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Is India Fumbling its Israel Policy?

My colleague Sadanand Dhume moonlights as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal‘s Asia edition and is, hands down, the go-to expert on all things India and Pakistan. It’s already Friday there, and in Friday’s paper, he has an important column on India’s approach to Israel and the Palestinians. He explains:

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 left-leaning Congress Party-led government in New Delhi has publicly backed Palestinian brinkmanship on the statehood issue… Since taking office in 2004, Mr. Singh’s United Progressive Alliance government has halted what had been an upward swing in India-Israel ties by effectively starving them of public affirmation.

Trade between India and Israel might be ballooning, and the two are important defense partners, and both face terrorist threats across disputed borders. So what’s going on?

Part of the problem is domestic politics. Muslim voters account for about 14 percent of India’s electorate. The Congress Party tends to assume they are viscerally hostile to Israel, although this remains an untested truism of Indian politics. 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. Exacerbating these problems, the Congress Party, along with India’s dwindling but still vocal communists, 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.

Dhume concludes, “Nothing ought to obscure the fact that a strong Israel is fundamentally in India’s interest. When the chips are down, that ought to mean support for the democratically elected government of a natural ally rather than mindless backing for its reckless adversary.”

Amen to that. But from an American national security perspective, there should be more:. We should not lead from behind, but help craft coalitions between natural allies who are democratic and face terrorist threats. If multilateralism is a State Department mantra, then where is the effort to promote ties between not only India and Israel, but also Colombia, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Australia, and Poland, for example? The Obama administration will pay heed to Israel and India’s right to defend themselves from terrorism, but when engaging with Turkey, Pakistan, or the Palestinians, the State Department never makes U.S. assistance contingent upon these countries’ acceptance of a common definition of terrorism.

India and Israel should have strong ties, but their links should only be the beginning of a much broader alliance.



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