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India is firing the engine of war in Gaza while preaching peace

India is firing the engine of war in Gaza while preaching peace

Reports suggest that the weapons pipeline from India to Israel has surreptitiously kept flowing to meet war-shortages, in effect aiding genocide in Gaza

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Last Updated : 28 June 2024, 08:01 IST
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Both in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, India has projected itself as a potential peacemaker. Now, it turns out that India has been stoking the war in Gaza by supplying munitions, drones, and explosives to Israel.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a TV interviewer, “We are the only ones who have a clear stand, we are not on the side of anyone. We are on the side of peace. … And because of this, the world has developed trust in us that there are the only people who do not talk about giving arms (weapons) to anyone and do not talk about fighting anyone”. Evidence on the ground, however, shows that India is far from playing the neutral peacemaker.

Neither Modi nor any of his voluble ministers have chosen to come clean on credible reports of supplying munitions and weapons to Israel. But the world is clearly taking note of India’s subterfuge.

On May 15, a cargo ship named Borkum avoided docking in Spain because of protestors on the shore. Nine European MPs had already written to the Spanish President to disallow the ship carrying weapons and ammunition to Israel, saying, “Allowing a ship loaded with weapons destined for Israel is to allow the transit of arms to a country currently under investigation for genocide against the Palestinian people.”

The weapons cargo apparently originated in Chennai, India. An investigation by Al Jazeera showed, “The ship contained explosives loaded in India and was en route to Israel’s port of Ashdod, some 30km (18 miles) from the Gaza Strip. Marine tracking sites show it departed Chennai in southeast India on April 2 and circumnavigated Africa to avoid transiting through the Red Sea, where Yemen’s Houthis have been attacking vessels in reprisal for Israel’s war.”

The investigation quoted the Solidarity Network Against the Palestinian Occupation to claim that the ship contained 20 tonnes of rocket engines, 12.5 tonnes of rockets with explosive charges, 1,500 kg of explosive substances, 740 kg of charges and propellants for cannons.

A week later, a second ship with arms and ammunition originating in India, the Denmark-flagged cargo ship Marianne Danica, sought permission to dock at Spain’s south-eastern port of Cartagena on May 21. The ship was apparently carrying 27 tonnes of explosives from Chennai to Israel’s Haifa port.

The Spanish authorities acted on learning that the ship carried weapons destined for Israel. Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares, told the media, “The foreign ministry will systematically reject such stopovers for one obvious reason: the Middle East does not need more weapons, it needs more peace.”

Munitions India Ltd, a public sector enterprise under the Ministry of Defence, was allowed to ship ordinance to Israel in January. The company claims to be engaged in the “production, testing, R&D and marketing of a comprehensive range of ammunition and explosives for the army, navy, air force and paramilitary forces''. It produces “small, medium and high calibre ammunition, mortars, rockets, hand grenades etc. with in-housing manufacturing of initiatory compositions, propellants and high explosives". In April, it sought permission for a repeat export of the same items to Israel. 

In February, India was reported to have supplied 20 Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) manufactured at Adani Elbit Advanced Systems India Limited, Hyderabad, to Israel. The drones, capable of both surveillance and aerial bombardment, are reportedly already in active deployment in Gaza.

Ironically, the Adani-Elbit joint venture was set up with Elbit Systems of Israel, the first of its kind to manufacture the Hermes 900 drone outside Israel. Apparently, the Adani facility converted 20 of them specifically for the Israeli Defence Forces. Israeli media suggests that “this dramatic decision was likely approved by the highest officials in India.”

The Government of India has tried to balance its initial response in support of Israel by reaffirming its long-held commitment to a two-state solution. But it has never withdrawn support to Israel, even when it supported sending humanitarian aid to Gaza. The weapons pipeline to Israel has surreptitiously kept flowing to meet war-shortages, in effect aiding genocide in Gaza.

Most recently, after the Israeli bombing of a United Nations shelter at Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, fragments of the missiles dropped by Israeli warplanes were allegedly found labelled “Made in India”.

The primary reason for Modi’s inexplicably complicated position, according to strategic experts, is the defence relationship between India and Israel.

Israel is India’s fourth-largest supplier of military hardware, and the largest foreign customer of Israeli defence giant Israel Aerospace Industries. In a widely reported interview to the Israeli publication Ynetnews, former Israeli ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, suggested that weapons supplied by India were a quid pro quo for Israeli sending military equipment during the Kargil conflict.

He told Ynetnews, “The Indians always remind us that Israel was there for them during the Kargil War” in 1999. “Israel was one of the few countries that stood by them and provided them with weapons. The Indians don’t forget this and might now be returning the favour," he said.

The commitments might run deeper than that. Israel supplies critical high-tech defence items to India, especially in avionics. Refusal to help them under a war-induced shortage would have consequences both for ongoing as well as any future defence collaboration. India is, therefore, stuck with the unenviable role of keeping weapons flowing to Israel even though it will invite international opprobrium.

However, Modi does not seem at all unhappy with his foreign policy choices. Since he came to power in 2014, he has tried to cosy up to Israel. It would seem he was inspired by Israeli counter-terrorism strategies in launching the ‘surgical strikes’ against Pakistan. Israel’s resettlement policies in the West Bank and Gaza also seem to have inspired the attempt (now apparently given up) to resettle retired soldiers in ‘Sainik Colonies’ in the Kashmir Valley.

Supplying arms and ammunition to Israel may be a security compulsion for India, but with Modi at the helm, it perhaps also has an element of choice.

(Bharat Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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