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The Maturation of Indo-Israeli Ties: P. R. Kumaraswamy, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2013—Since their establishment in January 1992, Israeli-Indian relations have improved dramatically. Israel has emerged as a major Indian trading partner in the Middle East with bilateral trade rising from a meager US$100 million to over $6.6 billion.


Shalom, Beijing: Oren Kessler, Foreign Policy, March 13, 2012—It's no secret that Israeli-American relations are under strain. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Barack Obama's Oval Office last week may not have been as tense as last year's, but the two leaders' uneasy body language and discordant messaging have made it clear their relations remain, at best, professional.


On Topic Links


China’s Ruthless Foreign Policy Is Changing the World in Dangerous Ways: Jonathan Kay, National Post, Apr. 29, 2013

China Pushes U.S., India Closer Together: Evan Braden Montgomery, The Diplomat, April 28, 2013

Old Tensions, Big Stakes In China-India Border Dispute: Tao Duanfang, Worldcrunch, Apr. 29, 2013

The End of  the Gandhis: James Traub, Foreign Policy, May/June 2013




P. R. Kumaraswamy

Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2013


Since their establishment in January 1992, Israeli-Indian relations have improved dramatically. Israel has emerged as a major Indian trading partner in the Middle East with bilateral trade rising from a meager US$100 million to over $6.6 billion. Cooperation in the military-security arena has similarly grown,  and there are widespread popular exchanges between the people of the two countries. The Israeli ambassador is the most sought after diplomat in New Delhi after his U.S. counterpart, and Indo-Israeli ties seem extraordinarily robust. Yet failure to acknowledge the limitations of this relationship would be costly.


Delinking the Peace Process


On January 21, 2008, India launched a closely-guarded Israeli-built radar spy satellite to begin gathering valuable intelligence data. According to Israeli reports, the satellite would "dramatically increase Israel's intelligence-gathering capabilities regarding … [Iran's] nuclear program, since the satellite can transmit images in all weather conditions, a capability that Israel's existing satellites lacked."


India's Israel policy falls into three broad phases. Beginning in the early 1920s, the nationalist leadership adopted a pro-Arab position, which largely continued until January 1992. Its recognition of the Jewish state in September 1950 did not materially alter this stand. The adoption of a pro-Arab stand was seen as critical for its interests in the Middle East and was pursued through a pro-Palestinian foreign policy. While it did not identify with the Arab extremism of that period, recognition without relations was the hallmark of Indian policy until January 1992.


The end of the Cold War and the transformation of the global order brought an end to this zero-sum approach as New Delhi concluded that, in order to make a difference in this new era, it was both possible and necessary to maintain normal relations with the Israelis and the Palestinians, who seemed to be moving toward a historic reconciliation. Shortly after the decision to normalize relations with Israel was announced on January 29, 1992, the two countries opened diplomatic missions and paved the way for increased political, economic, cultural, and security cooperation.


After the Congress party returned to power in 2004, bilateral relations moved to a third and more complex phase. In a radical departure from its pre-1992 position, New Delhi began to delink bilateral relations from the vagaries of the peace process. While disagreements with Israel over the peace process had earlier prevented full normalization of relations, New Delhi quietly began to pursue the peace process as if there were no bilateral relations with Israel and to pursue bilateral relations as if there were no differences with Israel over the peace process. This move was not only inevitable but has also been critical for the consolidation of the bilateral relations.


However, New Delhi continues to maintain some of its core pre-1992 positions vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Most importantly, it continues to support the pursuit of Palestinian political rights that will result in the formation of a sovereign and independent state coexisting with Israel. Ever since its decision to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the "sole and legitimate" representative of the Palestinians, political ties and interactions have improved and strengthened between the two parties with the PLO mission in New Delhi granted embassy status in early 1980. At that time, the Israeli representation was still confined to a consulate in Mumbai, which was often described as India's diplomatic Siberia. In November 1988, India was among the first countries to recognize the "state of Palestine," proclaimed by the PLO in Algiers, and began receiving PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, as heads of state. In the wake of the Oslo agreement, in 1993, India opened a separate mission in the Gaza Strip. As has been the practice in the West, the Gaza mission reported directly to the Foreign Office in New Delhi and not to the Indian embassy in Tel Aviv. When the situation in Gaza became more difficult, the mission was moved to Ramallah in the West Bank in 2004.


New Delhi's staunch support for the Palestinian political position was vividly illustrated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who spoke to the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) on September 24, 2011, a day after Abbas applied for Palestinian U.N. membership. Singh described the continuing non-resolution of the Palestinian question as "a source of great instability and violence" in the Middle East, reiterating New Delhi's "steadfast" support for "the Palestinian people's struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secured and recognizable borders side by side and at peace with Israel."  A year later, on November 29, 2012, India was among the countries that sponsored the UNGA resolution granting nonmember observer state status to the Palestinians.


On all the major issues concerning the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, such as settlements, borders, refugees, or the security fence, normalization has not resulted in a dilution or shift in New Delhi's positions, sometimes stated explicitly but more often conveyed through its voting pattern in the U.N. Indeed, with only two exceptions—the 1991 U.N. vote repealing the 1975 "Zionism equals racism" resolution and the Durban conference of 2001—there has been no marked difference in India's voting pattern on the peace process since 1992.


The Jerusalem Question


The most striking aspect of New Delhi's recent position toward the Middle East has been the unprecedented focus on Jerusalem. Its support for an independent Palestinian state in the past had been expressed without any explicit reference to Jerusalem. In January 2005, upon his election as Palestinian Authority president, Abbas sent a letter to India's junior foreign minister Ahamed that made explicit reference to East Jerusalem. Conveying his gratitude for New Delhi's congratulatory message, Abbas expressed hope that "with the help of India and other friends," the people of Palestine would be able to "practice and restore their inalienable national rights and establish their independent state with holy East Jerusalem of 4/6/1967 borders as its capital."  This did not influence New Delhi's position. For example, in a statement following Hamas's electoral victory in January 2006 and welcoming "the holding of free and fair elections," the Ministry of External Affairs observed that the elections "have strengthened the democratic process in Palestine." It hoped that the new government "representing the will of the Palestinian people" would continue to pursue the peace negotiations, "leading to the establishment of a viable, united, and sovereign State of Palestine living in peaceful coexistence with the State of Israel." There was no reference to Jerusalem.


According to WikiLeaks cables, the issue cropped up in August 2008 when Rajiv Sikri, secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs and the third senior-most diplomat in the ministry, visited Israel as part of the routine bilateral exchanges between the two foreign offices. According to one Israeli diplomat serving in New Delhi at that time, Sikri appeared "more often to be the representative of the Palestinians, rather than India." The cable further added:


The Israelis went all out for this visit, supplementing the formal Foreign Office talks (led by Deputy Director-General for Asia and Pacific Amos Nadai) with a call on Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. [Israeli deputy chief of mission Yoed] Magen reported that Indian ambassador to Tel Aviv, Arun K. Singh, seemed shocked by Sikri's unreformed positions on issues like disengagement, adding that the Indian delegation appeared completely unmoved by changes sparked by Arafat's death, the Gaza withdrawal, and strengthened India-Israel ties. "It was like nothing had changed," the Israeli DCM concluded.


According to the Israeli diplomat, "Because Sikri insisted that the draft joint statement should be datelined Tel Aviv (versus Jerusalem), the Israelis refused to issue any document." The insistence on a Tel Aviv dateline was a reversal of the Indian position since 1992. …..(for the complete article click here.)


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Oren Kessler

Foreign Policy, March 13, 2012


It's no secret that Israeli-American relations are under strain. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Barack Obama's Oval Office last week may not have been as tense as last year's, but the two leaders' uneasy body language and discordant messaging have made it clear their relations remain, at best, professional. But while Israel's relationship with its longtime squeeze may have turned chilly, the Jewish state has discovered an unlikely candidate with which to forge a new special relationship: China.


Netanyahu may have needed a few takes to nail down his Mandarin delivery, but there he was, in late January, wishing the Chinese people a happy Year of the Dragon. "We are two ancient peoples whose values and traditions have left an indelible mark on humanity," he gushed. "But we are also two peoples embracing modernity, two dynamic civilizations transforming the world."


The message was promptly mirrored on the other side. "As two ancient civilizations, we have a great deal in common. Both of us enjoy profound histories and splendid cultures," Gao Yanping, China's ambassador to Israel, told an Israeli newspaper a few days later. Gao was even more poetic on the Chinese Embassy's website. "Our relations are shining with new luster in the new era," she wrote. "It is my firm belief that, through our joint efforts, Sino-Israeli relations will enjoy wider and greater prospects!"


As they mark 20 years of diplomatic relations, China and Israel are exchanging far more than florid praise. Bilateral trade stands at almost $10 billion, a 200-fold rise in two decades. China is Israel's third-largest export market, buying everything from telecommunications and information technology to agricultural hardware, solar energy equipment, and pharmaceuticals.


At least 1,000 Israeli firms now operate in China, home to a massive $10 billion kosher food industry that sends much of its output to Israel. Last September, the Israeli government announced Chinese participation in a rail project that would allow overland cargo transport through Israel's Negev desert, bypassing the Suez Canal. Two months later, the Chinese vice minister of commerce announced the two countries were mulling a free trade agreement.


China's links with the Jews stretch back at least a millennium. The central city of Kaifeng retains a tiny Jewish community, the remnant of merchants from Persia and India who passed through around the 10th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, China was a safe haven for nearly 20,000 Jews fleeing Europe from the Nazi menace — a shared history Chinese and Israeli officials often cite with pride. China's Jewish population swelled to almost 40,000 by the end of World War II, though most left after the war for Israel or the West.


Israel and China are almost the same age: The Jewish state was born in 1948, the People's Republic a year later. But though Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Mao Zedong's communist regime, it would take more than four decades for the favor to be returned. That lag stemmed not from any ideological opposition to Israel (both Mao and his nationalist predecessor, Sun Yat-sen, were favorably disposed to Zionism), but the calculation that China had more to gain from friendly ties with Arab and Islamic states than with an embattled and economically feeble Jewish enclave.


Relations started to warm in the late 1970s, however, when — following China's rupture with the Soviet Union and its establishment of ties with the United States — Beijing started cultivating secret links with the Israeli military. Israel had routed the Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War and suddenly found itself with enormous stockpiles of Soviet weaponry seized from its enemies. China's weapons were also Soviet-made, and Israeli technicians quietly helped Beijing modernize thousands of its rusting tanks.


The secret partnership grew throughout the 1980s — extending beyond military ties into agriculture and high technology. The 1991 Madrid peace conference launched the peace process between Israel and its neighbors and provided the push for China's establishment of official relations with Israel a year later.

Since then, Hebrew-language and Jewish studies centers have sprung up in universities nationwide. Indeed, one of the more curious elements in the Israel-China alliance is the latter's widespread fascination with Jews. Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud are iconic figures in the country, and in the 1950s the Chinese communist government issued a postage stamp bearing the visage of the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem.


Many Chinese believe Jews to be highly intelligent and possessing an uncanny business sense. The bookshops of Beijing and Shanghai are stacked with titles like Jewish Business Sense and The Ancient and Great Jewish Writings for Getting Rich. Even the Talmud, the ancient text of Rabbinic law and commentary, is widely believed to be a sort of divine business manual. Travelers to Taiwan can stay in the Talmud Business Hotel, where rooms are "named after world famous successful individuals such as [Conrad] Hilton, [John D.] Rockefeller, [Alan] Greenspan, [George] Soros, [Warren] Buffett and Bill Gates" (only Greenspan and Soros are actually Jewish). Each room boasts a copy of the Talmud-Business Success Bible — "for anyone who would like to experience the Talmud way of becoming successful."


In China, myths of Jewish wealth and influence have rarely engendered envy or malice. Instead, in a country hurtling toward a market economy, they have forged a uniquely Chinese form of philo-Semitism. The same legends may partly explain China's initial eagerness to court the Jewish state — a ticket, it believed, to winning over America's supposedly all-powerful "Jewish lobby."


Those illusions began to dissolve in 2000, when U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration put the kibosh on Israel's planned $1 billion sale to Beijing of its Phalcon airborne warning and control system. Washington feared China's acquisition of cutting-edge radar equipment could destabilize the entire Pacific region, and it threatened to downsize its annual aid to Israel if the sale went through. Five years later, George W. Bush's administration pressured Israel to cancel the sale of drone aircraft and surface-to-air missiles to China, prompting furious denunciations from Beijing over American "carping."


Since then, Israel has barred its companies from selling China any kind of high-tech military equipment that might aggravate relations with Washington. Nevertheless, despite the ban, intergovernmental ties and intelligence-sharing have flourished. Ehud Barak visited China in June 2011 — the first Israeli defense minister to do so in a decade. Gen. Chen Bingde, head of the People's Liberation Army's General Staff, landed in Israel two months later in the first-ever visit of a Chinese military chief to Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv. The exact purpose of Chen's visit remains unclear; the Chinese Defense Ministry said only that he had arrived to "deepen understanding, enhance friendships, expand consensus and promote cooperation."


As Chinese-Israeli cooperation deepens and expands, one issue is becoming harder to avoid: Iran. China is Iran's largest destination for exports — it buys 80 percent of Iran's oil — and its second-largest source of imports (barely edged out by the trade hub of Dubai). Chinese trade with Iran is valued at over $30 billion — at least three times larger than Chinese trade with Israel — and is projected to reach $50 billion by 2015. And with sanctions edging Western companies out of Iran, China has rushed in to fill the void: At least 100 state-run companies now operate in the Islamic Republic, many heavily invested in its fuel and infrastructure industries.


The Chinese officially support a peaceful Iranian nuclear program, but have dragged their feet in condemning Tehran's move toward weapons-grade uranium enrichment. They grudgingly voted in favour of all U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Iran, but each time expressed reservations over the imposition of sanctions and urged more time be given for negotiations.


"China only agreed to sanctions that don't apply real pressure on Iran — namely, those that don't touch its financial or energy sectors," says Yoram Evron of the University of Haifa and the Institute for National Security Studies. "China's participation might have given the sanctions legitimacy, but it has effectively weakened international pressure."


"The Chinese want to irk the Americans," adds Yitzhak Shichor, also of the University of Haifa. "If, for example, the U.S. says it wants to sell arms to Taiwan, the Chinese can do nothing but weep and wail — instead they react on the Iranian front."


For years, Israeli officials have attempted to convince Beijing to change course on Tehran. In February 2010, a high-level Israeli delegation again traveled to China, ostensibly to reiterate the dangers posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. This time they tried a different tack: explaining the consequences of an Israeli strike on that program — a prospect they described as inevitable should sanctions fail. "They really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on," an Israeli official said at the time.


The campaign appears to have paid off, and by mid-2010, China's tone had perceptibly changed. In June of that year, when the Security Council slapped Iran with a fourth round of sanctions, Beijing abandoned its initial opposition and ultimately backed the resolution, saying it supported a "two-way method" of continued talks alongside harder sanctions. This January, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao issued an unusually blunt warning that his government "adamantly opposes" Iran's nuclear-weapons drive.


China's apparent shift has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. In 2010 Ali Akbar Salehi, then head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, cautioned that "Beijing might gradually lose its respectable status in the Islamic world and wake up when it is already too late."


These days, China's diplomatic waltz — keeping one foot in Tehran and the other in Tel Aviv — is beginning to look increasingly awkward. As the People's Republic discovers the Jews, it should remember an old Yiddish proverb: You can't dance at two weddings at once.


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China’s Ruthless Foreign Policy Is Changing the World In Dangerous Ways: Jonathan Kay, National Post, Apr. 29, 2013 —Are we witnessing the end of the “American age”? It depends whom you ask. But one thing is certain: Thanks to the near-bankruptcy of the American welfare state, Washington is losing both the means and desire to project power across the world. Inevitably, nations with deeper pockets — China, most notably — will fill the void.


China Pushes U.S., India Closer Together: Evan Braden Montgomery, The Diplomat, April 28, 2013—Few diplomatic overtures have generated loftier expectations in recent years than Washington’s rapprochement with New Delhi. Frequently at loggerheads during the Cold War, then kept apart by the U.S. commitment to counter-proliferation and India’s pursuit of a nuclear deterrent, the two sides have never had a warm relationship.


Old Tensions, Big Stakes in China-India Border Dispute: Tao Duanfang, Worldcrunch, Apr. 29, 2013—On April 15th, India announced that an "intrusion" of around 50 Chinese military personnel had crossed onto the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, and set up a tent camp. The Indian military immediately responded with tit for tat camp of tents nearby. Thus started the so-called “Tents Confrontation” standoff.


The End of the Gandhis: James Traub, Foreign Policy, May/June 2013—On Jan. 19, Rahul Gandhi, the 42-year-old heir apparent of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, the family that has ruled India for 37 of the 66 years since India gained independence, was appointed vice president of the All India Congress party, which his family has run for even longer than it has run India.


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