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Monday, 8 April 2013

India-Israel anti-terror axis evolves

India-Israel anti-terror axis evolves
"It is advisable for the democratic countries of the US, Israel and India to come together with an integrated task force to effectively defeat the threats of terrorists", stated former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam in a speech in New Delhi last Friday. 

Given his status, is the former president really oblivious to the fact that such a US-India-Israel axis on counter-terrorism already exists? 

During then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's visit to New Delhi in September 2003, his deputy, Yosef Lapid, told journalists that an "unwritten and abstract" axis had been created among India, Israel and the US to combat international terrorism. 

"While there was no formal triangular agreement there is a mutual interest of the three countries in making the world a more secure place for all of us. There is American support for the development of the unwritten axis", Lapid told them. "Therefore in the abstract sense we are creating such an axis." 

Just four months before the announcement of the creation of the axis by the Israeli deputy prime minister, Brajesh Mishra, India's National Security Adviser, had called for such an alliance. 

Speaking to the American Jewish Committee on May 8, 2003, Mishra said, "Only a 'core' consisting of democracies such as India, Israel and USA can deal with terrorism. Such an alliance would have the political will and moral authority to make bold decisions in extreme cases of terrorist provocations". 

He added that the countries would not waste time in defining terrorism or arguing about its causes. "Distinctions sought to be made between freedom fighters and terrorists propagate a bizarre logic", Mishra pontificated. "Another fallacy propagated is that terrorism can be eradicated by addressing the root causes. This is nonsense", Mishra declared. 

He then repeated his favorite themes: India, the US and Israel were the "prime targets of terrorism". They had a "common enemy" and this required "joint action". 

Mishra's comments underpinned and expanded those of the deputy prime minister LK Advani, who in an interview given to Fox News in July 2002 said. "Terrorism in so far we have seen it on September 11 [2001] or December 13 [2001, an attack on the Indian Parliament] has a common source and that common source has declared the U.S, Israel and India as its three main enemies". 

The long history of the axis makes it unnecessary for the former president to repeat calls for cooperation in counter-terrorism among the three countries. 

Let us look at India-Israel cooperation in counter-terrorism within the framework of the axis. 

Mani Shankar Aiyer, member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and a former minister told the Indian Express on September 25, 2010:

"We have become so dependent on defense supplies from Israel that when I put up a Rajya Sabha question seeking the government to reply on whether it equated the large number of civilians killed by Israeli forces in Gaza strip - as found by the Goldstone fact-finding team - with the killings of Hamas, the Ministry of External Affairs disallowed my question, calling it a state secret. Since when has the subject of India-Palestinian relations become a state secret given the fact that we [India] were at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle?"
India-Palestinian relations have long been subsumed by India-Israel relations. Just before Sharon's momentous visit to New Delhi in 2003, the Financial Times describes his country's ties with India as "one of the world's most secretive relationships". 

The sentiment was echoed, albeit obliquely, by former Israeli ambassador to India, Mark Sofer in February 2008. 

"We do have a defense relationship with India which is no secret. On the other hand, what is a secret is what the defense relationship is. And with all respect the secret part will remain a secret," said Sofer. 

This prompted analyst Rahnuma Ahmed to ask:
"What is one to make of this? That defense and intelligence cooperation which includes sale of high tech weapon systems and mutual access to military facilities and training is the mere surface? What lies underneath? Something which is so hidden that His Excellency needed to utter the word 'secret' four times?"
A visit by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to New Delhi in January 2002 became an occasion to reinforce the strategic ties between India and Israel. An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said during Peres' visit, "India finds it increasingly beneficial to learn from Israel's experience in dealing with terrorism since Israel too has long suffered from cross-border terrorism". 

The spokesperson was reiterating the Indian foreign ministry's position of equating the Palestinian struggle with cross-border terrorism. This fundamentally flawed position continues to be the basis of Indian-Israeli counter-terrorism cooperation. 

India and Israel not only exchange crucial intelligence information on what they call "Islamic terrorist groups", Israel has also been "helping" India to "fight terrorism in Kashmir" by providing important logistical support such as specialized surveillance, equipment, cooperation or intelligence gathering and joint exercises. 

The level of intelligence cooperation between India and Israel is more extensive and deeper than between India and the US. Thousands of special troops have been trained in Israel. India primarily sought this training in order to tackle cross-border infiltration of insurgents into Kashmir from Pakistan, as well as to protect north-eastern states from possible infiltration by neighboring countries such as China. 

In a June 2004 visit to Israel, India's then vice chief of army staff, General Shantano Chowdhary, was shown counter-infiltration devices used along the borders in the Golan Heights and Nagev desert. During Major-General Kaplinsky's 2007 visit to India, the Israeli delegation along with its Indian hosts reviewed the performance of the Israeli equipment used along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. 

The 2008 Mumbai attack stirred a growing interest in Israeli counter-terrorism techniques and led to the formation of a new working group. In September 2008, Defense News reported that India and Israel were planning joint exercises between Israeli commando forces and Indian troops. 

As part of the agreement, Israeli commandos provided training to Indian troops at various locations in India including jungles, mountains and highly populated urban zones, as well as close quarter operational training for defeating terror targets with reduced civilian casualties. 

When Israel offered Indian homeland security and counter-terror know-how in 2009, the Maharashtra government responded by sending an Indian delegation to Israel for hands-on experience. 

"Israel's homeland security systems are way ahead and India can benefit from your own experience. We are friendly countries and strategic partners based on sound fundamental principles. We have to cooperate to the fullest extent to combat the menace of terrorism", India's former minister of state for commerce and industry, Jyothiraditya Scindia, told business leaders in Tel Aviv in February 2010. 

During a one-to-one meeting with Peres, then Israel's president, the minister thanked Israel for its help in the "fight against terror from time to time". 

The nature of the cooperation between India and Israel in dealing with terrorism raises fundamental questions not only about about India's views on terrorism but also on how it understands the nature of the Palestinian struggle. 

Diplomatic remarks about "cross-border terrorism" clearly equates the Palestinian resistance with terror. India and Israel have found shared enemies to target in their respective anti-terrorism operations, conflating Kashmir and Pakistan with Palestine.