Bhutan diplomacy in the Israel-India backdrop
It seems like Israel has only one path into Asia, and that lies wholly inside India. Israel’s recent diplomatic merrymaking in accomplishing ties with a couple of Arab countries is already being seen as a mistake that may intensify the ongoing Middle Eastern conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Lebanon. As Israel deepens its alliance with the Arab world, it will only find reason and legitimacy in partaking in the Arab Gulf fight against the Iran-Qatar-Turkey axis in these conflicts. The reason to foster bad vibes for Israel is its not-so-well-known role in alliance with India — and the recent establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Bhutan urge us to revise some history around India.
India’s own diplomacy with Israel has been a question mark. Right after independence India dealt with the Palestine question ideologically, as it had itself fought against colonialism, and because Nehru did not want to infuriate the large Muslim population of India. Though openly a supporter of the Palestinian cause, Nehru did have a sympathy with Israel when he said, “Our public policy in the past was not biased towards the Arabs, but at the same time it was not hostile to the Jews.”
After Nehru, in 1968, Indira Gandhi asked RAW to develop relations with Mossad, which means that though at the time the two countries did not have any civil diplomacy between them, the two agencies have been abetting each other since then. Israel was able to open its embassy in New Delhi only in 1992, after Narasimha Rao ran for the free-market economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet, in all this time, Israel has covertly remained a reliable friend-in-need for India, emphasising that they both are ideologically cast of the same mould.
So secret lines of communication were always at work. Documents recently accessed from the Israeli archives in Jerusalem have revealed that Israel supplied weapons via flagged ships to India during the 1962 war with China.
S Raghavan’s book, 1971, reveals Israeli assistance for “propaganda, finance and procurement of armament and oil” and that Israeli PM Golda Meir herself arranged for the deal wherein arms with Israeli instructors were airlifted, months before the war. And Israel was one of the first nations to recognise independent Bangladesh in February 1972.
Three years later, India was behind the anti-royal protest staged in Sikkim that was eventually quelled by the Indian army that overthrew the King and declare Sikkim an integral state of India. Whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed that CIA and RAW have full capability of intercepting satellite and internet traffic to and from countries of the Himalayan region, thanks to Israeli-developed interception technology.
From the beginning, Bhutan was treated as a protectorate by India because of the 1949 Friendship Treaty, in which “Bhutan agrees to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations”. Bhutan became a democracy in 2007, after the voluntary abdication of the Druk king. The first democratically elected PM Jigme Thinley started broadening the country’s diplomatic base expediently, but when Thinley and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao met in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, India was totally irked and Thinley’s ousting was planned.
In the 2013 elections, Thinley lost to pro-India Tshering Tobgay. The Bhutanese media cried out over how the “world’s largest democracy influenced elections in the world’s youngest democracy”, and hinted that the polls had been rigged by RAW hands. Now almost a decade later, with a pro-India government in Bhutan, it has extended diplomatic relations with Israel, only showing that India and Israel are in each other’s pathways in the quest of power and influence in the region.
In the bigger picture, India’s reliance on Israel’s technical expertise is completely in line with US policy to curtail China. China’s possible incursion into India via the Doklam tri-junction point could potentially cut off the seven eastern sisters from the rest of India and ease the capture of Arunachal Pradesh. Already in the event of the Ladakh standoff, China has laid claim on the 750 square kilometre Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan, just adjacent to Arunachal. To have such a possibility open would mean India’s permanent vulnerability and weakness. A partner like Israel can certainly help in such a situation — it does not only have the technology to manipulate information, but also the same to suppress a population or wage small-arms wars.
Israel’s direct intervention in the region was made possible after the 2014 India-Israel agreements on “Mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation in homeland and public security, and protection of classified material” that allows Israel to work on India’s border management, internal security, police, counter-terrorism and cybercrime. After that, India started replicating Israeli tactics to suppress the Kashmiri people, leading to the rise in anti-India activities in IIOJ&K, especially since Modi. The technology transfer has been to the extent that in February 2020, General Bipin Rawat asserted that “India is looking at setting up a separate theatre command for Jammu and Kashmir”. The theatre command concept is that of a network-centric battlespace combining/coordinating all three land, sea, air domains; the command conceptually relies on advanced information technology and firepower of such stealth and accuracy that the target-state would simply have no means to evade it, thus enslaving it.
It was only after Bipin’s assertion that China made the Ladakh incursion, because China was sure that the India-Israel ties were going unbound. So, how does this bode for Bhutan that will now be under the surveillance of India’s new Northern Theatre Command? Does Bhutan realise that in the grand plan its value is that of a buffer state or perhaps that of the actual war theatre, that could be sacrificed as collateral damage to face-save India’s integrity and regional aspiration? Does Bhutan understand that it is just another track of the pathway that the US and Israel need to enter deep into Asia, right next to China — to light up the fire in far-off lands without boots-on-ground?