The triptych: India, Israel and Iran

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Successful diplomacy is an alignment of objectives and means”

Dennis Ross

In today’s world, where the geopolitics is changing faster than the opinion of the people, it becomes important for any and every nation to cope up with the changing dynamics and build strong ties with the powerful and developed, otherwise they are free to bite the dust with respect to its developmental policies and diplomatic ties with the world or other nations. The quote mentioned above and the title of the article go hand-in-hand. The reason being a simple one, ‘changing geopolitics’. Hence, as the readers might’ve conjectured, this article would serve as a medium for the readers to understand the dynamics of the diplomatic relationship of India with respect to Iran and Israel coupled with the role of foreign actors.

To set up a base, let’s talk specifically about our country and how the nation reacts to the changing geo-politics of the world. For the beginners, India has always believed in the saying, “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम”, which is Sanskrit for ‘the world is our family’. This automatically implies that India has never served the role of a perpetrator when it comes to any kind of expansionist policy or as a hub of terrorism and rather believes in the policy of dialogue and peace talks despite various claims by certain nations to malign India. The most recent example is of the time when the nation decided to supply Indian vaccines to Pakistan who is always on the lines opposite to India. Furthermore, India has always believed that the development of the nation is not possible without the development of the diplomatic ties with the other nations.

However, it is a fact that diplomacy at the end of the day is a brain child of a human, hence making it unpredictable. As a result, it witnesses the incorporation of foreign, wannabe, privileged and unwanted opinions of some people, who in turn have no business in the matters that are prescribed as the internal matters of the nation. The prime example to this was the infamous farmer’s protest, which witnessed an unnecessary rant and statements overflowing with hypocrisy by certain individuals and countries. However, the readers must think that the title and the subject-matter of the article do not comply with each other. However, it was necessary to set a tone of the article by making sure that the readers understand that how rough the month of January 2021 was for the GoI (Government of India).

After the farmer’s protest, on 28th January 2021, 5:05 PM, a low intensity blast occurred just 150 metres away from the Israeli Embassy at Lutyen’s Delhi. The blast was quickly responded with the members of National Intelligence Agency and Delhi Anti-Terror squad coming on the site to investigate the matters. Though this blast was labelled as ‘a blast just to create a sensation’, this has its roots somewhere else. Coincidentally, the blast had occurred on the day when India and Israel were celebrating the completion of 29 years of their diplomatic ties. With reference to Iran, there were several allegations in place which alleged Iran of its involvement in the said blast. Iran was quick to respond where it clearly stated that those comments were nothing but a sheer attempt to disrupt the strong ties between India and Iran. Now the question arises, why there is a tussle and if there is a tussle, then how will it affect India. We will go through them in a sophisticated fashion below.

Let’s start with the fiasco between Iran and Israel. Both of the nations, once were friendly neighbours with the feeling of mutual understanding and cooperation between each other. This relation of mutual understanding was driven by the both the nations motives to increase their presence on the world and to increase the business by using each other and extracting as much oil and friendship they could. However, both the nations soon turned into foes after the 1980s. The matter intensified, when in the year 2003, USA’s Iraq invasion and the withdrawal of troops in the year 2011 created a power vacuum in the area and broke the regional balance of power. To add more oil to the fire, USA’s sudden withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) under the Trump administration put Iran in bad light. The matter and withdrawal was nothing but equivalent to a group of children playing in the park and a bully trying to assert his dominance and isolating the other kid who prefers not to speak. But now, since the administration has changed and now the current approach has changed, how would the diplomatic map change, remains the question here. Furthermore, the bitterness between Iran and Israel continued because of Israel’s constant bombarding strikes in the Iranian sites in Syria seems to be of a daily routine that the Israeli government tends to follow to get peaceful sleep.

Now, what is the dilemma that India faces and what would be the repercussions that India might have to face if it holds the hand of one nation and thinks of dropping the other nation?

Let’s talk about the Indo-Israeli relations. India, back in the year 1950 had recognised Israel. Since then, the two nations have invested a lot in their diplomatic ties, especially after 1992, when defence, agriculture became the backbone of the bilateral agreements in place. Furthermore, the trade relations, which were dependent on the trade of diamonds widened up and were then diversified to include sectors like pharmaceuticals, IT, telecom, homeland security, stones, metals, chemical products, textile-related articles et cetera. India’s relation with Israel has always been something that both the nations can boast of. This primarily comes after the NDA government came in power, in the year, 2014. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has sought Israel to be a strong ally, in order to make a stronghold in the Middle-East area. The relations were further strengthened when Narendra Modi became the first ever Prime Minister of India to visit Israel on July 2017. The Israelis went at lengths to play the appeasement policy. In order to please New Delhi, they renamed the Israeli Chrysanthemum to MODI. Such a good odour appeasement. When we talk of the FDI investment by Israel in India, it has been noticed that the Israeli companies have shown their special interest in the areas of energy, renewable energy, telecom, real estate, water technologies and hydroelectricity projects and setting up of R&D centres in the country. Not just this, ISRO and the Israel Space Agency have revived their contracts and have held several bilateral meetings in order to collaborate. All of these friendly-ties with Israel made India the 3rd largest defence customer following Russia and US. Not just this, according to the official sources, India had defence purchase with Israel amounting to $715 million in the year 2017. Recently, India sealed a $200 million defence deal with Israel amidst the ongoing tensions with China with respect to the Laddakh standoff as emergency purchases. The defence deal comprises of Bomb kits, Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM), software enabled radios, BNET (Broadband Internet Protocol IP) tactical radios et cetera. This was not something new for the Israel based Company Rafael, because earlier repeated orders for 260 Spike AGTMs, 12 launchers for the Indian Army and 100 SPICE kits for the fitments for IAF’s upgraded Mirage- 2000 H fleet have been procured under the banner of defence purchases.

Having talked about Israel, let’s shift our focus to Iran and India. Both the above mentioned nations commenced their diplomatic ties with each other on 15th March, 1950. Unlike Israel, Iran and India have witnessed a lot of trips of the leaders from both the side ranging from Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru in the year 1959, Indira Gandhi in 1974, and Morarji Desai in 1977 before the Iranian revolution in the year 1979. Even after the Iranian revolution, India ignored Israel and convinced itself to walk with Iran and continue with their strong diplomatic ties with Iran, which was again followed by the visits from the leaders from both the sides. As a result, India and Iran collaborated over the economic cooperation, energy security, expansion of bilateral trade, surface transport, regional issues and common concerns over terrorism. When we talk about the trade relations, both the nations have their fair share of commodities to trade. It was recognised that India depends upon Iran and other major oil-producing nations up to 70% to satisfy its hydrocarbon needs. When it comes to India’s exports to Iran, the commodities include petroleum products, rice, machinery & instruments, manufacture of metals, iron & steel products, drugs/pharmaceutical products, et cetera. However, the Indo-Iran relations post 2011 turned a bit cold with the same EXIM policies and some cut-offs, prima facie. However, after the announcement of the Chabahar port project as a part of the strengthening of ties between India-Afghanistan-Iran came into picture, the development of diplomatic ties furthered and nations like Pakistan started fearing the outcome. In addition to all of these, the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (now Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, MP-IDSA) and the Institute of Political and International Studies (IPIS) of Iran hold regular round table meetings to discuss a range of issues. Furthermore, the arrival of President Rouhani in 2019 and the Irani Defence Minister recently after the span of 40 years made sure that the Indo-Iran relations don’t fail.

Now we have understood the various engagements India is committed both with Israel and Iran. Now the question comes, what if India has to come to crossroads and has to choose one nation. If India chooses Israel over Iran, then India would fail to satisfy its crude oil needs from the middle-eastern crude oil, Muslim dominated countries and would definitely lose its presence in the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) which the ex-minster for MEA, late Shrimati Sushma Swaraj sealed by cornering Pakistan, without being an Islamic country. Furthermore, the Chabahar port programme might face difficulties might erupt and with the Biden administration in the USA now, Iran and USA might turn to friendly foes and change the game plan, which might result in India being automatically eliminated from the deals and programmes.

The other scenario, India chooses Iran over Israel. In this case, India will have to suffer a huge loss, both in economic and defence front. India and Israel at this point of time enjoy very strong diplomatic links and severing the link at this point of time might result in India losing a huge seller and a huge FDI investor so as to say. However, it won’t be wrong to say that if India chooses Iran over Israel as of today, then the move would be equally foolish and would be driven by neurotic behaviour. It is because though USA has seen a shift in the power, it is not a child’s play that Iran will forget the killing of their General Qasem Soleimani as it had sought revenge after USA’s under the waist move. Hence, it would take time.

To conclude with, the readers have understood both the Israeli and Irani collaborations, multilateral/bilateral agreements and the trade relations enjoyed. As mentioned before, diplomacy is a child of a human’s brain, hence making it unpredictable. As a result, trying to foresee the geopolitics and the changes could be a hard task, but not an impossible thing, after all the visits do result in strengthening of the diplomatic ties. However, I feel that India should continue its stance of being neutral and at the same time efficient in playing diplomacy. I’ll end this article with a quote by Will Rogers that rings in my ears,

“Diplomacy is the art of saying nice doggie, until you can find a rock”

-Abeer Tiwari Writer Bharat Bhagya Vidhata

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