OpinionIsrael at War

The Indian imperative

Embracing collaborative opportunities with India cannot wait for “the day after.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a joint press conference in the president's house in New Delhi, India on Jan. 15, 2018. Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a joint press conference in the president's house in New Delhi, India on Jan. 15, 2018. Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

Israel and India already enjoy a cordial, even close relationship, but the massive displacement caused by the Oct. 7 war has created multiple opportunities for strategic and tactical initiatives regarding India that should be explored and implemented now.

India and Israel are natural allies. Both are regional powers beset by adversaries on their borders and a potentially restive Muslim minority within. The world’s most populous nation, India is also the home of one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, making up (as in Israel) approximately 20% of its citizens.

Like Israel, India is wary of China and increasingly concerned about Russia and Iran. Also like Israel, India views the U.S.’s apparent desire to disengage from the region with considerable concern.

These factors have already brought Israel and India together. Their partnership is enhanced by a lack of religious rivalry and historic antagonism and a shared culture of economic and technological innovation.

Right now, Israel has a manpower problem. An enormous number of foreign workers, mostly from Thailand, have left the country. At the same time, Oct. 7 made it crystal clear that using Palestinian Arab workers, certainly from Gaza but also Judea and Samaria, is existentially unacceptable to the point of being self-destructive.

Having said that, now more than ever, Israel recognizes the critical strategic importance of self-sufficiency, especially in the field of agriculture.

We must address the loss of Palestinian workers—a loss that is desirable and necessary—with a positive solution. Unfortunately, reimporting Thai workers is probably unrealistic.

India, however, could provide large numbers of workers in fairly short order. Several months ago, it was announced that India would be sending 40,000 workers to Israel. Most would be involved in construction—an industry that has historically employed large numbers of Palestinian workers—and some 8,000 would serve as social service aides.

Why not double this number in order to bring in agricultural workers? Their wages might have to be higher than those paid to Palestinians, but the benefits more than outweigh the costs.

Those who are justifiably concerned with the attempt to exploit the Israel-Hamas war to impose a “two-state solution” on Israel should welcome an influx of Indian workers and the corresponding refusal to rehire Palestinians who could present a serious security risk. Moreover, an end to Israel’s reliance on Palestinian workers might foster voluntary Palestinian emigration in search of better economic opportunities.

In addition to the economic benefits, Israel could also turn to India as a negotiating counterweight to Qatar and Egypt in the attempt to obtain the release of our hostages. Why should we depend on a close friend of our enemy to be an arbiter on this issue?

I would also argue that now is the time to invite India to join the Abraham Accords. This would transform the accords from an agreement between former enemies into a regional alliance of like-minded nations with shared interests, regardless of their prior relationship with Israel.

India might be willing to join the accords because of their fear of the potential vacuum left behind by an American withdrawal from or attempt to “lead from behind” in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indian involvement would foster a strong regional alliance that could stand as an important counterweight to those with designs on member nations.

For what it’s worth, it’s also possible that India has a direct relationship with Abraham himself through the six children of his old age that he sent to the East. I have always wondered if the name of the Hindu god Brama might be a reference to Abraham.

In any case, Israel needs to start working closely with its natural allies. India offers collaborative economic and security opportunities that would be a win-win for both countries.

I urge our leadership, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who enjoys a close personal and working relationship with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, to seize this opportunity now. It would be a boon not only to Israel and India but to all those who are concerned about the rising tide of aggressive authoritarianism around the world.

Crisis also means opportunity. We have already seen the pain and dislocation of Oct. 7 lead to opportunities that could ultimately benefit us. Embracing India at this critical time is one of them.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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