By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ Diplomatic ripples are undeniably being created by increasing proximity of Indiaâ€™s ties with United States and Israel. Ahead of US Defense Secretary Robert Gatesâ€™ maiden visit to India, scheduled for later this month, Indian government has approved the biggest-ever arms deal with United States. The approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security includes purchase of six large transport planes at an estimated cost of one billion dollar, according to Defense Minister A.K. Antony. This is Indiaâ€™s third major arms deal with the US. The earlier ones include its purchase of 45,000 ton displacement USS Trenton, a shiplanding dock, now rechristened INS Jalashva for about $500 million. India and US had concluded three years ago a deal for purchase of seven weapon locating radar ANTPQ-37.
Taking Indo-Israel ties literally to a new height, TecSAR satellite, fabricated and operated by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was launched on January 21 from Indiaâ€™s Satish Dhawan Space Center, utilizing an Indian-fabricated rocket. This satellite system is to provide Israeli defense officials, for the first time, with the ability to independently track changes on the ground in regard areas regardless of the time of day or climatic conditions.
On the importance of satellite imagery in Israelâ€™s efforts to keep track of developments in neighboring states, Institute for National Security Studies Program Director Brigadier General Shmuel Brom (retired) said: â€œSyria, it is less important because Syria is closer to Israel and Israel has other ways to cover Syria effectively, whether it is through other kinds of intelligence or by taking aerial photos, etc. So the satellites are mostly important for distant states such as Iran or Libya.â€
This also raises speculations about the possible impact Indiaâ€™s increasing proximity with Israel is having on its ties with Iran. It may be noted, petroleum ministers of India and Pakistan are to visit Tehran later this month (February 14 and 16) for talks on the multi-billion dollar tripartite gas pipeline project to transport Iranian gas to India via Pakistan. India has faced US pressure to pull out of the project to sanction Iran.
The strengthening of Indiaâ€™s defense and aerospace ties with Israel may serve as an irritant in development of Indo-Iranian relations.
Though the much-publicized India-US civilian nuclear deal is yet to be finalized, there is little doubt, it is viewed as opening of a new chapter in their bilateral ties. The present Indian ambassador to US, Ronen Sen, is also credited with having played a significant role in development of the deal. With his tenure ending on March 31, Sen has formally declined its extension. This has raised speculations on who could be his successor, with the seat being known as a â€œhot seat.â€ With his successor also expected to be a strong supporter of the India-US nuclear deal, among the strong contenders for this post is Shyam Saran, who is at present special envoy on the nuclear deal. Another person short listed for the post is high commissioner to Pakistan Satyabrata Pal.
Without doubt, multi-dimensional impact of the India-US nuclear deal, even though it has not yet been finalized, cannot be ignored. The latest developments are labeled as signs of Delhi swinging in favor of India-US-Israel alliance. Though India has not absolutely sacrificed its ties with Russia, there is little doubt that it has given greater importance to strengthening its relations with US as well as Israel.
Describing the Indo-US nuclear deal as strategically essential for Indiaâ€™s future growth, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: â€œWhen computers were introduced, we faced opposition. Now the nuke deal is also being opposed. But we must remember that we are a part of this plant, we cannot live in isolation.â€ He was addressing 176th annual general meeting of Calcutta Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata (February 2).
Nevertheless, the Indian government has not been oblivious of the opposition of the Left parties to the Indo-US nuclear deal. India is, however, hopeful of winning the Left parties support by convincing them that Delhi is keen on nuclear cooperation with Washington as well as Beijing. It is to sell Indo-US nuclear deal to the Left that the Indian Congress has presented Prime Minister Manmohan Singhâ€™s recent visit to China (January 13-15) as a sign of countryâ€™s independent foreign policy. â€œThe Prime Ministerâ€™s successful visit to China has proved once again that India has evolved a strong and independent foreign policy. A policy that we are proud to espouse,â€ the Congress says in editorial note of the latest issue of party mouthpiece, â€œCongress Sandesh.â€ The note also says: â€œThose who accused the Prime Minister of following a pro-American policy and have made a huge issue of the Indo-US relationship encircling China should examine their postures in the light of Chinaâ€™s willingness to carry out civilian nuclear cooperation with India if we are able to put in place a nuclear agreement with the IAEA and the NSG.â€