DOHA: The Arab and Islamic world is watchful, looking for signs, if any, of growing bonhomie between Israel and India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has won a landslide victory in recent elections, experts say.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has extended warm greetings to BJP’s Prime Minister-elect, Narendra Modi, for steering his party to a historical win in the elections — something which is viewed by many in the Arab world with some unease.
What has raised eyebrows in this part of the world is a reminder by an Israel-based news portal, Al Masdar (meaning ‘Source’ in Arabic), that Modi’s election is “bad for the Muslim world because of his enmity with Islam”.
“During his governorship (rule) in Gujarat (the western Indian state) a 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed,” says the portal, citing this as the basis of the perception that Modi is an enemy of Muslims and Islam.
“Modi’s poll victory has given hopes to Israel for more cooperation with the world’s largest democracy,” said Al Masdar.
“With the coming in of the new government, what is sure is that there will be a big change in India’s foreign policy.”
New Delhi is the largest weapons buyer in the world and Israel is one of the major exporters. Israel sells defence technology and equipment, among them missile carrying ships and drones and electronic fighting equipment worth billions of dollars.
Annual trade between the two countries has been worth a staggering $5bn, says Al Masdar, describing Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East.
Economic ties between the two countries are expected to grow further and cooperation in fields such as education and agriculture are improving considerably.
Asked to comment on the above issue, Dr Abdullah Ba Aboud, Director of Gulf Studies Centre at Qatar University, told The Peninsula yesterday that Israel is always concerned about its relations with emerging powers like India and China.
The Arab countries, on the other hand, are busy grappling with their own problems in the aftermath of the Arab Spring — a reference to the situation in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Israel is quite keen not to be dependent entirely on the US and so is always on the lookout for newer relations and alliances, said Ba Aboud.
“This is Tel Aviv’s strategy while Arabs lack any such strategy and policy.”
“Arabs don’t know how to exploit situations to their benefit. They are always busy grappling with their own problems.”
The fact, however, remains that even before the BJP and Modi rode to power, relations between India and Israel have been strong and cordial, said Ba Aboud. “They have close ties in the fields of defence and scientific research.”
The only difference now is that Israel is “happily” aware that it shares a common viewpoint with the BJP and their ideologies are somewhat similar: both have enmity with Muslims.
Meanwhile, Dr Mohamed Noman, vice-chairman of International Studies Center at Bahrain University allayed doubts about the BJP taking India closer to Tel Aviv at the expense of its historical relations with India, Aljazeera.net reported.
“India’s relations with Arabs are too old and cultural, economic and political, and too deep to be affected by its growing links with Israel,” Noman was quoted by Aljazeera.net as saying. India should not be treated as an exception. Most countries in the world are developing closer ties with Tel Aviv.
Muslims in India are losing their influence in politics and are increasingly under pressure from the BJP, especially since 2002. “And when we talk of Indo-Israel ties, we must not forget that there is a powerful American lobby that has influence over India.”
India’s relations with Arabs are age-old. They are geographically close and have had no border disputes. However, Indo-Pak ties have had some impact on these relations after partition. The Kashmir issue also affected ties, said Noman.
He said there are an estimated four million Indians in the Gulf and are the basis of stronger Indo-Arab ties.
Gulf countries have a population of 38m. Expat have a 36 percent share in it. Indians constitute 70 percent of the expat population in the Gulf, said Noman. Indians in the Gulf and other Middle East countries remit annually $40bn home. So no government in India can hope to undermine its ties with the GCC and Arab world, said experts.