This is the first time in over two decades that Indian diplomacy will be reappearing as protagonist on a potentially explosive war theatre — when External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna arrives in Israel on a historic visit on Monday. The last such audacious venture was when the then EAM I.K.Gujral appeared in Baghdad for a celebrated meeting in 1990 with late Saddam Hussein.
Like 22 years ago, another Gulf War seems to be in the offing. Details are emerging about the below-the-radar US military deployments in Israel. Russian media revealed that “thousands” of American troops are being deployed in Israel and Tehran is seeing the writing on the wall that “this is the latest and most blatant warning that the US will soon be attacking Tehran.”
The Austere Challenge 12 is being described as the “biggest-ever” military exercise between Israel and US. By the way, India will keep a sharp eye on the exercise since the Israeli ABM systems and the drones that it has received from Israel in the recent years will be tested for their “interoperability” with the US’s Theatre High Altitude Area Defence or THAAD missile system as well as the US’s ship-based Aegis system.
The Jerusalem Post quoted US Commander Lt.Gen. Frank Gorenc as saying that the US-Isreali military exercise is actually a “deployment”. The US is establishing new command posts for its troops deployed in Israel, while Israeli army will also be working from a base in Germany. Effectively, US is wrapping Israel with the NATO flag so that if Iran retaliates to an Israeli attack, Washington will now have ground to invoke Article 5 of the Atlantic Charter bringing the entire NATO war machine onto the Persian Gulf.
Krishna will certainly have a window seat on the momentous events unfolding in the Persian Gulf. This will be a learning curve for India. In the new US defence strategy document unveiled by President Barack Obama on Thursday, India has been accorded the pride of place as a “regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region” even as the US “rebalances” its military toward the “arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.”
Krishna will have opportunity to hear from the Israelis first-hand what useful role India can play in the Indian Ocean region as part of the US strategy. The new document unveiled in Washington spelt out as a key objective in the Middle East to be “standing up for Israel’s security”. India will need to figure out how it can play a supportive role here in mitigating Israel’s current regional isolation.
To quote from the document, “The United States will continue to place a premium on US and allied military presence in – and support of – partner nations in and around this region.” In immediate terms, though, Krishna will have an excellent opportunity to probe the Israelis on the US-Israeli plans for effecting a regime change in Syria. The heart of the matter is that even after rendering Iraq as a toothless Arab power, Israel’s security cannot be fastened and its regional dominance restored until Syria is also degraded thoroughly and Iran’s rise as regional power contained.
Actually, the US strategy document is quite explicit as to what lies ahead: “In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure to reform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that, over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and are more stable and reliable partners of the United States.”
India is getting a historic opportunity to be on the “right side of history”, to use secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s oft-repeated words. Gujral, in retrospect, headed for the “wrong (left) side of history”. Perhaps, Krishna can rewrite history. This is also what some Indian commentators have been suggesting to South Block.
– January 7, 2012