The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Sujan R. Chinoy, Director-General of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, visited Israel under the auspices of JISS. He says he is optimistic about India’s relationship with Israel: “It is greater than any temporary political climate.”

Israel Hayom, 15.09.2019

by Ariel Kahana

Following a decades-long history of frostiness, in recent years there has been a significant change in India’s attitude towards Israel. Hostility and opposition have given way to an unprecedented burst of support and enthusiasm. Among other things, India has changed its voting habits in the United Nations, and huge deals are being signed in the fields of security, technology and agriculture. No one familiar with Israeli diplomatic affairs can forget the photograph of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu standing barefoot at the seaside in Hadera. That picture was worth not just a thousand words, but millions of dollars, and reflected a bold friendship.

In light of this, national security experts from the two countries are also increasing cooperation. One of the Israeli researchers who has been pushing to strengthen relations with India for years is Prof. Efraim Inbar, now president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. This week, Inbar and his institute hosted Sujan R. Chinoy, Director-General of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), an autonomous think-tank of the Indian Ministry of Defense. Together with the Moshe Dayan Center (MDC), JISS and IDSA held a seminar on India-Israel relations and on what is happening today in Asia in general.

For most of his career, Chinoy served in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), including as the Ambassador to Japan and the Marshall Islands, Deputy Chief of Mission to Saudi Arabia, and as a member of the Indian delegation to the United Nations. He spent more than two decades dealing with China in his diplomatic career.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi is introducing reforms that are fundamentally changing the face of India. This week, for example, India announced it will appoint for the first time a Chief of Defense Staff, a significant step towards achieving integration of its defense forces.

Chinoy is a great supporter of strengthened ties with Israel, though this is his first visit here. As someone with a significant role in a country soon to become the most populated in the world, whose growth rate is five percent a year and which combines ancient tradition with deep-rooted democracy, it is fascinating to hear his perspective on global trends. Naturally, however, we begin by discussing the blossoming relationship between the subcontinent boasting a population of one and a quarter billion people and this tiny nation, Israel, with a population that barely numbers seven million.

Until recently, India-Israel relations were cool. How do you explain the significant rapprochement between the two countries that we have witnessed over the last years?

“Israel and India were established at the same time. During the Cold War, the world was divided into two parts, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc. India belonged to, and to some extent led, the so-called ‘Non-Aligned Movement.’ One of the key issues at the time for the non-aligned countries was support for Palestinian self-determination. When we reached the end of the 1980s, the world changed and the Soviet Bloc collapsed. India recognized Israel and established full ties with it.”

A unifying history

Once the geopolitical landscape changed, India could begin its rapprochement towards Israel. Full diplomatic relations were established in 1992, but it was only in the last decade that a true rapport was formed. “The main thing that has brought the countries closer together in recent years is the great similarity between them,” explains Chinoy. “Both have a rich history and culture that go back thousands of years, and both face many threats on their borders. Despite the constraints, you have become a strong player who develops your own resources. India, as well, had to develop its own capabilities, including in the nuclear and missile arenas, in the face of American sanctions and international pressure.

“Israel is one of the most dynamic economies in the world in terms of resilience, technology, electronics, and entrepreneurship. India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with solid economic foundations, compared to, for example, the Chinese economy which has been slowing down for several years. Today, Israel has ties with 160 countries; it’s a completely normal situation. If you look at India’s relationship with the US, they have a strategic global partnership and excellent relations.”

So are we talking about something that goes beyond the extraordinary friendship between Prime Ministers Modi and Netanyahu?

“There is no doubt that under Prime Minister Modi there has been a significant change in the dynamics and in the energy of the relationship. This happened because he has a friendship with the Israeli prime minister and the people of Israel. But there is something here that is greater than a political party or a temporary political climate. It’s the fundamental recognition of the fact that both countries share the same basic values, as well as our acknowledgement that every country has the right to grow and develop in peace, without economic threats and without the ugliness of terrorism. We are absolutely united in the war on terror.”

So even when our prime ministers are replaced by new ones, the two countries will remain close.

“That’s right. It is vital to have a political leader who recognizes the potential, and Prime Minister Modi has done so, but the partnership between the two states is greater and deeper than any connection between political leaders or political parties. It is important to know that you are facing the same terrorist threats to your existence and your well-being that India has been facing for many years.”

There are claims by Israelis working in India, in the high-tech or business sectors, that it is difficult to trust the promises or commitments of Indian partners.

“This is the first time I have heard about this. You are welcome to give me names or cases and I will check them out. In any case, we are interested in strengthening ties, and when people meet and talk they can also raise criticisms. That’s the only way to fix things and move forward. Nobody’s perfect.”

$40 billion each year

Chinoy, as mentioned, cites the Palestinian cause as an issue that previously played a more significant role. I tell him that we in Israel feel that the international community is showing less and less interest in this matter, and ask him what India’s view on the conflict is. “This is not a matter that necessitates constant international intervention,” he explains. “We believe that countries should solve their problems on their own; this is the right way. We have good relations with many Arab states, including the Gulf States. Nine million Indians work in the Gulf States and bring in about $40 billion to the Indian economy each year.”

Since you mentioned India’s good relations with the US, what are the chances that India will follow in its footsteps and move its embassy to Jerusalem?

“We have excellent relations with the US, but India has an independent foreign policy, and it does not follow in the footsteps of any country. This matter, the question of whether we are located here or there, is a separate issue that I think should not affect the robust friendship between India and Israel. We have a lot of room for development … although the climate here in Jerusalem is more pleasant.”

You mentioned the threat of terrorism and the fact that you have stopped purchasing Iranian oil. As you know, Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis on several fronts and spreads terror throughout the region. How do you perceive its behavior?

“India condemns all forms of terrorism and believes that there should be peace in our region and in your region. We are at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and so are you. We proposed a treaty against terrorism in the UN, which a number of countries oppose in an attempt to distinguish between good terrorism and bad terrorism. We make no such distinction. We believe from the bottom of our hearts that there is no justification for terrorism in any situation or in any place, and we are determined to fight it. We hope that all countries that support terrorism will cease to do so. The international community must contest and condemn those who use terrorism as a political tool.”

And what about Iran’s calls for the destruction of Israel? As far as I know, it is the only country in the world that calls for and aims to bring about the elimination of another country.

“I believe that no country, including Iran, has the right to threaten the destruction of another country, or anything similar to that. People need to learn to live together and accept each other, and if there are problems, to discuss them. We respect Israel as an important country that is a good friend, a strategic partner, and we stand with Israel in condemning terrorism.”

What about the possibility that Iran will achieve nuclear military capability? Do nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran pose a threat to India?

“India has stated many times in the past that countries should abide by the international treaties they have taken upon themselves, and this includes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by Iran. India is against nuclear proliferation and is working to advance this goal.

Will the Chinese take over the world?

The conversation with Chinoy also strays toward global issues, with a focus on China and the US. In the case of China, there is disagreement in the international community regarding how to address it. Some accept the Chinese position, which states that it has never set out to conquer other countries, and therefore believe there is no reason to fear it. Others maintain that after its global economic expansion, territorial expansion will follow.

“China is our largest trade partner, at $95 billion,” he notes. “It’s a rising global power, but since 2009 its economy has been slowing down. China has been unable to convince its Asian neighbors of its long-term intentions. It has tensions with the United States, especially regarding the global order. China is trying to translate its economic power into military strength and a strategic position for expansion. We feel that these developments should be followed. So we should have a good relationship with China, but it needs to convince Asia regarding its intentions.”

What about the future of the United States? Many believe its power is diminishing and are not sure that it can be trusted anymore.

“The United States has been the greatest economic force in the world since 1870, and also became the world’s largest military force. It is continuing to grow, and even if China overtakes it, it’s meaningless. It is the largest market in the world and when it grows, the global economy grows. Without the US market, the Chinese wouldn’t be even one tenth of what they are today. And, of course, the US is at the forefront of global technological development. They invest in research and development alone more than India invests in its military. It has capabilities that are disproportionate to other countries. The US is here to stay.”

Published in Israel Hayom 15.09.2019