Why did the government do the classical flip flop on the Gaza issue? First the External Affairs Minister sought to stonewall a discussion in the Council of States asserting "we have diplomatic ties with both nations any discourteous reference to any friendly country can impact our relations with them". Paradoxically and concomitantly in Fortaleza, Brazil the government signed off on the Sixth BRICS summit declaration with the operative portion affirming, "We call upon Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations leading to a two- State solution with a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian State existing side by side in peace with Israel, within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders based on the 4 June, 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital. We oppose the continuous construction and expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by the Israeli Government, which violates international law, gravely undermines peace efforts and threatens the viability of the two- State solution."
Tough libretto avowing a position, at the BRICS, that is endeavouring to emerge as an alternative pole in the global balance of power.
When consternation and outrage mounted the government did a U- turn and agreed a week later to a discussion in Parliament. It concurrently then also went right ahead and voted in favour of a Palestinian drafted resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council terming Israel's military operations ostensibly as international crimes and called for an investigation by an independent global commission.
Is this sequence of events indicative of the government's left hand not knowing what the right is doing? Does it reflect a rupture between the Prime Minister's office and the Ministry of External Affairs? Is it symptomatic of the green shoots of policy paralysis manifesting themselves? Should it be perceived as an attempt to run with the hare and hunt with the hound in the naive belief that other foreign offices do not read international declarations? There could be yet another facet. Was the government surreptitiously attempting to bring about a policy shift in India's historical position on the Israeli- Palestine conflict that backfired under pressure? Is it then demonstrative of its inability to be able to walk the tight rope that such historical and contentious disputes require without diluting either our relationship or position with either entity? However on a weightier note what is worrying is whether the government at the political level is even remotely cognisant of the strategic implications of the current round of hostilities on India.
First and foremost, it needs to be clearly understood that Hamas is undoubtedly a destabilizing force in that region whose linkages with other analogous organisations that believe in violence, as a means towards an end is too well documented to require any reiteration.
While the Palestinian Liberation Organisation had at least acknowledged the right of Israel to exist, though not as a Jewish state, the Hamas and it's equivalents like the Islamic Jihad are committed to the physical destruction of the Jewish state.
As a victim of terror, it therefore is imperative for India to make a clear distinction between the Palestinian people and Hamas when it condemns the violence in Gaza or takes a position at any international fora.
Second it needs to be kept in mind that the thaw in the relationship between the Six (US, France, Britain, Russia, Germany and China) and Iran on the nuclear question seems to have run into headwinds with hardliners in Iran accusing Israel of attempting to scuttle an agreement. A breakthrough would help India spread its hydrocarbon sourcing from the region on a broader trajectory and therein lies the rub, the conflict in Gaza has the potential of detracting from a resolution of this vital issue though Shite Iran and the Sunni organisations are at the opposite ends of the Islamic religious spectrum but unfortunately comprehend a common foe in Israel.
Since the United States has been unequivocal in its backing of the Jewish state since its inception, Iran may see the war of attrition between Israel and the Hamas as a strategic counter lever that may further erode the US appetite to keep playing the outside balancer in the region, thereby giving Iran time, leverage and maneuvering space in the Nuclear negotiations. It is therefore in India's energy security interest to see that the resolution of the Iranian Nuclear question remains a priority.
That is why India had voted against Iran at International Atomic Energy Agency.
Stability in the Gulf serves India's strategic interests.
The third dimension of the Gaza conflict India needs to be mindful off is the impact it is having on the proliferating antagonisms across the region especially in Iraq and Syria. India has a large diaspora scattered across the region whose safety and security is also the responsibility of the Indian state. We still have Indian citizens trapped in Iraq.
If the litany of conflicts that had remained frozen in time all start exploding to life, given that the status quo prevalent for decades in the Middle East and the larger Islamic world post the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire has been disturbed by the Second Gulf war, Arab Spring and the internecine infighting across the Arab expanse, it may entail the flight of a large number of Indians from the region which could then impact the remittance economy which provides sustenance to a large number of families in myriad Indian states.
It therefore is very necessary that India treads prudently and calibrates its responses based upon a clear understanding that historical forces of gargantuan proportions are at play in the Middle Eastern region which could well reshape the dynamics, contours and even its geography permanently. Any misstep could have serious consequences for our interests in the region.
The writer is a lawyer and a former Union Minister. His twitter handle is @ manish tewari