Indo-Israeli Strategic Cooperation as an American National Interest

Martin Sherman and M.L. Sondhi

Policy Paper No. 89, 1999

After decades of political alienation and economic estrangement between India and Israel, there has been a growing convergence of Indo-Israeli interests in recent years. This strengthening rapprochement culminated in the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi in 1992. Likewise, India’s new policy of economic liberalization instituted in 1991 opened up many opportunities for the Israeli business sector in the Indian market, which is becoming a coveted target for many of the world’s largest corporations. Both India and Israel can derive considerable mutual benefits by purposefully and systematically strengthening the bilateral bonds between themselves, and by prudently exploiting their respective comparative advantages in human and natural resources. Such a strategic partnership would embrace numerous fields on the national agenda of both nations; and with a judicious mixture of political will on the one hand, and political wisdom on the other, would allow them to achieve goals that would be beyond the reach of the separate individual capacities of either of them.

Indo-Israeli collaboration should be based on more than a perception of common interests prevailing at any given moment, but rather on a common perception of interests, which is rooted in basic shared values between the two countries, such as a deep commitment to democratic values and a strong attachment to their respective rich and ancient civilizations. Although the bilateral pay-offs for two countries seem almost immediately obvious, in both the military and economic fields, the tri-lateral (i.e. the Indo-Israeli-American) aspects of the relationship have not always been fully understood – particularly, the reasons why close Indo-Israeli strategic collaboration would not only be compatible with, but conducive to, long-term US interests. The regions of the world spanned by India and Israel include several foci which are liable to threaten the very core of liberal values that the US seeks to propagate among the community of nations. A strong Indo-Israeli alliance would create a formidable force for stability against the potential epicenters of radical fundamentalism and other hegemonic threats in Central Asia and the Middle East. It therefore appears no more than a dictate of logic that the US should actively seek to cultivate such Indo-Israeli collaboration. By so doing it would help insure that powers committed to individual liberties, freedom of expression, the right of dissent and moderation, dominate the theater of the Indian Ocean and the eastern approaches to Europe, rather than powers committed to fundamentalism and fanaticism, and which would impose on their surrounding states values that are the very antithesis of those that the American people cherish. Spheres which, prima facie, appear particularly amenable for initial bilateral collaboration between India and Israel and worthy of decisive US support, include activities such as: Indo-Israeli naval activity, (primarily in the field of joint logistic facilities), joint R&D projects, (both military and civilian) and cooperative efforts in solving problems of infrastructure (particularly with regard to energy and water). On a social front, India could derive considerable benefits from Israel’s experience in “managing diversity” and forging a productive and cohesive society out of an extremely heterogeneous population.

In summary, it appears that the time is right for Israel to establish a special relationship with the world’s largest democracy, similar to the relationship that it has developed with the world’s strongest democracy. Such a “consortium” of democratic states, committed to non-violent evolution rather than violent revolution as the preferred method of global change, is likely to have a vital role in advancing the principles of liberty and pluralism, and insuring regional stability in an extensive and important portion of the world where such principles are under continual siege.

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