Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] Israel, Pakistan ties a bridge too far?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Pakistan-Israel-India

Context

Recently, Israeli and Pakistani scholars have speculated about the possibility of the two states establishing diplomatic ties. 

Background of the relationship

  • Ever since Israel’s founding in 1948, it has been trying to overcome its regional isolation and enhance diplomatic relations with as many countries as possible. 
  • Apart from Turkey (1949), Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994), none of the states in the region have recognised Israel.
  • OIC routinely pillories Israel for its “occupation” of Palestinian lands. Recently OIC called to convene an emergency session to discuss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks that, if re-elected, he would definitely annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank and the northern Dead Sea.
  • Still, Israel has been successful in gradually expanding its diplomatic profile beyond its immediate neighborhood. 
  • Israel has established diplomatic relations with a large majority of the 193 UN member states.

India-Israel ties

  • India established full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. 
  • Many factors brought these two democracies together. Both have successfully tackled state-centric threats throughout their history. 
  • Both Israel and India have been victims of asymmetric warfare such as terrorism, which they continue to tackle with resolve.

India-West Asia

  • India’s interactions with the GCC states have witnessed an impressive upward trajectory in recent times. 
  • High-level political engagement with the West Asian region has been another hallmark of the government.

Israel’s outreach

  • Mutual apprehensions about Iran have brought Israel and the Gulf states closer. 
  • Israel continues to look beyond the confines of its immediate region for greater economic and diplomatic relationships.
  • Israel established diplomatic ties with China at the same time as India. Their relations have been primarily limited to the economic realm due to the American embargo on selling sophisticated weapons systems to Beijing. 
  • Israel is expanding its arms sales to India and countries in Southeast Asia.
  • It is also looking at increasing its diplomatic footprint in South Asia and beyond. 
  • Forging closer ties with populous Asian Muslim countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia would help it to gain greater legitimacy in the Islamic world.

Relations with Pakistan – convergence

  • It is argued that Pakistan’s national interests would better be served by having ties with Israel, particularly since Israel carries weight in Washington and could mediate on recurring U.S.-Pakistan tensions. 
  • Concerns regarding Iran were also cited as a point of convergence.
  • Iran is recognised as a potent threat by Israel and the Shia-Sunni divide in Pakistan is frequently a point of friction between Iran and Pakistan.

Limitations of the relationship

  • Pakistan is considered the “sword-arm” of the Sunni world. 
  • It has invested considerably in the security of the Arab monarchies, including in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. 
  • Pakistani military units have been stationed in these countries to promote internal stability. 
  • Pakistan has used the platform provided by the OIC to increase support for its stand on Kashmir, just as the OIC has done for the Palestinian issue. 
  • If Pakistan were to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, it would dilute its Islamic credentials and lead to a weakened support base within the OIC on Kashmir. 
  • The regime in Pakistan would also face the heat from its many domestic conservative Islamist groups. 
  • Israel cannot expect Pakistan to be used against Iran and escalate sectarian conflict as more than 20% of its population is Shia.
  • Pakistan is unlikely to take any steps that could rock its relations with Iran. In 2015, Pakistan’s Parliament had turned down Riyadh’s request to join a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen to fight the Houthi rebels supported by Iran.

Conclusion

It is not in Israel’s interest to seek diplomatic ties with a state that sponsors terrorism. The idea of diplomatic ties between Israel and Pakistan remains, for now, seems a pie in the sky.

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