India Too Slow to Recognize Israel as Natural Ally

(Wall Street Journal Asia) Sadanand Dhume - Instead of throwing its weight behind Israel - a natural ally with whom India shares more interests than it does with almost any other country - the government in New Delhi has publicly backed Palestinian brinkmanship on the statehood issue. India was the first non-Arab state to recognize Palestinian independence in 1988, while simultaneously deepening security and trade ties with Israel since it established full diplomatic relations in 1992. Below the radar, India-Israel relations continue to grow. Two-way trade has ballooned to $5 billion this year from $200 million in 1992. In 2008, space scientists in southern India launched Tecsar, an Israeli spy satellite reportedly aimed at improving the monitoring of Iranian military movements. India has emerged as one of the Israeli defense industry's largest export markets. Among India's purchases: surveillance drones, surface-to-air missiles, advanced artillery, missile defense systems, airborne radar, and sensors to track cross-border infiltration by terrorists into Indian Kashmir. Yet India has yet to abandon its habit of holding a vital relationship hostage to the vagaries of domestic identity politics. While Muslim voters account for about 14% of India's electorate and the Congress Party tends to assume they are viscerally hostile to Israel, this remains untested. New Delhi also is trying to pander to Arab sentiment (India benefits from large remittances from Indian workers in the Gulf region, not to mention energy imports), which tends to favor Pakistan. India remains stuck in a time warp of supposed Third-World solidarity with "oppressed" Palestinians rather than understanding that as a rising power India's interests lie with democratic Israel. Neither country has a quarrel with Islam - both house Muslim populations that enjoy more rights than their co-religionists in many places - but both are threatened by radical Islamist ideology and the terrorism it spawns. The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

2011-10-21 00:00:00

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