Event ReportsPublished on Feb 18, 2014
Common values and shared concerns provide a natural corollary for Indo-Israeli cooperation, according to experts. Highlighting the various avenues for cooperation, they especially pointed out defence and agriculture sector.
India and Israel: Strong strategic partners

Common values and shared concerns provide a natural corollary for Indo-Israeli cooperation, said experts at the third annual conference organised by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Israel on February 17-18, 2014 in New Delhi. The overall theme of the conference was-India and Israeli: Looking at the World Together. Discussions focused on cooperation in energy, water, strategic interests as well as shared security concerns.

Highlighting the various avenues for cooperation, experts noted that defence cooperation can grow with Foreign Direct Investment moving forward in a way that is profitable and viable for both countries. Cooperation in agriculture can be furthered by transferring operations of Israeli Centres of Excellence to the Indian government to facilitate extension of services, maintain long term viability, and develop a private sector platform. While appreciating the increase in volume and variety of trade between the two countries, experts shared concerns that they may be approaching the ceiling in both. Short term future plans could include more investment, marketing, and implementing an R&D platform. A Free Trade Agreement can boost trade and commerce.

Recognising that the rise of China in South Asia and the Middle East is altering the dynamics of both regions, analysts at the conference stressed the need for both countries to negotiate their own space. In the Middle East, China has economic interests but little political influence. Israeli analysts pointed out that China is increasingly being seen as an alternative to the U.S, stemming from the insecurity created by American intentions. The GCC could use this growing relationship to make the U.S. work harder for alliances. Iran on the other hand is looking towards China to balance the U.S. in the region. Israeli analysts are wary that GCC-China economic relations could expand into other spheres.

In South Asia, China has begun to make aggressive moves. It is active in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka at the cost of Indian influence. Indian analysts said that the way forward for India is to gain the competitive advantage and give confidence to its neighbours about its capabilities. On energy, participants agreed that the global energy scenario is evolving due to emergence of new technologies to which both countries will have to respond, keeping in mind energy geopolitics. Indian analysts focused on the imperative of altering energy resource management with a view to ensuring universal access through energy governance. While assessing the natural gas scenario, it was mentioned that India, while holding two of the top ten estimated discovered reserve blocks, faced a critical challenge of extraction efficacy vis-a-vis Israel, which has progressed considerably in its offshore extraction from the Mediterranean shelf.

Indian analysts listed several challenges that India faced including dependency on primary sources of energy due to poor distribution of processed fuel like LPG, rapid urbanisation, inequities in energy consumption, and negligible per capita carbon space. They suggested that the energy policy focus should be on achieving clean fuel resources and technologies.

Israel is progressing optimally with extraction in its Exclusive Economic Zone, against the rather dormant status of the Egyptian and Lebanese scenarios, and is capable of supplying to the domestic and regional markets. Extrapolating on the geopolitical challenge of energy production and transportation, experts commented that a framework will have to be worked out for joint extraction projects. Regarding the potential markets beyond the region, quantities available would not justify the costs of transportation, said experts. Instead, Israel would export gas to regional friendly regimes for processing.

Responding to a question about India’s efforts to secure its energy interests in West Asia, participants commented that Iran may play a significant role in diversification. Differences are bound to arise between India and Israel, which must be solved through dialogue. The impediments due to stringent environmental governance norms and environmental activism required a great degree of planning and regime evolution to balance growth imperatives with environmental ones; a factor on which there could be international cooperation.

Regarding energy resource globalisation and the associated risks, the question of securing maritime commons stood out. It was argued that if this responsibility was assumed by big maritime powers, it would, in events of geopolitical conflicts, induce parochialism, unilateral route nationalisation, and hence tit-for-tat responses, thus threatening energy security. Secondly, pullout from big powers due to domestic reasons could create a vacuum which may remain unfilled, threatening stability further. Hence it was emphasised that security responsibilities must be commensurate with access, both being essential public goods. Multilateralism in this regard will enhance the stakes of sovereigns, compel them to behave responsibly and also prevent free-riding.

On India’s experience with water management, analysts noted the enormous challenge faced due to growing demand on the one hand and inefficient usage on the other. Irrigation is the highest priority for India, according to one analyst. India has to conserve and manage water in this sector using a decentralized approach. Watershed management, local storage, better cropping patterns, check dams, artificial recharging and training farmers to budget their use of water could help the situation immensely.

Participants stressed on losses in the distribution system in urban water management. They suggested sewage treatment capacity, recycling of water, efficient metering, and rating water efficiency as ways to improve urban water management. In the industrial sector, water audits, increased recycling of water, and controlling process loss can help manage water better.

Israel has done much better in water management by installing desalinisation plants and institutionalising recycling of water, thereby achieving self sufficiency and making the struggle over water a non issue. In geostrategic terms, Israeli analysts stated confidently that water will never be casus belli in the region; instead it can become a trust building instrument. The infrastructure/resource map is changing before any change in the political map; therefore experts expressed the hope that mutual trust can be created through cooperation over vital commodities.

Talking about the resurgence of al Qaeda in South Asia, Indian analysts said that the organisation no longer has a strict hierarchy and has adapted to work in a loose alliance with several groups with common aims in Pakistan. On the worsening security situation in Pakistan, experts noted the spike in sectarian bloodletting between Shias and Sunnis, interpreting this as a measure to clear the way for Sunni identity in Pakistan, which points to an al Qaeda influence. On implications for India, experts said that a revival of Jihad in Kashmir is a possibility as evidenced by the resurfacing of many operatives who were part of the Kashmir Jihad in the 90s. The possibility of al Qaeda gaining influence with the Indian Mujahideen (IM) was not ruled out, though there is no such connection at present.

Al Qaeda has become active in Syria in the form of the officially sanctioned al Nusra Front. Israeli analysts said that the presence of al Qaeda proxies all over the Middle East, aimed at breaking the Shia axis, will force Israel to change its policy from that of isolation to preparedness. Experts pushed for coalition-building between nations facing the same challenges and in their interpretation of international law. Saying that democratic states often come under fire for causing civilian casualties in counter terrorism efforts, Israeli experts emphasized that cooperation and coordination to explain such actions is important.

While emphasising the importance of Israel as a strategic partner, Indian analysts said that Israeli imports have greatly supplemented defence and intelligence technology. Highlighting areas and opportunities for dialogue, it was said that Israel and India need sustained dialogue to be on the same page regarding Iran. Pakistan could be a threat to Israel as well, if it threatens to do nuclear commerce with Arab states. India needs to do a lot more to regulate and control the funding for ideological indoctrination from Saudi Arabia. Intelligence cooperation between India and Israel in this direction could go a long way.

Newly emerging warfare patterns pose complex challenges with regard to executing responses and securing socio-economic systems. It is prudent to force enemy forces to cease fire and keep activity subdued; yet, such a status quo cannot be maintained for long and cooperation must focus on evolving robust responses to tackle these problems. It was urged that the focus must be on choking the supplies to enemies and continuously enhance the qualitative (technology, strategies, and tactics) advantage. It was emphasised that strategic partners need to evolve models of communication with problematic actors. With reference to the hi-tech sphere, participants suggested that India and Israel can do much more in joint development in cyber security and unmanned surveillance.

(This report was prepared by Niharika Betkerur and Maulik Mavani, Research Interns at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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