Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | The Israel-Gaza conflict | What line is India taking?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss the Israel-Hamas war, how will the war in West Asia impact geopolitics and what’s the line New Delhi is taking?

October 13, 2023 09:36 pm | Updated November 26, 2023 12:12 am IST

After the brutal massacre and terror attacks by Hamas, Israeli PM Netanyahu has launched an all-out blockade and war against Gaza. How will the war in West Asia impact geopolitics, will it divide the world on old traditional Arab vs Israel lines, and what’s the line New Delhi is taking?

Hello and Welcome to WorldView at The Hindu with me Suhasini Haidar.

This week, the world has been horrified by images of a brutal, multi-pronged terror attack by the Hamas group that controls the Gaza Strip to west of Israel. More than 1200 have been killed in attacks on October 7-8, nearly 3,000 injured, Civilians gunned down by terrorists who parajumped into Israel, and travelled on jeeps by breaking through the Israeli defences and wall along the border. Many of those killed were children, and many of the 150 people taken hostage are women and children. That situation continues, although a few hostages have been released. Hamas said it was fighting historical grievances, including the loss of land to Israel, worries over losing access to holy sites in jerusalem including the al aqsa mosque, imprisonment and killings by Israeli forces- terming the operation Al Aqsa Flood

In this map- you can see where the attacks took place- gunmen from Gaza, all along the neighbouring areas of Southern Israel, and rockets into major cities like Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.

Israel’s response came within hours.

  • For the past 5 days, Israel missiles have pounded Gaza.
  • Israel has also cut off water, electricity, food and medicine convoys into Gaza, with officials saying they want hostages taken to be released first.
  • More than 1500 Gaza residents have been killed in the bombing, and the Palestinian government says 450 of them are children.
  • Israel has also told the UN they want more than a million people living in North Gaza to be evacuated immediately, as reports of a possible ground offensive grow.
  • Remember, few recognise or deal with the Hamas government in Gaza, most work with the Palestinian Authority run by Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas.

The attacks have had ripple effects worldwide. Among those killed in Israel, were people of 23 nationalities and dual citizenship.

  1. PM Netanyahu has spoken to a number of leaders, including PM Modi, but primarily the US, that has given him unequivocal support. Secretary of State Blinken reached Israel within days, promising US help, aid, and military equipment to help Israel “defend itself” in any way. Most NATO members have also promised support.
  2. The EU announced a suspension of aid to Palestine, but then reversed that decision
  3. Arab League Foreign Ministers held a meeting on Oct 11, and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation will hold an emergency meeting- they have focussed mainly on the Israeli bombing and blockades, and calling for the world to resolve the issue, granting Palestinian people a sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The violence also saw something very rare take place- a call between Saudi PM MbS and Iranian President Raisi
  4. Across the world, processions supporting Palestine and some supporting Israel have been taking place
  5. Countries like Russia and China have called for restraint. Japan condemned the Hamas attacks and called for an end to Israeli strikes
  6. At the UN, Israel and Palestinian Ambassadors made strong appeals for their cause.

The comparisons to the attacks in the US on 9/11, as well as for Israel of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, where neighbouring countries began a surprise attack, and in India to the Mumbai 26/11 attacks.

India’s reaction has been in 3 parts:

1. Within hours of the attacks on October 7, PM Modi tweeted his support for Israel and condemnation of the terror attacks.

Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour. On October 10, PM Netanyahu called PM Modi, and reiterated that support. He also spoke about the safety of Indians.

2. The government also began to plan charter flights for Indians wanting to return from Israel during the conflict- about 18,000 Indians live there, many of them students. About 85,000 Indian origin Jewish people have moved to Israel and taken citizenship.

3.     In the only formal statement the MEA has made so far, the spokesperson said this: “Our policy in this regard has been long-standing and consistent. India has always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine, living within secure and recognized borders side by side at peace with Israel. And I think that position remains the same.

He also spoke about the Israeli bombing of Gaza: “As I said, our focus is to assist our citizens. But there is an universal obligation, I think, to observe international humanitarian law. There is also a global responsibility to fight the menace of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. And I think that accurately sums up how we look at this position.

That brings us to why India’s position is often called a balancing act, traditionally sympathetic to Palestine, but increasingly closer to Israel.

  • In November 1947- the United Nations passed a resolution to divide British mandate of Palestine into two parts Jewish state of Israel and Arab state of Palestine- India voted against the Partition plan.
  • As a result, while India recognised Israel in 1950, it only had a trade consulate, not full ties.
  • As Israel took more land especially after 1967, Indian statements, also as a member of NAM were more sympathetic to Palestinians. In 1975, India allowed the PLO to set up its office in Delhi.
  • It was only in 1992, when India established full diplomatic ties with Israel, and since then high-level exchanges have grown.
  1. In 2001 Jaswant Singh became the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Israel.
  2. In 2003 Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli President to visit India.
  3. In 2015 Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President to visit Israel, and then Palestine.
  4. In 2017 Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Israel. He also visited Palestine in 2018, when he was awarded the Grand Collar of the State of Palestine.
  5. In 2018 PM Netanyahu was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.

Ties with Israel have grown in several fields:

Agriculture and science, investments in start ups and water technology. India imports Israeli defence equipment worth more than a billion dollars every year, second only to Russia.

More recently controversy over Pegasus and other surveillance equipment. India and Israel are part of new formations like I2U2 with India UAE KSA Israel and US and India Middle East Europe Economic Corridor IMEC.

As a result- how could the current violence impact India’s foreign policy?

  1. At the UN, India will be expected to take a less ambiguous position, as both Israel and Palestine hope for more strident support.
  2. In support for Israel on terror, India will also get more support from the west on its war on terror.
  3. If the conflict continues at this intense pitch it could affect Indian supplies from Israel, although that is not outlooked at present.
  4. The broader impact will be seen, however on the Middle East peace process- and how difficult it will be for Saudi-Israel ties, and UAE-Israel ties under the Abraham accords to grow. As a result, initiatives like the I2U2 and IMEC, which runs from UAE to Israel via Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

WV Take:

The brutal and inhuman nature of the Hamas attacks on Israeli citizens makes the events of the weeks unforgiveable terrorist attacks, which will impact geopolitics in the region for a long time to come. Israel is a state, however, and its retaliation on the Gazan population, that is held hostage by a terror group like Hamas, and has been consistently punished by Israel, does not uphold international law- a State cannot behave as an insurgent group does. Supporting Israeli and Palestinian victims also requires a major international push for a return to dialogue and a need for moderation- something that terror groups like Hamas and even hardliners in Israel, have been most opposed to.

WV Reading Recommendations:

  1. Israel and Palestine by Ian Carroll
  2. Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  3. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman
  4. Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi
  5. The Punishment of Gaza by Gideon Levy
  6. No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination and the Making of Modern Israel by Shimon Peres
  7. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter
  8. My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit
  9. I Saw Ramallah 2003 by Mourid Barghouti
  10. India’s Israel Policy by P. R. Kumaraswamy (Author)
  11. India and Israel: The Making of a Strategic Partnership by Jayant Prasad
  12. Indians at Herod’s Gate: A Jerusalem Tale by Navtej Sarna
  13. The breakup of India and Palestine: The causes and legacies of partition (Studies in Imperialism) by Victor Kattan (Editor), Amit Ranjan (Editor)

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Rajashree Das K & Gayatri Menon

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