India and the Iran-Israel Crisis

The Iran-Israel battle has now reached Indian shores. On 13 February, just when an explosive, placed beneath an Israeli embassy vehicle at Tbilisi was being defused, a bomb attached to another vehicle, carrying an Israel embassy employee, exploded in New Delhi. The attacks were almost simultaneous and clearly targeted the employees of Israeli embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi. A day later, a bizarre bomb attack at Bangkok led Israel to brand all the incidents as attacks by Iranian terrorists.

For India, which so much likes to sit on the fence or watch happenings from the sidelines, would now have to adopt a more decisive stand with the IAEA inspectors arriving Tehran on Monday amidst an atmosphere of escalating tension and concern over an imminent conflict.

But what role can India play in the supercharged and volatile atmosphere that has been going on in the Middle East for the past several years.

For one, New Delhi has enjoyed friendly relations with both Tehran and Tel Aviv. Relations with the former have been on strong grounds over the last five decades. Indian exports to Tehran, between April to October, 2011, was $1.4 billion, up six per cent from a year ago and imports were $5.9 billion, up two percent in the same period a year ago. Besides, India imported 22 mt crude worth about $10 billion, from Iran in 2009-2010, making it the latter’s third largest oil importer. India is also heavily invested in the Middle East region, especially with regard to human resources. Over six million Indians live in the region who remit over $40 billion annually, an important component of the country’s forex earnings.

That said, New Delhi’s relation with Tel Aviv, has gone from strength to strength ever since diplomatic relations between the two sides was forged in 1992. This is evident from the fact that Indian exports to Israel, between April to October, 2011 was $2.3 billion, up 49 per cent from a year ago, while imports, during the same period was $1.4 billion, up 11 per cent from a year ago. The two sides have enjoyed growing partnership in several fields that are pertinent to economic development, especially in areas like defence technology, R&D and tourism and agriculture. And India needs to be a safe destination for Israelis to visit.

It’s apparent from the figures that India can’t afford to lose either of its two important allies. It has to assist in resolving the crisis and tread the thread with caution. As a responsible power in the Indian Ocean region, New Delhi has to take up the issue at the various international forums that all the three countries are a part of. Though India, traditionally, haven’t been proactive to diffuse tensions between two other countries, time has come for it to play a more assertive role. It simply can’t remain oblivious to tensions between two countries, both of whom are undeniably important to New Delhi. And should the efforts yield fruits, India’s role as a harbinger of peace would be acknowledged by the whole world.

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