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Asian leaders wary of Saudi religious diplomacy

James M. Dorsey in Singapore
 
Critics in the Maldives likely sighed relief when Saudi King Salman this week postponed his visit because of an outbreak of flu. The flu is however unlikely to halt a planned massive Saudi investment or the impact on Maldives society of the kingdom’s religion-driven public diplomacy.
Big ticket investments and countering political violence dominated the headlines of the king’s tour of Asia together with the extravagance of his travel – an entourage of at least 1,000, 459 tonnes of luggage, a golden electric elevator for the monarch to descend from his private plane, and a specially built toilet for his visit to a Jakarta mosque.
 
Saudi King’s diplomacy
Yet, religion often was an elephant in the room on most stops on King Salman’s trip that took him to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, China and Japan and that was supposed to also include the Maldives.
All countries on the king’s itinerary feel the impact of a more than four-decade long Saudi soft power effort to spread Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in a bid to counter the potential appeal of Iran, whose regime came to power in a popular revolt and that in contrast to the autocratic kingdom recognizes some degree of popular sovereignty.
The Saudi effort, the single largest public diplomacy campaign in history, has fostered across the Muslim world greater conservatism, anti-Shiite and anti-Ahmadi sectarianism, intolerance, and a roll back of basic freedoms through among others tough anti-blasphemy laws.
To be sure, the Saudi campaign is one of several initiatives by Eurasian powers to assert influence across a swath of land stretching from Turkey to China. Yet, it is the one with the largest war chest except for China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
 
Focus of Saudi campaign
The Saudi campaign moreover focuses on changing societies rather than exclusively on economics and security as in the case of China or Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. Other powers build their efforts on ethnic or historic kinship as Turkey does with its neo-Ottomanism or India by forging closer ties to its Diaspora.
In some countries, such as Malaysia and Brunei, whose rulers seek legitimacy through greater public piety and association with Islam, Saudi religious diplomacy is a welcome contribution. In his role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, King Salman bestowed with his visit religious legitimacy on his hosts.
Saudi Arabia’s public diplomacy may also be boosted by mounting repression in Egypt that threatens foreign students at Cairo’s Al Azhar University, long the citadel of Islamic learning. Al Azhar is often viewed as an anti-dote to the ultra-conservatism of Saudi religious education. Repression in Egypt could, however, drive students to Saudi institutions instead.
Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, Malaysia’s minister of higher education, told reporters in February that his ministry was no longer giving scholarships for study in Egypt. An estimated 11,000 Malaysians study in the North African country. “Right now, the situation in Egypt has not fully settled down, our embassy there is still monitoring the security situation there,” Mr. Idris said.
The risks involved in an embrace of Saudi-inspired Sunni ultra-conservatism are never far. Decades of Saudi funding often creates an environment that is not inherently violent in and of itself but enables breeding grounds for more militant interpretations of the faith that target not only local environments but also the kingdom itself.
 
Indonesia’s different greetings
“Saudi oil money has been changing the religious make-up of Malaysians since the 1970s, but more direct penetration of Saudis in the religious sphere may change the outlook of ordinary Malaysians further,” said Malaysia scholar Norshahril Saat in a recent commentary on King Salman’s visit.
Malaysia detained at least seven suspects in advance of King Salman’s arrival who allegedly were planning to attack the monarch. Two months earlier, police opened an investigation into a Saudi-backed university in Selangor, the International University of Al-Madinah, after two of its students were detained on suspicion of being militants.
Established in 2006, the university’s religious teachings have long been suspected by authorities of promoting extremism. The university has denied the allegations. But a top Malaysian counter-terrorism official, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said that efforts to persuade the university to change its syllabi had so far come to naught.
While symbolism may have worked in favour of the rulers of Malaysia and Brunei, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, president of a country that prides itself on its tolerant version of Islam, appears to have subtly turned the tables on King Salman. In an effort to portray himself as the leader of all Indonesian Muslims and to counter growing ultra-conservative influence, Mr. Widodo employed Javanese cultural concepts of tolerance and dialogue.
Symbolism was evident in differing welcomes of the king in Java and Bali. Nude statues that dot the botanic gardens at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, about 40 kilometres outside of Jakarta, were covered with potted plant to avoid offending the Saudis. Predominantly Hindu Bali decided to do nothing of the sort.
 
Promote moderation?
In meetings with major Indonesian Islamic organizations, including Nahdlatul Ulama, a 91-year old, traditionalist movement that has opposition to Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative strand of Islam that legitimizes the rule of the Sauds, written into its DNA, King Salman said Indonesia and his country had agreed to promote a more moderate version of the faith.
“It’s all sublime messaging and imaging. Jokowi played Salman beautifully. Masterful his use of Javanese culture. The Saudi’s just don’t know yet,” said Leonard Sebastian, a leading Indonesian expert at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (SSIS).
To be sure, King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah already started cautiously reaching out to other strands of Islam as well as other faiths. Moreover, Vision 2030, the plan to diversify the Saudi economy and upgrade the kingdom’s autocracy, seeks to deprive ultra-conservatism in Saudi Arabia of its rough edges and bring it more in line with the 21st century.
It also seeks to counter militant ideological offspring, including jihadism, by promoting an interpretation of Islam that dictates unconditional obedience to the ruler. The problem is that more than four decades of Saudi support has created a family of world views that leads their own lives, no longer are dependent on Saudi funding, and includes activist segments critical of the Al Sauds as well as their own rulers.
 
Mixed reactions
It’s not clear to what degree ideological reforms King Salman’s son and deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is introducing in the kingdom trickle down to Saudi-funded institutions elsewhere. Saudi Arabia said during King Salman’s visit that it would be opening two new campuses in Makassar and Medan of its Jakarta-based Islamic and Arabic College of Indonesia (LIPIA), a branch of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.
Mounting concern about growing ultra-conservatism in China’s troubled north-western Xinjiang province, home to the Uyghurs, ethnic Turks who stubbornly seek to preserve their culture and identity as well as among the Hui, a wholly integrated Muslim community, could complicate relations with Saudi Arabia.
China and Saudi Arabia trumpeted their strategic relations during King Salman’s visit, yet Beijing has done little to counter rising Islamophobia in the media and among Chinese officials.
To lay the groundwork for a $10bn investment that would give the kingdom control of an Indian Ocean atoll, Saudi Arabia funded religious institutions in the Maldives and offered scholarships for students to pursue religious studies at the it’s ultra-conservative universities.
The funding has pushed the Maldives, a popular high-end tourist destination, towards greater intolerance and public piety. Public partying, mixed dancing and Western beach garb have become acceptable only within expensive tourist resorts.
The Saudis “have had a good run of propagating their world view to the people of the Maldives and they’ve done that for the last three decades. They’ve now, I think, come to the view that they have enough sympathy to get a foothold,” said former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed said.
 
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

 

Comment

James M. Dorsey in Singapore
 
Critics in the Maldives likely sighed relief when Saudi King Salman this week postponed his visit because of an outbreak of flu. The flu is however unlikely to halt a planned massive Saudi investment or the impact on Maldives society of the kingdom’s religion-driven public diplomacy.
Big ticket investments and countering political violence dominated the headlines of the king’s tour of Asia together with the extravagance of his travel – an entourage of at least 1,000, 459 tonnes of luggage, a golden electric elevator for the monarch to descend from his private plane, and a specially built toilet for his visit to a Jakarta mosque.
 
Saudi King’s diplomacy
Yet, religion often was an elephant in the room on most stops on King Salman’s trip that took him to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, China and Japan and that was supposed to also include the Maldives.
All countries on the king’s itinerary feel the impact of a more than four-decade long Saudi soft power effort to spread Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in a bid to counter the potential appeal of Iran, whose regime came to power in a popular revolt and that in contrast to the autocratic kingdom recognizes some degree of popular sovereignty.
The Saudi effort, the single largest public diplomacy campaign in history, has fostered across the Muslim world greater conservatism, anti-Shiite and anti-Ahmadi sectarianism, intolerance, and a roll back of basic freedoms through among others tough anti-blasphemy laws.
To be sure, the Saudi campaign is one of several initiatives by Eurasian powers to assert influence across a swath of land stretching from Turkey to China. Yet, it is the one with the largest war chest except for China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
 
Focus of Saudi campaign
The Saudi campaign moreover focuses on changing societies rather than exclusively on economics and security as in the case of China or Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. Other powers build their efforts on ethnic or historic kinship as Turkey does with its neo-Ottomanism or India by forging closer ties to its Diaspora.
In some countries, such as Malaysia and Brunei, whose rulers seek legitimacy through greater public piety and association with Islam, Saudi religious diplomacy is a welcome contribution. In his role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, King Salman bestowed with his visit religious legitimacy on his hosts.
Saudi Arabia’s public diplomacy may also be boosted by mounting repression in Egypt that threatens foreign students at Cairo’s Al Azhar University, long the citadel of Islamic learning. Al Azhar is often viewed as an anti-dote to the ultra-conservatism of Saudi religious education. Repression in Egypt could, however, drive students to Saudi institutions instead.
Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, Malaysia’s minister of higher education, told reporters in February that his ministry was no longer giving scholarships for study in Egypt. An estimated 11,000 Malaysians study in the North African country. “Right now, the situation in Egypt has not fully settled down, our embassy there is still monitoring the security situation there,” Mr. Idris said.
The risks involved in an embrace of Saudi-inspired Sunni ultra-conservatism are never far. Decades of Saudi funding often creates an environment that is not inherently violent in and of itself but enables breeding grounds for more militant interpretations of the faith that target not only local environments but also the kingdom itself.
 
Indonesia’s different greetings
“Saudi oil money has been changing the religious make-up of Malaysians since the 1970s, but more direct penetration of Saudis in the religious sphere may change the outlook of ordinary Malaysians further,” said Malaysia scholar Norshahril Saat in a recent commentary on King Salman’s visit.
Malaysia detained at least seven suspects in advance of King Salman’s arrival who allegedly were planning to attack the monarch. Two months earlier, police opened an investigation into a Saudi-backed university in Selangor, the International University of Al-Madinah, after two of its students were detained on suspicion of being militants.
Established in 2006, the university’s religious teachings have long been suspected by authorities of promoting extremism. The university has denied the allegations. But a top Malaysian counter-terrorism official, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said that efforts to persuade the university to change its syllabi had so far come to naught.
While symbolism may have worked in favour of the rulers of Malaysia and Brunei, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, president of a country that prides itself on its tolerant version of Islam, appears to have subtly turned the tables on King Salman. In an effort to portray himself as the leader of all Indonesian Muslims and to counter growing ultra-conservative influence, Mr. Widodo employed Javanese cultural concepts of tolerance and dialogue.
Symbolism was evident in differing welcomes of the king in Java and Bali. Nude statues that dot the botanic gardens at the Presidential Palace in Bogor, about 40 kilometres outside of Jakarta, were covered with potted plant to avoid offending the Saudis. Predominantly Hindu Bali decided to do nothing of the sort.
 
Promote moderation?
In meetings with major Indonesian Islamic organizations, including Nahdlatul Ulama, a 91-year old, traditionalist movement that has opposition to Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative strand of Islam that legitimizes the rule of the Sauds, written into its DNA, King Salman said Indonesia and his country had agreed to promote a more moderate version of the faith.
“It’s all sublime messaging and imaging. Jokowi played Salman beautifully. Masterful his use of Javanese culture. The Saudi’s just don’t know yet,” said Leonard Sebastian, a leading Indonesian expert at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (SSIS).
To be sure, King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah already started cautiously reaching out to other strands of Islam as well as other faiths. Moreover, Vision 2030, the plan to diversify the Saudi economy and upgrade the kingdom’s autocracy, seeks to deprive ultra-conservatism in Saudi Arabia of its rough edges and bring it more in line with the 21st century.
It also seeks to counter militant ideological offspring, including jihadism, by promoting an interpretation of Islam that dictates unconditional obedience to the ruler. The problem is that more than four decades of Saudi support has created a family of world views that leads their own lives, no longer are dependent on Saudi funding, and includes activist segments critical of the Al Sauds as well as their own rulers.
 
Mixed reactions
It’s not clear to what degree ideological reforms King Salman’s son and deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is introducing in the kingdom trickle down to Saudi-funded institutions elsewhere. Saudi Arabia said during King Salman’s visit that it would be opening two new campuses in Makassar and Medan of its Jakarta-based Islamic and Arabic College of Indonesia (LIPIA), a branch of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.
Mounting concern about growing ultra-conservatism in China’s troubled north-western Xinjiang province, home to the Uyghurs, ethnic Turks who stubbornly seek to preserve their culture and identity as well as among the Hui, a wholly integrated Muslim community, could complicate relations with Saudi Arabia.
China and Saudi Arabia trumpeted their strategic relations during King Salman’s visit, yet Beijing has done little to counter rising Islamophobia in the media and among Chinese officials.
To lay the groundwork for a $10bn investment that would give the kingdom control of an Indian Ocean atoll, Saudi Arabia funded religious institutions in the Maldives and offered scholarships for students to pursue religious studies at the it’s ultra-conservative universities.
The funding has pushed the Maldives, a popular high-end tourist destination, towards greater intolerance and public piety. Public partying, mixed dancing and Western beach garb have become acceptable only within expensive tourist resorts.
The Saudis “have had a good run of propagating their world view to the people of the Maldives and they’ve done that for the last three decades. They’ve now, I think, come to the view that they have enough sympathy to get a foothold,” said former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed said.
 
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

 


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The rise and fall of populism and fake news
Avanish Rathi in New Delhi
 
Populists have chosen a bad time to wrest power. The main weapon at the disposal of the populist is the power to turn conjecture into fact. The danger is in the steady march of populists around the world turning conjecture to fact to law. The populist remains agile and formless, shaping opinion according to necessity, the only consideration being a deep rooted conservatism to appeal to the forgotten man and woman.
The appeal of fake news is in its reinforcement of beliefs –beliefs that are born out of disenfranchisement. The forgotten man and woman need to believe that they are the underdogs left behind by globalization, that perhaps wealth and power haven’t been distributed quite as equitably as they should have.
 
Putting fate in powerful groups
Indeed, the reinforcement of the belief that one is an underdog is an entirely competent backs to the wall management technique. The forgotten man and woman are under siege, their customs and traditions under attack from government and progressive forces. This management technique, however, has inherent limitations that are apparent when the siege ends; the usurper becomes the government and the underdog stops being the underdog. What will the underdog rally against, if the underdog becomes the one holding the keys to power?
At risk for conservatives is their own credibility in the long term.  By allying themselves with populists, they have put their fates in the hands of a group of people that is so infatuated with power that it remains unconcerned about longevity and long term prospects. Any valid concerns the conservatives would want to raise are being totally drowned out by the insensate noises coming out of their own camps.
But populism is nothing new. The start of the last century saw various such movements, not always allied to conservatism. Communism (both the Russian and Chinese iterations) and Nazism were fairly progressive in nature in their objectives and policies – equal rights for women, state irreligion, equitable distribution of wealth. Both, however, caused misery unmatched in the history of humanity. The only credible examples of communism today are hardly communist success stories –both China and Vietnam have achieved success in spite of, and not because of communism.
Chinese success, however, depends on its tightly controlled propaganda machine, and its ability to control dissent, something, one would naturally think, is what the democratic populist is aiming for, even if in a more watered down state.
 
Populist bubbles to burst
What the populist – and the rational conservative – would do well to realize is this: propaganda has failed, and is failing. The sole remaining state effecting propaganda at the scale of the Soviet Russia in its heyday is North Korea – and even in this case, the populace finds ways to access news, and real news at that. The difference in the relative situations between North Korean fake news and Western (and democratic) fake news is in that while the North Koreans struggle to find any news, the Western (and democratic) populace struggles to find independently verifiable news.
For the latter, however, there is no excuse. The spread of fake news is only because of a lack of effort and discernment. Plenty of journalists and media (the BBC, the Guardian and the Atlantic, to name just a few) are doing great work, at times at risk to their own lives and livelihoods. To share a link on social media without verifying the source and/or contents is absolutely criminal in today’s climate. To inculcate beliefs based on a 140 word tweet by a populist is doubly so. Do the likes of Facebook share responsibility? None whatsoever. It is up to the reader to make sure what he/she shares has basis in reality and fact.
In the same manner that propaganda has failed, so too will fake news.  The reason for which will be the same as well: the natural human curiosity for truth, enlightenment and equity. It will be a bitter pill to swallow for the populist, but they themselves will be the key to their own downfall. The populist bubble will burst.
 
Avanish Rathi is an advocate practicing in New Delhi before the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.

Comment

Avanish Rathi in New Delhi
 
Populists have chosen a bad time to wrest power. The main weapon at the disposal of the populist is the power to turn conjecture into fact. The danger is in the steady march of populists around the world turning conjecture to fact to law. The populist remains agile and formless, shaping opinion according to necessity, the only consideration being a deep rooted conservatism to appeal to the forgotten man and woman.
The appeal of fake news is in its reinforcement of beliefs –beliefs that are born out of disenfranchisement. The forgotten man and woman need to believe that they are the underdogs left behind by globalization, that perhaps wealth and power haven’t been distributed quite as equitably as they should have.
 
Putting fate in powerful groups
Indeed, the reinforcement of the belief that one is an underdog is an entirely competent backs to the wall management technique. The forgotten man and woman are under siege, their customs and traditions under attack from government and progressive forces. This management technique, however, has inherent limitations that are apparent when the siege ends; the usurper becomes the government and the underdog stops being the underdog. What will the underdog rally against, if the underdog becomes the one holding the keys to power?
At risk for conservatives is their own credibility in the long term.  By allying themselves with populists, they have put their fates in the hands of a group of people that is so infatuated with power that it remains unconcerned about longevity and long term prospects. Any valid concerns the conservatives would want to raise are being totally drowned out by the insensate noises coming out of their own camps.
But populism is nothing new. The start of the last century saw various such movements, not always allied to conservatism. Communism (both the Russian and Chinese iterations) and Nazism were fairly progressive in nature in their objectives and policies – equal rights for women, state irreligion, equitable distribution of wealth. Both, however, caused misery unmatched in the history of humanity. The only credible examples of communism today are hardly communist success stories –both China and Vietnam have achieved success in spite of, and not because of communism.
Chinese success, however, depends on its tightly controlled propaganda machine, and its ability to control dissent, something, one would naturally think, is what the democratic populist is aiming for, even if in a more watered down state.
 
Populist bubbles to burst
What the populist – and the rational conservative – would do well to realize is this: propaganda has failed, and is failing. The sole remaining state effecting propaganda at the scale of the Soviet Russia in its heyday is North Korea – and even in this case, the populace finds ways to access news, and real news at that. The difference in the relative situations between North Korean fake news and Western (and democratic) fake news is in that while the North Koreans struggle to find any news, the Western (and democratic) populace struggles to find independently verifiable news.
For the latter, however, there is no excuse. The spread of fake news is only because of a lack of effort and discernment. Plenty of journalists and media (the BBC, the Guardian and the Atlantic, to name just a few) are doing great work, at times at risk to their own lives and livelihoods. To share a link on social media without verifying the source and/or contents is absolutely criminal in today’s climate. To inculcate beliefs based on a 140 word tweet by a populist is doubly so. Do the likes of Facebook share responsibility? None whatsoever. It is up to the reader to make sure what he/she shares has basis in reality and fact.
In the same manner that propaganda has failed, so too will fake news.  The reason for which will be the same as well: the natural human curiosity for truth, enlightenment and equity. It will be a bitter pill to swallow for the populist, but they themselves will be the key to their own downfall. The populist bubble will burst.
 
Avanish Rathi is an advocate practicing in New Delhi before the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.

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India-Israel defence cooperation: Enhanced relations
Maimuna Ashraf
 
Israel, following Russia and the US, is India’s third largest defence supplier and the bilateral defence cooperation between two states is continuing to be strong. Both states are also celebrating the twenty-five years of establishment of their diplomatic relations this year, while at the end of last year the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited India, which was first after two decades.
India’s foreign policy has undergone through watershed change over past two decades. Until 1992, India abstained in establishing close relations with Israel and even Indian passports prohibited travel to Israel. However after the Gulf War and Kargil War these relations were revived.
 
Israel helps ‘make in India’ vision
The relations are supported by Congress and India’s current establishment. The estimated arms trade between India and Israel has been more than $12 billion in last decade which makes India the largest Israel’s customer. Israel has lately carved its niche in India by delivering the most sophisticated weapons systems and annually Israeli weapons sales to India amounts to $1 billion.
Previously, India has been importing from Israel the most sought-after drone technology, early warning systems to detect adversary’s warplanes, state-of-the-art missile defence systems, Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) for surveillance on missile sites and aircraft, missile defence system (Arrow II) to neutralize enemy’s ballistic missiles and anti-missile system to protect Indian Navy ships from hostile missiles. DRDO and Israel are cooperating on producing technologies related to sensors, battlefield management, mobile observation system and command and control.
In the words of Israel’s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, “Israel is one of the first countries to implement the ‘Make in India’ vision.  There are already plans for joint ventures for making ‘for India’ by Israeli companies, with the support of the Israeli government.” Lately both states are cooperating for missile projects. Resultantly, these technologies have improved India’s air defence capabilities. It was in 2013 when India expressed a desire for precision-guided munitions and missile cooperation.
 
India seeks missile technology
The latest deal has opened prospects of more defence cooperation of both states. The deal to build the missiles, reported to have a range of 50-70 kilometres. Five regiments, which consists of 40 units and 200 missiles, are to be developed under the deal. Israel and India will co-develop and produce a medium-range surface-to-air missile for the Indian Army. Contracts for the deal are expected to be awarded later this month with the value of the project estimated at over $2.5 billion. Known as the MRSAM, development of the missile will be undertaken jointly by India’s DRDO, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and will be produced by state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) in partnership with other state-owned and private defence companies.
Israel is in a good position to help develop more effective and cost efficient missile defences after becoming member of MTCR. According to media reports, India is negotiating for Israeli missile technology to perfect the launching and guidance systems of the Prithvi, an indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile and also seeking Israeli help in electronics for its submarine launched Sagarika missile. India has also sought certain technical assistance from Israel to develop Akash, the country’s indigenous missile system.  These missiles can counter the threat posed by M-11 acquired by Pakistan. Israel is also helping India in developing state-of-the-art air to air missiles.
India believes that defence relations between two states should flourish because it has limited political implications unlike US which keeps trying to tap in Indian defence market but the reservations to transfer technology remains a deadlock. Moreover, both states are observed as common enemy against Pakistan which presents another striking reason to their defence ties, this is why Pakistan also perceive this connection as threat to its security.
 
Mutually beneficial relations
India is looking forward to further strengthen its relations with Israel not only to maintain qualitative and quantitative defence superiority but also to play a dominant role in South Asia. A significant cooperation area between India and Israel is in space field and Indian Ocean which further widens the conventional and non-conventional irregularities between Pakistan and India. The bilateral relations between two countries would also endorse India’s significant role in West and Central Asian region. Whereas in South Asian context, further strengthen ties of India and Israel can alter geopolitical realties and strategic equilibrium in favour of India.  Thus, two states find the bilateral relations mutually beneficial.
Recently, India has taken various initiatives to further improve its strategic relations with US, Israel and Japan. Analyst believe that by improving these ties, India is aiming to aggressively pursue its ambitions in broader Asia, South Asia and Indian Ocean regions generally and particularly, respectively, against its two neighbors China and Pakistan. In essence, Indo-Israel relations have grown in importance because it is based on very practical considerations. For India, Israel is a source of high technology in many including military related industries.
 
Maimuna Ashraf is a member of an Islamabad based think tank, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI). She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation and South Asian nuclear equation.  Furthermore, she regularly writes for national and international dailies.

Comment

Maimuna Ashraf
 
Israel, following Russia and the US, is India’s third largest defence supplier and the bilateral defence cooperation between two states is continuing to be strong. Both states are also celebrating the twenty-five years of establishment of their diplomatic relations this year, while at the end of last year the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited India, which was first after two decades.
India’s foreign policy has undergone through watershed change over past two decades. Until 1992, India abstained in establishing close relations with Israel and even Indian passports prohibited travel to Israel. However after the Gulf War and Kargil War these relations were revived.
 
Israel helps ‘make in India’ vision
The relations are supported by Congress and India’s current establishment. The estimated arms trade between India and Israel has been more than $12 billion in last decade which makes India the largest Israel’s customer. Israel has lately carved its niche in India by delivering the most sophisticated weapons systems and annually Israeli weapons sales to India amounts to $1 billion.
Previously, India has been importing from Israel the most sought-after drone technology, early warning systems to detect adversary’s warplanes, state-of-the-art missile defence systems, Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) for surveillance on missile sites and aircraft, missile defence system (Arrow II) to neutralize enemy’s ballistic missiles and anti-missile system to protect Indian Navy ships from hostile missiles. DRDO and Israel are cooperating on producing technologies related to sensors, battlefield management, mobile observation system and command and control.
In the words of Israel’s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, “Israel is one of the first countries to implement the ‘Make in India’ vision.  There are already plans for joint ventures for making ‘for India’ by Israeli companies, with the support of the Israeli government.” Lately both states are cooperating for missile projects. Resultantly, these technologies have improved India’s air defence capabilities. It was in 2013 when India expressed a desire for precision-guided munitions and missile cooperation.
 
India seeks missile technology
The latest deal has opened prospects of more defence cooperation of both states. The deal to build the missiles, reported to have a range of 50-70 kilometres. Five regiments, which consists of 40 units and 200 missiles, are to be developed under the deal. Israel and India will co-develop and produce a medium-range surface-to-air missile for the Indian Army. Contracts for the deal are expected to be awarded later this month with the value of the project estimated at over $2.5 billion. Known as the MRSAM, development of the missile will be undertaken jointly by India’s DRDO, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and will be produced by state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) in partnership with other state-owned and private defence companies.
Israel is in a good position to help develop more effective and cost efficient missile defences after becoming member of MTCR. According to media reports, India is negotiating for Israeli missile technology to perfect the launching and guidance systems of the Prithvi, an indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile and also seeking Israeli help in electronics for its submarine launched Sagarika missile. India has also sought certain technical assistance from Israel to develop Akash, the country’s indigenous missile system.  These missiles can counter the threat posed by M-11 acquired by Pakistan. Israel is also helping India in developing state-of-the-art air to air missiles.
India believes that defence relations between two states should flourish because it has limited political implications unlike US which keeps trying to tap in Indian defence market but the reservations to transfer technology remains a deadlock. Moreover, both states are observed as common enemy against Pakistan which presents another striking reason to their defence ties, this is why Pakistan also perceive this connection as threat to its security.
 
Mutually beneficial relations
India is looking forward to further strengthen its relations with Israel not only to maintain qualitative and quantitative defence superiority but also to play a dominant role in South Asia. A significant cooperation area between India and Israel is in space field and Indian Ocean which further widens the conventional and non-conventional irregularities between Pakistan and India. The bilateral relations between two countries would also endorse India’s significant role in West and Central Asian region. Whereas in South Asian context, further strengthen ties of India and Israel can alter geopolitical realties and strategic equilibrium in favour of India.  Thus, two states find the bilateral relations mutually beneficial.
Recently, India has taken various initiatives to further improve its strategic relations with US, Israel and Japan. Analyst believe that by improving these ties, India is aiming to aggressively pursue its ambitions in broader Asia, South Asia and Indian Ocean regions generally and particularly, respectively, against its two neighbors China and Pakistan. In essence, Indo-Israel relations have grown in importance because it is based on very practical considerations. For India, Israel is a source of high technology in many including military related industries.
 
Maimuna Ashraf is a member of an Islamabad based think tank, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI). She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation and South Asian nuclear equation.  Furthermore, she regularly writes for national and international dailies.

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