The best thing one can say about the growing India-Israel partnership is: Better late than never. And yet, this ‘never’ could well have happened had welcome developments not shaped events in the early 1990s. Helmed by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, India established a formal diplomatic relationship with Israel and set the stage for greater interaction between the two countries. The offshoots grew into robust form with Atal Bihari Vajpayee becoming Prime Minister, remained somewhat stunted in the 10 years of the Manmohan Singh regime, and began to blossom yet again when Narendra Modi made that historic visit to Israel six months ago. Now there is no turning back.

The problem all these decades had been New Delhi’s obsessive hyphenation of Israel-Palestine. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi, Indian leaders were loathed to give Israel the due it deserved and preferred to lean towards the Palestinians. It never occurred to them that Indian interests could best be served by being friends with both. Ideological fixations limited diplomatic engagements and many precious years were lost in the process. It can only be a matter of speculation as to the level of enormous gains the India-Israel relationship would have made had the corrections been made decades ago. Let us not forget that India recognized Israel as a nation-state back in the 1950s, but it took more than four decades for diplomatic ties to be formally established. But that is now history, and a new history that places Indian interests at the core is in the making.

A lot has been already been written about the economic, technological, and defense cooperation that the two countries are engaged in and are planning for the future. There is no doubt that the sky is the limit; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel, something to the effect that now space was the limit, given the galloping cooperation between the two nation in space technology. Israel’s contribution in providing cutting-edge technology in defense, irrigation, and water conservation are well known. Cyberspace is another area where bilateral engagement holds enormous potential. However, what India ought to have learned a long time ago from Israel is how to deal with hostile neighbors — shed warped romantic ideals, gain and demonstrate might when the time comes, and be prepared to talk across the table for a resolution.

Addressing an event a few years ago in New Delhi, Prime Minister Netanyahu summed it up succinctly, if bluntly. He said, “I like soft power, but hard power is better.” Soft power would have got Tel Aviv (or Jerusalem, if you may) nowhere but to doom in its many conflicts with hostile nations who waged wars with the Jewish nation. And, always, it was more than one country that threatened the existence of Israel and ganged up to ground to dust Israel, which officially came into being only in 1948. But every such effort of its enemies failed, and Israel triumphed. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke from experience when he said at the Tuesday function, “The weak don’t survive. The strong survive. You make peace with the strong. You are able to maintain peace by being strong. Therefore, the first requirement of Israel from the theme of our first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was to achieve maximum strength to assure our existence.”

In the early decades of its independence, India clearly did not think much of such a philosophy; it was in fact revolted by the thought of not just demonstrating strength but even attaining it in military terms. Perhaps it believed that its existence, unlike that of Israel, was never threatened. The woolly-headed diplomacy led to our humiliation in the 1962 conflict with China. The significance of military might was established in the 1971 war with Pakistan as well in the Kargil conflict. Yet, in the years that followed, India slipped back into the old complacency, hoping against hope that the dove will eventually have the last word. It was a strategy that cost us, dear.

Thankfully, the realization has dawned in the Indian establishment that indeed the strong is respected and only the strong can ensure peace. You don’t deal with geopolitics from a position of weakness and hope to gain anything except humiliation. When Indian troops conducted surgical strikes across the Line of Control into Pakistan-held territory, when it recently hit back at Pakistan positions and killed half a dozen Pakistani soldiers, and when the Indian Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat talks of harsh steps against Pakistan if the latter didn’t mend its ways — these are all the new assertions of ‘strength’ in a responsible manner. It’s something that Israel has been doing for decades.

There is another takeaway from the India-Israel relationship, and it’s that when it comes to the national interest you must be prepared to tread alone. Israel has faced flak from the international community for some of its decisions, including at the United Nations. But not once did it climb down — not even when its all-weather ally, the United States of America, refused to back it on certain issues. It’s such resoluteness, backed by the determination to demonstrate the power to save its sovereignty, which has won Israel the admiration — even if grudging in some quarters — of the world community.

There is no doubt that by and large, Israel has received support from the US in its fight against extremism emanating from the neighborhood. But it has not allowed its policies to be held hostage to US concerns. Netanyahu often crossed a sword with President Obama on matters that the former conserved essential to Israel’s security. Here lies a lesson for India. While it’s good that Washington, DC has become receptive to Indian concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan, it would be futile for India to depend on the US to fix its problems. In other words, New Delhi must do what it must to tackle Pakistan. We often demand that the US declare Pakistan a terrorist state, but do nothing about it ourselves. As Israel has shown, the world backs a strong nation with the courage to act, not one that constantly looks for help from others to sort out its security issues and whines always over the lack of such help.

Under Prime Minister Modi, old mindsets in West Asia have been changing. It helps, globally speaking, that US President Donald Trump has actively backed Israel’s position. Given that he has also put Pakistan on notice by holding back military assistance, there is a narrative developing in the region that can help India assume a far bigger role in regional affairs. Prime Minister Netanyahu has called India a “global power”. Now India has to live up to this image. It goes without saying that Israel will be right there to help.

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.