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K Natwar Singh: Israel's worst enemy

K Natwar Singh  |  New Delhi 

One of the rules of diplomacy is to increase the number of friends and decrease adversaries. But Israel seems to be doing the opposite.

Well-known Israeli paper Haaretz wrote in its editorial, “The intelligence failure and faulty planning in the operation to board the Mavi Marmara has led to a crisis in Israel’s foreign relations and a low in its standing in world ” The concluding paragraph of the editorial would have given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, no comfort. “Even if the world is ‘hypocritical’, as Netanyahu claims, he must fundamentally change his government’s aggressive and inward-looking approach. A thorough investigation of the Mavi Marmara incident and lifting of the siege against civilians in Gaza are essential steps, but they are certainly not sufficient. If Israel is to break out of the strategic catastrophe it now faces, it urgently needs a different policy.” Wise, mature, sensible Israelis would be wondering what to say to friends of Israel. The adversaries are having a ball. What a propaganda golden windfall. One article in the International Herald Tribune has this unusual heading, “Saving Israel from itself”. The writer, Nicolas D Kristo, concludes his piece thus: “He (President Obama) needs to talk sense to Israel and encourage it to back away from its plans to intercept other flotillas now heading for Gaza — that would be a catastrophe for Gaza and America alike. Above all, he needs to nudge Israel from its tendency to shoot itself in the foot, and us along with it.”

This is strong stuff. Mind you the Herald Tribune is a pro-Israeli newspaper with worldwide reach. I am an admirer of Israel and its courageous and long-suffering people. For the life of one, I simply cannot comprehend the hawkish policy of the belligerent Mr Netanyahu. The only Muslim country that Israel was close to has been antagonised. Tempers are running high in Turkey. And rightly so. Surely, the vastly intelligent, astute, shrewd Israelis realise that damage-control cannot be permanent nor can it be a substitute for policy. There was a time when Israel was invincible. No longer so. Hammas is no push-over. The year 2008 and 2009 are ample proof of that. One of the unutterable rules of diplomacy is to increase the number of friends and decrease the number of adversaries. The Israeli prime minister seems to be doing the opposite.

India’s response has been measured and candid. We very much want peace in West Asia. We value our relations with Israel, but not at the cost of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. We value our relations with Israel. Both India and Israel share commonalities — these provide the underpinning to the relationship. Both are parliamentary democracies governed by the rule of law, both have similar legal structures flowing from their British common law background. The media in both countries is free. Both face the threat of terrorism. In the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008, Israel was as much a target as India. Relations between the two countries exist in crucial areas, including politics, defence, economics and trade. We share information on water management, science and technology, space and security. Clean energy is another important area of cooperation where Israel has the lead in solar know-how, whereas India is ahead in wind.

There can be no peace in West Asia (a vitally important area for us) without a decision by Messrs Abbas and Netanyahu to learn to co-exist. For that, sustained dialogue is a must, not adventurism in the Mediterranean international waters.

Without the American umbrella, Israel would lead a very precarious existence. As India’s benign power, GDP and influence grow, America will come closer and closer to India. Corporate America will invest in India, the amounts will be huge. It cannot be ruled out (in the distant future) that the American umbrella might develop leaks. I am reasonably confident that the think-tanks in the US and Israel are already working on this scenario and how to avoid it.

Tailpiece
The other night I had an extraordinary dream. I am in Washington leading the Indian delegation to the Indo-US conclave. On the second day, Mrs Clinton’s reception for the delegation was attended by President Obama. When I shook hands with him on being introduced to him, I was tempted to ask him a question but resisted the temptation. When I was invited to speak, I told him that I wished to ask him a question. I said, “Mr President, I am 5'.6" and shrinking — you sir, are 6'.4" and growing (forgive the pun). Could you kindly tell us how’s the weather up there.” Loud applause. Then I woke up. Pity, for I would have liked to hear Mr. Obama's response.

First Published: Sat, June 12 2010. 00:36 IST
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