Hugplomacy is the connectivity stickum of today’s global leaders who maintain a tight grip on the Rubik’s cube of realpolitik. It has caused a paradigm shift in the manner international diplomacy is defined. The higher the frequency of hugs, the stronger the bromance. A tight embrace symbolises deep ideological compatibility. American leaders lead the world in the art of physical bonding to display the strength of their relationships; European and East Asian leaders rarely go beyond a handshake. Ever since Donald Trump took America by storm and Narendra Modi Modified India, the Honcho’s Hug has taken Public Display of Affection to the global level. Now, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has joined the club of hugging politicians-cum-diplomats. The tough troika comprising Trump, Modi and Netanyahu has disrupted the suggestive universe of statecraft. Their diplomacy is not subtle. It is loud, clear and exhibitionist.
Surprisingly, though the three are from different backgrounds, they view the world through similar-tinted glasses. Trump is a business tycoon whose primary objectives are making profits and expanding his business. Netanyahu is a former military commando who is determined to turn Israel’s David into the world’s Goliath. His tough stand against Palestine-sponsored terror and the land-for-peace policy proves his top priority has always been Israel’s security.
Narendra Modi is a Nationalist Hindu on a mission to deliver a New India. He, too, places a premium on national security and eliminating cross-border terror. All three leaders are on the wrong side of sixty. Yet, the glue that binds them together is their determination to defeat Islamist fundamentalism. It’s for the first time that an American president has publicly accused a strong strategic ally like Pakistan of supporting terrorism. Trump is the first US president to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has promised to move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Taking a dig at his predecessors he declared, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering. My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The Donald’s announcement boosted the morale of Netanyahu who has been battling his West Asian neighbours on multiple fronts. Modi and Trump have, meanwhile, united to mark Pakistan as their New Year target. During his first year in office, POTUS had avoided taking a firm stand against the rogue nation. Since Washington, much like New Delhi, is infiltrated by pro-Pak liberals; it took Trump almost over a year to purge most of them from policy-making institutions. His first New Year tweet declared, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit.
They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” It wasn’t just a usual Trump tirade. A couple of days on, the State Department announced it was freezing $1.3 billion in defence aid to Pak. A week later when the Islamic republic maintained that no criminal case was pending in the country against Hafiz Saeed, who has been proclaimed an international terrorist by the US, the State Department went ballistic. It unequivocally declared, “This Guy is a Terrorist. He is mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed many innocents including American citizens. He should be prosecuted.”
By naming and shaming Pakistan for encouraging and financing terrorism, Trump has taken the risk of losing an ally, which has been providing it not only information about terror outfits but also access to the US military for sending arms and ammunition to its soldiers in Afghanistan. He is convinced that the threat to America from Islamic terror originates also from Pakistan. Trump and his trusted advisers believe that Pakistan is reluctant to neutralise the Taliban.
While Washington was deliberating measures to tame Pakistan, Modi and Netanyahu were engaged in boosting their relationship on all cylinders. It was Modi who took the first initiative by visiting Israel; the first-ever Indian prime minister to do so. His predecessors had hesitated to court the Jewish nation fearing a Muslim backlash at home. But when Modi landed in Tel Aviv, it was obvious his visit was high both on optics and substance. The two leaders spent time browsing the beaches and hitting historical monuments like political lovers on a romantic romp.
Netanyahu was bindaas about Modi’s visit. Later, while speaking at the United Nations, he told the Assembly, “You may have seen the pictures. We were on a beach in Hadera. We rode together in a jeep outfitted with a portable desalination device that some thriving Israeli entrepreneur invented. We took off our shoes, waded into the Mediterranean and drank seawater that had been purified only a few minutes earlier.” Netanyahu even hosted a grand reception for the Indian prime minister at Ben Gurion International airport — a rare privilege extended only to the US President and the Pope.
Modi returned the compliment when Netanyahu visited India last week. Not only did he drive to the airport to welcome the Israeli leader for his six-day visit to India, he also hosted a road show for him in Ahmedabad, organised a grand reception attended by Bollywood stars in Mumbai, and facilitated his interactions with Indian business and political leaders. On the face of it, the visit was meant to boost business relations. But both prime ministers ensured that security pacts and defence deals were given equal weightage.
According to defence trade experts, over 40 per cent of Israel’s defence exports are to India. Even a $500-million deal to develop Spike anti-tank guided missiles, which had been previously cancelled, was revived since both leaders realise that an Indo-Israel-US nexus is both a lethal anti-terror alliance and a power bloc to contain growing Chinese influence in South Asia. For the first time in international diplomacy, three individuals are using nationalism to define business and economic relations. None of them is willing to exchange national interest for the dubious perquisite of winning more liberal friends and facilitating the continuance of an inequitable global order and Islamic terror. Modi, Trump and Netanyahu, separated by birth and boundaries but united against terror are comrades in a clinch who will not budge an inch.