An official visit of a Prime Minister or a President is a signal to both allies and enemies that change is underway. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv signalled to the world at large that the paradigm of India’s West Asia policy has changed forever.
Historically, foreign policy and domestic policy dovetail into a pragmatic combination. Until 2014, India’s domestic policy towards Israel kept Muslim sentiments in mind. When Pakistan opened its nuclear facilities in Kahuta, Israel offered to bomb the plant using the Jamnagar IAF base. Israel, with a survival instinct honed by centuries of anti-Semitism, had the foresight to realise the danger of a nuclear Islamic Pakistan. Had India not been stopped by the US—the father of militant Islam—from wiping out Kahuta in 1983-84, its West Asia policy would have been different. Later, it also stopped Mossad from foiling Iran’s nuclear programme.
Historically, India and Israel have religious persecution in common. Six million Jews were gassed by the Nazis. Muslim invaders tortured and killed Hindus, razed temples and converted millions under pain of death. In medieval Europe, Jews were massacred or exiled. They were even blamed for the Black Plague. Their property was confiscated and distributed to greedy bishops and powerful barons. The economic reason behind pogroms was that the Jews were prosperous.
In Mughal India, jizya tax was imposed on Hindus. Similarly, in Catholic Europe, Jews were required to pay a special tax. Hindu temples were looted by Muslim invaders for their wealth as were synagogues by the Crusaders. In Europe, Jews were converted to Christianity. In India, Arabs, Afghans and Mughals did the same to the Hindus forcibly. So did the British missionaries, but with allurements.
The Nehruvian establishment’s minority politics prevented the recognition of Israel till 1950. Nehru explained, “We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries.” Arab oil and Gulf NRIs was the blackmail quotient. But it took half a century before an Indian minister—L K Advani—visited the Jewish nation. At the instance of Nehru who facilitated the Partition of India in 1947, India voted in the UN against the Partition of Palestine and Israel’s admission to the UN in 1949. Only nationalist leader M S Golwalkar espoused Palestine as the deserved nation of the Jewish people.
Like India, Israel is the target of terrorism for decades. It won the Six Day War in 1967 against a coalition of Arab countries, which had wanted to “wipe it off the face of the earth”. India militarily defeated Pakistan thrice. Israel has no qualms about eliminating terrorists: it avenged the massacre of its athletes in 1972 at the Munich Olympics by killing the planners. Since then, Mossad is the most feared spy agency in the world.
It routinely assassinates terror leaders, and wouldn’t have let Hafiz Saeed and Sayed Salahuddin live, had they launched terror attacks against Israel. After the 26/11 Mumbai massacre, the UPA refrained from payback, though it sought Mossad’s expertise.
Modi’s recognition of Europe’s minority, the Jews, is a liberation of India from its minority vote bank politics. India has categorically merged nationalism and realpolitik by abandoning the template of appeasement, even in foreign policy.