When Narendra Modi visits Israel this year, it will be remarkable for two reasons: first, that it will be the first visit to the Israeli state by an Indian head of government; and second, that it will in all likelihood raise no eyebrows—never mind hackles—in the Arab world.That is almost as remarkable as the visit itself.
The exact dates for the trip have not yet been announced, but it has been known for some weeks now that it will happen this summer. And yet, no Arab state has voiced any displeasure, not publicly, and not even through diplomatic back-channels.
This is nothing short of astonishing to anyone who, like your humble servant, grew up in the India of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was routine for New Delhi to join the Arab chorus of condemnation for Israel at Tel Aviv’s every turn.
Whether it was because of India’s need for Arab oil, or because there were so many Arab members of the benighted Non-Aligned Movement, or because the Jewish state was tied to the US while New Delhi was chummy with the USSR, or simply because so many in this country genuinely sympathized with the Palestinian cause, a succession of Indian governments avoided diplomatic relations with Israel.
But that prospect is no longer surprising: the two countries began building close ties in the 1990s, and are now locked in a tight embrace of economic, defence and security interests.
What is astonishing, though, is the absence of even a murmur of protest from India’s friends in the Arab world. West Asian diplomats quizzed by my colleagues at Hindustan Times have shrugged off the idea of Modi’s visit as a matter of realpolitik. One expressed the mild hope that the Prime Minister might also visit the West Bank, to show some solidarity with the Palestinians, but acknowledged that this is unlikely.
One reason for the Arab pococurantism over deepening Indo-Israeli relations is a resigned acceptance that the two countries have much in common, including their enemies, in the shape of Islamist terrorism.This shows that even Arab governments put Hamas and Hezbollah in the same category as ISIS and Al Qaeda - which is regarded as a "Zionist talking point" among the "progressive" Western crowd.
Another is a profound sense of Palestine fatigue in Arab capitals, whether on account of the interminable and intractable nature of the problem, or because other Arab peoples—Syrians, for one—are making a more pressing case for sympathy.I've been making this point for years. But since Arab diplomats reflexively pretend to prioritize the Palestinian issue in every meeting with their Western counterparts, the West is clueless that these are only words. And the proof is that the Arab nations routinely pledge hundreds of millions to the Palestinian cause - and end up reneging on nearly all of it, while the West pays the bulk of aid.
Yet another reason for the lack of concern among Arab governments for India’s friendship with Israel is that many of them would themselves like an accommodation with the Jewish state.For all the pillorying Bibi gets in the media, both Israeli and from the West, this one sentence shows that he is the one that has had a masterful strategy for Israel's long term security.
Countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have for some time now reportedly been making quiet, behind-the-scenes contact with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and the frequency has grown since January 2016, when the US and other major powers signed a nuclear treaty with Iran.This is truly remarkable, all the more so for being true.
Arab leaders have determined that Shia-ruled Iran represents an existential threat to their Sunni-dominated regimes, and recognize that, in this, they have a common cause with Israel. Netanyahu’s trenchant tirades against the theocracy in Tehran have an enthusiastic audience in Arab palaces.
This is especially true in Riyadh and Manama, where the threat of Iran is felt most keenly. ...
Arab leaders have determined that Shia-ruled Iran represents an existential threat to their Sunni-dominated regimes, and recognize that, in this, they have a common cause with Israel
But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and most other Arab states have no formal relations with Israel: most of them don’t even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
For six decades, their propaganda machines have portrayed the Jewish state as an abomination, and have normalized anti-Semitism among their citizenry.
The rulers of these states cannot now afford to be seen breaking bread with Israel, and so can only play a form of diplomatic footsie—or rely on sympathetic intermediaries to ferry little notes between them.
So, if Modi does hear from Arab rulers before his visit to Israel, it may very well be in the form of requests to convey cautious felicitations. And it’s just conceivable that Bibi Netanyahu will want Modi to carry a message for Saudi King Salman, who is expected to visit New Delhi later in the year.
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