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Indian activists raise alarm over Israeli defence minister's visit to New Delhi

Benny Gantz's visit marks the 30th anniversary of military cooperation between India and Israel
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz shakes hands with his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, in New Delhi, on 2 June 2022 (AFP)

Indian activists and observers have raised the alarm over Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz's visit to the country, cautioning that the deepening of military ties will have severe consequences for Palestinians as well as for India's minorities.

On Thursday, Gantz met his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, in New Delhi, where the officials signed a special security declaration and held discussions on expanding security and technology cooperation to mark 30 years of security ties between their two countries.

"The two Ministers presented a joint declaration marking 30 years of Israel-India relations and reiterated their commitment to deepening defence ties," a statement from Israel's ministry of defence, read.

"India and Israel share similar and common challenges, including border security and fighting terrorism. By working together, we may increase our capabilities and ensure the security and economic interests of both countries," the statement added.

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'The Hindu right sees apartheid Israel as a 'model'
- Apoorva G, BDS coordinator

Indian activists described the visit as "shameless" and warned that the further entrenchment of the military-industrial complex between the two countries could not be ignored. 

Gantz was accompanied by a contingent of military experts as well as representatives from the Israeli weapons industries.

"The arrival of Israel's defence minister will no doubt lead to further purchases of weapons 'tried and tested' on Palestinians to further militarise the Indian state which is killing Kashmiri Muslims and Dalits, Christians and Muslims in India," said Amrit Wilson, an Indian activist with the South Asia Solidarity Group.

Wilson told Middle East Eye that the visit was particularly damning given that there has been no resolution to the Pegasus spyware revelations which alleged that the Modi government used software from Israeli company NSO to hack the phones of around 300 Indians, including the leader of the opposition as well as activists and journalists.

Israel's defence ministry signs off on all sales of Pegasus, and The New York Times reported earlier this year that the sale was part of a $2bn weapons deal signed between India and Israel in 2017.

 "[It] shows the shameless criminality and lack of accountability of both governments," Wilson added.

A strategic alliance

India recognised Israel in 1950, but it was only 42 years later in 1992 that the two countries established diplomatic ties. According to reports, India secretly purchased arms several times from Israel in the 1960s, and relations began to warm following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, it was under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came into office in 2014, that ties have accelerated into a forceful strategic alliance.

In 2017, Modi became the first Indian leader to visit Israel, and during his time in office, New Delhi has become Israel's biggest arms purchaser, amounting to around $1bn per annum. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), India's arms deliveries from Israel increased 175 percent between 2015-2019.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who was elected last year, has prioritised continuity - with the two countries projecting each other as "ancient nations" fighting the scourge of "terrorism".  

Apoorva G, Asia Pacific coordinator for the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) National Committee, said Gantz's visit and the burgeoning of ties did not just affect the Palestinian cause, but also helped facilitate the persecution of India's minorities. 

"From the purchase of weapons worth more than a billion dollars annually, to the bulldozing of houses of the poor and minorities as a form of collective punishment, to the brazen killing of journalists and making religion a basis for citizenship - all of these are standard practices of apartheid Israel that are finding their way in India," Apoorva G told MEE.

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"The Hindu right in India sees apartheid Israel as a 'model'. The people of India, however, and their movements in defence of the Indian constitution are in solidarity with Palestinian rights."

Likewise, long time writer and activist Achin Vnaik told MEE that the Indian government's affinity with Israel was ideological.

"This government has a very strong admiration for Israel and how it has established a Jewish state through the repression and humiliation of Palestinians."

"This is because this government, through its quest to establish a de jure Hindu state, has learnt a number of lessons from Israel and is, of course, using those lessons against what it considers to be its principal enemy: Muslims," Vnaik added.

Since being appointed the minister of defence in June 2021, Gantz has travelled to FranceSingaporeMorocco; the United StatesJordan; and Bahrain

In October 2021, India and Israel agreed to formulate a 10-year roadmap to identify new areas to expand defence cooperation. 

Gantz's visit to New Delhi comes two months after it had been postponed, as the Israeli coalition government turned its attention to domestic affairs following political instability in March 2022.

Middle East Eye reached out to Israel's ministry of defence for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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