The bombardment of Gaza by Israel has left over 18,780 dead – 70% of them thought to be women and children. At last count, 50,897 were injured and 7,600 were missing.

According to an investigation by Israeli media group, +972 Magazine, the use by the Israeli Army of an Artificial Intelligence system that generates potential targets, in combination with its authorisation of bombing non-military targets appears to be contributing to the scale of the killings. Over 60% of the residential infrastructure in Gaza is reported to have been destroyed, as well as sanitation and water works. Hospitals and schools, including those run by the United Nations, have not been spared either.

More than 1.7 million Gazans – two-thirds of the entire population of the Strip – have been made homeless. United Nations agencies say Gaza is no longer habitable.

Early in the conflict, reports pointed to fake videos and misinformation involving large numbers of Indian social media accounts targeting Palestinians with negative news and expressing support for Israel. Several of these accounts were traced to networks close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its affiliates.

This reflected India’s official position on the conflict. Early on, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled his solidarity with Israel. Until mid-December, India refused to join calls for a ceasefire, diverging from much of the world, especially the Global South.

This is a repudiation of India’s long tradition of support for the Palestinian cause.

In 1936, before the state of Israel was formed, Jawaharlal Nehru drew a direct parallel between the Indian freedom struggle and the “Arab struggle against British Imperialism in Palestine”, where the colonial power was seen as acting on behalf of Zionists. Mohandas Gandhi, on his part, rejected the forcible creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as England belongs to the English,” he declared.

After Independence, India voted against the United Nations plan in 1948 to partition Palestine and create the state of Israel. India also voted against admitting Israel to the UN, in 1949. India did not recognise Israel until 1950 and was the first non-Arab country to recognise Palestine Liberation Organisation as the representative of the Palestine resistance.

India formally established relations with Israel only in 1992.

The Israel model

What explains this rapid transformation in relations, from a refusal to recognise Israel to a full embrace?

The Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein argues that Israel has developed itself as a role model for regimes seeking to control their dissenting populations. This might explain India’s rapid attraction for Israel in recent years.

In The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World, Loewenstein demonstrates how, from early in its history, Israel developed itself as a major arms manufacturer, with a focus on self defence, industrial security and counter terrorism. It is today a world leader in weapons and cyber, including rockets, aerial defence systems, missiles, radars and cyberweapons, with the value of defence exports in 2021, reported at being worth over $11 billion. The fact that 10% of the Israeli population is employed in the defence sector points to its centrality.

Israel has also sold itself as a “start up nation”, claiming innovation to be central to its ethos. Much of this purported impulse to innovate applies especially to the defence sector.

The USP of Israel’s disproportionately hefty weapons industry, Loewenstein argues, has been “state of the art technology tested in battle” by the Israeli Army. He suggests that Palestine is Israel’s workshop, where an occupied nation and its millions of subjugated people provide a laboratory for the most precise and successful methods of domination.

What Israel has done, in effect, is to monetise the occupation of Palestine by “commercialising the message, selling the experience in controlling another people, to a global market”.

There are many takers for what Israel has to offer. The wares are particularly attractive for countries wanting advanced arms and ammunition, already battle-tested, to be able to disrupt dissident behaviour and control their domestic populations. In return, Israel receives diplomatic support from those regimes for its occupation of Palestine.

There are many examples to show: Israel armed the brutal rule of the Somoza family in Nicaragua in the 1970s and was a major arms supplier to the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile. It also supported US President Ronald Reagan’s war against communism in Latin America. Israel has also supplied weapons and training for the death squads in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama, and to the brutal police forces in Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

Loewenstein shows that Israel had significant defence relations with Iran under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah, supplying weapons and equipment and training its Sawak secret police that was brutally crushing the opposition there. Likewise, Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu and Haiti under Francois Duvelier also received Israeli supplies and training.

The country also played a significant role – through supplying weapons and training to military personnel – in Sri Lanka’s brutal campaign against Tamil resistance, that over 25 years resulted in the death and disappearance of some 200,000 persons.

Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Joe Biden in September. Credit: @netanyahu/X.

Ethnic domination

For other countries, Israel is a model also of ethno-national domination.

Israel’s close relationship with apartheid South Africa (before the system’s abolition in 1991), centred on weapons sale and technology transfer. The two nations went so far as to support each other’s nuclear weapons programmes. But there was also great ideological convergence between the two regimes, both being settler-colonial in character, practising apartheid against their native populations.

This points to a great contradiction at the heart of the Israeli nation: it is a self-professed democracy, but where you must be Jewish to enjoy full civic rights. Arab minorities are second-class citizens – a status codified into law in 2018, under the right wing Likud party, with the passage of the Basic Law on the Jewish Nation State. The legislation gives the right of national self-determination exclusively to the Jewish people.

The increasing formalisation of discrimination against Palestinians that the United Nations and international experts are now characterising as apartheid has been the outcome of this trend.

Regimes elsewhere, with similar ambitions of ethnic domination, buy into the myth of Israel’s successful racial supremacy project and want to emulate it in their own countries. In this reading, Israel’s ethnonationalism and brutal treatment of Palestinians, is seen as an asset.

Central to the success of this Israeli ethnic project is “racial gaslighting” expressed in modes of practice that include the denial of the historical wrongs suffered by Palestinians, alongside the active repositioning of the settler-colonial Israeli state as one that is democratic and treated unfairly. Palestinians are blamed for their own predicament and presented as terrorists, anti-semitic and undemocratic.

As the Palestinian journalist Rami Younis said, “From Israel schools to the media, Palestinians are constantly told that the violence inflicted on us either does not exist or is our own fault.”

Israeli politicians have often claimed that they are at the forefront of the global “war on terror” – the frontline between the free and civilised world and radical Islam. “When we fight terror here, we are protecting London, Paris, Madrid,” former Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennet had claimed.

In this marketing of Israel, it is imagined as a moral nation, a “light among nations”, echoing Zionist ideologue Theodore Herzel’s claim: “There [in Palestine], we shall be a section of the wall of Europe against Asia. We shall serve as the outpost of civilisation against barbarism.”

Israeli border policemen stand guard as an Israeli machinery demolishes a Palestinian structure, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in March 2022. Credit: Reuters.

India’s embrace of Israel

India’s pull towards the Israeli model began late but accelerated rapidly.

It started soon after the Oslo Accords in 1993, with India increasingly interested in Israel’s military wares – buying weapons, drones, electronic fences, besides agricultural technology, among others. In 2000, under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance regime that prioritised national security, relations between the two regimes began to acquire ideological convergence too.

The two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission. In 2003, on the occasion of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to India, the two states signed the Delhi Statement on Friendship and Cooperation. The statement said that India and Israel are partners in the battle against this [terrorist] scourge” and that “there can be no compromise on the war against terror”.

Israel also began training Indian forces in counter insurgency and sharing intelligence.

Relations have blossomed since the 2014 election of Narendra Modi, who developed a personal rapport with Israel’s Likud prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel in 2017 and broke with tradition by not visiting Palestine, alongside. Since a 2014 agreement between the two counties on ‘public and homeland security’, a “large number of Indian officers, special forces, pilots, and commandos have visited Israel for training”, informs Loewenstein. Today, India is Israel’s largest market for military equipment sales – with one report claiming India receiving approximately 42 % of all Israeli arms exports. Israel is second only to Russia as a supplier of military equipment for India.

The Gaza war

The current war on Gaza has sharpened India’s leaning towards Israel. After Modi’s expression of solidarity with Israel on October 7, calls for retaliatory killings against Palestinians were issued in television studios, as well as in BJP election rallies, linking the violence in West Asia to concerns for national security in India. A prominent TV anchor, known for Muslim baiting, claimed, in a telling echo of former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennet’s claim, “Israel is fighting this war on behalf of all of us. Israel is fighting this war for you and me”, going on to elaborate, “the same radical jihadist Islamist terrorist thinking that Israel is a victim of, we are victims of”.

Israel as an example to be emulated

There are specific practices of the Israeli regime targeted at the occupied Palestinian population that makes the Israeli model even more appealing to India’s Hindutva leaders and workers – as lessons for their own domestic practices.

These include Israel’s systematic resort to collective punishment, including destroying the homes of families of dissidents and mass detentions, including of children. Similar is Israel’s impunity against the most heinous crimes and the further deepening of the ethnic state, yet professing itself to be the only democracy in West Asia.

Authorities across India are not only increasingly resorting to using Israeli drones, surveillance technology and spyware, but also drawing on Israeli methods to hone their own practices of control of minority populations.

Israel’s gains

At a time when Israel is fast losing international support, in the United Nations, and in the Global South, as also on the streets in the West, India’s decision to stand by Tel Aviv is a major gain for the Jewish nation. This is the outcome of its successful outreach to Indian leaders and influencers. India is the world’s largest democracy, an economic power-house, one that the US and the western alliance are seeking to bring into their fold in an increasingly multipolar world.

India’s solidarity is no mean achievement for Israel. India being the destination of almost half of Israel’s defence and technology exports is another reason why it is so crucial for Israel to have the country’s support.

Credit: Reuters.

India’s loss

The bottomline for India in this bargain was summarised by an observer who remarked that “by declaring solidarity with an apartheid regime committing genocide and crimes against humanity, India has squandered the moral rectitude the country has been know for”.

India’s embrace of Israel comes in the context of broader geo-political adjustments in play. In 2022, led by the US, India and Israel joined the United Arab Emirates to form the I2U2 alliance, part of the broader attempt by the US to enable normalisation of relations between Israel and its Gulf neighbours. The speed with which India embraced and sought to deepen these relations caught observers by surprise.

The announcement at the G20 Summit in Delhi in September 2023, of the proposed India-Middle East Europe Economic Corridor project, involving India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Greece saw a further consolidation of India’s integration into an US-led alliance that benefits Israel’s strategic interests, the most.

Withdrawal and abdication

The war on Gaza is showing up in sharp relief, the weaknesses of the western-led alliance: the impunity enjoyed by Israel, the double standards of the global elite, and the racism at the heart of it all that signals that a Palestinian life is far less valuable than an Israeli life – or for that matter a Ukranian one. This has dealt a body blow to the legitimacy of the so-called international rules-based order.

Parallely, an alternative global order is emerging: the Global South, led by South Africa and Latin American states, among others, is seeking to challenge the consensus of the US-led alliance. By binding itself so intimately with the western alliance, India risks losing its own legitimacy globally, in the process also frittering away the goodwill it has in the Global South.

India was among the key architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the so-called conscience of the world and foundational to international human rights. Indian representatives to the post-War talks were able to draw on the Indian freedom struggle to help craft a United Nations that would be a global body equally serving all nations and not just the powerful. It is a sad state of affairs to be reminded everyday how disengaged India has become from international human rights, and is now counted among those questioning its very foundations.

Sajjad Hassan studies drivers and dynamics of conflicts, in the hope of finding solutions for justice, peace and diversity.

India’s punitive demolitions bear striking resemblance to Israel’s tactics against Palestinians