September 1, 2003: Headlines: COS - Oman: COS - India: Israel: Al Jazeerah: Oman RPCV Delinda C. Hanley says Indo-Israeli Friendship Forged in Steel, Weaponry

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Oman: The Peace Corps in Oman: September 1, 2003: Headlines: COS - Oman: COS - India: Israel: Al Jazeerah: Oman RPCV Delinda C. Hanley says Indo-Israeli Friendship Forged in Steel, Weaponry

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Oman RPCV Delinda C. Hanley says Indo-Israeli Friendship Forged in Steel, Weaponry

Oman RPCV Delinda C. Hanley says Indo-Israeli Friendship Forged in Steel, Weaponry

Oman RPCV Delinda C. Hanley says Indo-Israeli Friendship Forged in Steel, Weaponry

Indo-Israeli Friendship Forged in Steel, Weaponry

Delinda C. Hanley

Arab News

WASHINGTON, 2 October 2003 — Israel has always tried to have a friendly non-Arab ally in the neighborhood. This special buddy enjoys shopping sprees in Israel’s vast weapons market, fun-filled joint training exercises, and nary a hint of criticism from Washington, DC, which funds most of the weapons programs Israel peddles. In return for spending big bucks in Israel, the Jewish state’s special friend benefits from Israel’s considerable influence on Capitol Hill.

In the past this has worked out quite nicely. Israel worked hand-in-glove with the Shah in Iran. In the late 1970s, in fact, Iran and Israel discussed a plan to adapt for Iranian use surface-to-surface missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads, according to documents discovered in Tehran after the revolution. Unfortunately for Israel, when the Shah left Iran for good on Jan. 16, 1979, the Iranian connection — as well as carte blanche from Washington for any nuclear ambitions — was lost.

Israel next formed a special friendship with Turkey. By 1996 the two countries had developed a strong military, political and economic partnership. Turkish and Israeli sailors and pilots trained together, and Ankara purchased hi-tech Israeli weapons. In 1997 and 1998 the Israeli Air Industries Company started work on a deal to provide Ankara with early warning Phalcon systems and Popeye air-to-surface missiles, and to upgrade Turkey’s US-made M60 tanks. Turkey annually spends $6.9 billion (4.1 percent of its GDP) on defense. Last year bilateral trade between Turkey and Israel topped $1 billion. As an added bonus, Tel Aviv received water from Turkey, which controls the sources of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and an agreeable partner in a hostile neighborhood.

This relationship may also be losing its glow, however, as democracy advances in Turkey, and Islamist parties gain influence. The Turk on the streets does not approve of attacking Muslim countries or bullying Palestinians. When the democratically elected Turkish Parliament turned down Washington’s request to use Turkish air bases to launch an attack on Iraq, Israel realized that the good times were coming to an end and it was time to find a new friend.

Now it is India’s turn. Diplomatic ties between Israel and India have been on the increase since 1992. Last year almost one-half of Israel’s $4.2 billion in total military sales went to its new favored customer, India. And now, with Washington’s final approval of Israel’s sale to India of a $1 billion Phalcon airborne early-warning radar system, and its likely support for the more -expensive sale of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile system, Israel again has found true love. The state-run Israel Aircraft Industries contract for three plane-mounted Phalcon systems, for a total of $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion was nearly ready to sign in time for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Sept. 9 visit to New Delhi. Lucrative Indian arms and trade deals with Israel are expected to top $2 billion in 2004. The US blocked a similar Israeli Phalcon sale to China three years ago.

Given India’s recurring hostilities with Pakistan, and the omnipresent threat of nuclear warfare on the subcontinent, it really should have done the same. Since at least 75 percent of the joint-Israeli-American Arrow missile program was funded by the US Department of Defense, the latter could have just said no.

It’s easy, of course, to see why Israel is cozying up to India. The match is a financial and military bonanza for Israel. This year India has allotted 650 billion rupees ($17 billion) for military spending, and is expected to spend $100 billion over the next decade.

The two nations have other things in common besides an appetite for military gadgetry. India’s ruling BJP party is as Islamophobic as Israel’s Likud. Some Indians would dearly like to model their treatment of Muslims and other religious minorities on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

Like Turkey and Iran before, India has sought and received Israeli assistance in influencing Congress. Israel has happily shared its lobbying know-how with India, pulling the right strings to help isolate longtime US ally Pakistan. As a result, Islamabad was on the outs with the US until after the 9/11 attacks, when President George W. Bush realized he needed the assistance of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf in his war on terrorism.

Here at home, the Indian American community is working hard to ensure its voice is heard. According to its executive director, Sanjay Puri, the US Indian Political Action Committee (USINPAC), which opened its Chantilly, Virginia offices in 2002, now has a staff of 20 volunteers. Determined to gain political recognition for the country’s two million Indian Americans, USINPAC is seeking half a million dollars in financial contributions from the community in order to achieve “consolidated leverage” in the 2004 election cycle.

Those contributions are working. At a recent Capitol Hill gathering hosted by USINPAC, AIPAC, and the American Jewish Committee, Congressman David Ackerman (D-NY) applauded the “great marriage” and declared that the major problem for both India and Israel is that “Israel is surrounded by 120 million Muslims (while) India has 120 million Muslims (within its borders).”

Indian Americans have much to offer Jewish Americans in return for the latter’s lobbying expertise. For two years straight, in 1998 and 1999, Fortune magazine named the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the second most powerful lobbying group in Washington, DC, after the American Association of Retired Persons. Now AIPAC has slipped, falling to fourth place after the National Rifle Association and the National Federation of Independent Business tied for second. AIPAC boasts an annual budget of $16 million, 150 paid employees, and five or six registered lobbyists who make a personal visit at least once a year to every one of the 535 members of Congress.

AIPAC claims to represent 5.2 million American Jews — based on the just-released Jewish population study of 2000 — although many or even most US Jews do not share AIPAC’s hard-line policies. AIPAC badly needs some new constituents, especially since the American Jewish population is decreasing. In contrast, there are now more than 6 million Muslims Americans and 2 million Christian Arab Americans, and their numbers are growing. Their political action groups, moreover, are gaining strength and expertise. In the 2000 elections, Muslim Americans became a powerful voting bloc that could not have escaped the notice of AIPAC.

Indian Americans could be a real boon to Israel’s supporters in the US. With the addition of 1.6 million South Asian Hindus as allies, the odds could look slightly brighter for Israel-firsters — so long as Indian-American groups can buy into the idea that both communities face a common enemy: Muslims. Can India, a secular democracy, with the world’s second largest Muslim population, actually rally to Israel’s battle cry against “radical Islam”?

Wooing Indian public opinion, however, both on the subcontinent and in the US, may be a little more difficult than Israeli and Indian leaders may wish. India, after all, like Turkey and Iran — and almost every other nation in the world — has been consistently supportive of Palestinian statehood.

The pro-Israel and pro-Indian tilts in US foreign policy are a direct result of smart politics by well-heeled, tightly organized and highly disciplined American religious or ethnic minorities. There is no reason that, with a little effort, money and organization, another powerful group, Muslim Americans, including Pakistani Americans, can join forces with Arab Americans to combat civil rights abuses and demand a truly even-handed, balanced US foreign policy. If these communities continue to build bridges with the African-American and Latino communities, American voters may persuade their representatives to return to core US values of liberty and justice for all — Palestinians, Iraqis, Kashmiris and Americans alike.

— Delinda C. Hanley is news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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Story Source: Al Jazeerah

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Oman; COS - India; Israel



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