories for more than half a century. India especially would like to learn the techniques of repression Israel has employed against Palestinians, to quell the Kashmiri movement for freedom (Israeli foreign minister once remarked that there was no difference between Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hamas). Third, both are concerned that a Muslim nation should never acquire nuclear deterrence and would readily cooperate to eliminate such a possibility.

India especially would like to learn the techniques of repression Israel has employed against Palestinians, to quell the Kashmiri movement for freedom (Israeli foreign minister once remarked that there was no difference between Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hamas)

But closer to home, the India-Israel axis is fundamentally aimed at Pakistan. There are several good reasons to believe so. First, in The Better India dated 15-1-2015, it is reported in detail that in the 1971 war, Israel helped supply scarce munition to Indian defense forces in a clandestine operation, which has now found its place in historical archives. After initial Indian efforts were unsuccessful to secure the required munition from existing stocks of IDF, PN Haksar, principal secretary to Indira Gandhi, dispatched an Indian diplomat to reach out to an Auschwitz survivor, Shlomo Zabludowics, who he knew from his days as deputy high commissioner in London. Zabludowics had already acted as a conduit for Israeli arms supply to India during the 1962 Sino-India war and the 1965 India-Pakistan war. He convinced Golda Meir, then Israel prime minister, to seize the opportunity of developing a long-term partnership with a country that shared significant synergies with Israel.

In a letter written in Hebrew, which is now available in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi thanks to the meticulous records maintained by Haksar, Golda Meir wrote to Zabludowicz: “I asked you to inform the prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, that we believe she will know how to appreciate our help in the past and our complying with the approach now.” In his book titled ‘1971: A Global History of the creation of Bangladesh,’ an Indian military historian Srinath Raghavan details this transaction. “Zabludowicz had already spoken to the Israeli government and was ‘hopeful of airlifting ammunitions and mortars in September.’ He also agreed to send Israeli instructors with the first lot. Zabludowicz did more than he had promised. He not only diverted the weapons produced for Iran to India but also prevailed upon Tel Aviv to release additional quantities from the Israeli defence force’s stocks. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was eager to accede to Indira Gandhi’s request,”

Second, declassified American documents (Pakistan Today:26-10-2015) show that soon after Israel destroyed Iraq’s French built (under construction) Osirak nuclear plant in June 1981, India and Israel were developing plans to ‘do an Osirak’ to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. They were all aborted for being too risky or having been leaked in advance eliminating the element of surprise. However, things were particularly heated in May 1990, when Pakistan detected an imminent strike on its nuclear facilities by India in connivance with Israel. But this was foiled by Pakistan by sending and unequivocal warning to India of a pre-emptive or counter-strike on Indian facilities.

Finally, Israel provided crucial support to India during the Kargil War. India Today, in its issue of 5 July 2017 writes: “The Indian air force came across various problems while providing air support to ground troops including ‘inaccurate unguided missiles and limited sight of the Pakistani bunkers’. They even had orders not to cross the LoC under any circumstances. At this time, Israel provided laser-guided missiles for IAF Mirage 2000H fighters. The precision bombing material then ‘limited the advantage of the Pakistani soldiers based on high position’ and helped India without violating the orders to not cross LoC”.

It is this long history of covert relations between the two countries, which are now in the open with much fanfare which makes the Pakistanis wary of designs to tip the regional balance in favour of India. Sensibly, the Pakistani leadership is unfazed with this public display of friendship in the name of democracy when both the protagonists are carrying out the most abysmal violations of human rights and repression of disenfranchised minorities. It is amusing to witness jingoistic statements from the Israeli prime minister during his visit to India, like his constant refrain that “I like soft power, but hard power is usually better. You need F-35s, you need cyber, you need a lot of intelligence… especially for a country like Israel”. Or saying: “[t]he weak don’t survive, the strong survive, you make alliances with the strong, you are able to maintain peace by being strong. So, therefore the first requirement from the time of our first PM was to achieve minimal strength required to assure existence”. Clearly, these are messages to India that if you need to be strong you do what we have done i.e. don’t allow the weak to survive, and that we would provide you all the weapons to make you strong. Another curious sight was the presence, in an official function, of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai seated in the front row with the Israeli prime minister, next to the Indian foreign minister.

It does need the attention of our leadership that these developments are taking place at a time when the Middle East is burning and strange alliances are taking place in the Islamic world, like the unannounced Saudi alliance with Israel, against Iran and the proxy war being fought in Yemen. Pakistan can neither afford to ignore the exceptional Israel-India ties, nor can it disregard its geopolitical imperative of having a long border and historical brotherly ties with Iran. Equally, the implicit and explicit support of the US in cementing Saudi-Israel alliance, on the one side, and Indian-Israel alliance, on the other, has to be taken into account. While underlining the close proximity of Indian-Israel lobbies in Washington, Arab countries be impressed how grievously Pakistan’s strategic interests are compromised by this Alliance.

Pakistan, therefore, has to redouble its efforts in forging stronger strategic relations with China and Iran. Such an approach is indispensable to maintain the balance of power in the region and also to avert the possibilities of throwing the region in endless turmoil.