[By Jonathan Adelman and Asaf Romirowsky, from Forbes.]
When we think of Israel, we usually think of the Middle East (its neighborhood), North America (its close
ally the United States) and Europe (the long history of Ashkenazi
Jews). Rarely do we think about Israel and Asia, even less about Asia as
Israel’s new frontier. We don’t think of Asia as playing any
significant role in Israel’s evolution given the tiny Asian Jewish
population, the lack of significant Jewish history in Asia, and minimal
relations between Israel and most Asian countries for the first 40 years
(1948-1988) of Israel’s existence.
Yet, last year Israel called 2012 “the year of Asia in Israel.” The
Israeli government sponsored an Asian Science Camp attracting over 220
Asian students to join nearly 40 Israeli students for a week long
program of lectures by world class Israeli researchers
How did such a gathering ever happen? Many factors propelled
Israel-Asian relations to the forefront. Historically, Asia largely
lacks the anti-Semitism that was so prominent in Europe and also the
Middle East. Geographically, Israel is in West Asia, only four hours by
air from India and 11 hours by air from China. Historically, Israel,
like most Asian states, is a new state born after World War II after a
struggle with a Western colonial power, in this case Great Britain.
Economically, Israel’s rapid transition from Third World power to
First World “start-up nation” echoes the great transformation underway
in such Asian countries as India, China and the Four Tigers.
Scientifically, Israel has emerged as a high-tech superpower (with Tel
Aviv rated #2 in the world for its startup companies, thereby very
attractive to Asian high tech [powers in Bangalore, Xinchu Park and
Beijing Silicon Valleys]. Politically, the growing threat of Islamism in
the regime draws many of these countries towards a country that is in
the forefront of fighting this threat to governments around the world.
And, militarily, the Israeli military, a world leader in anti-missile
technology (Iron Dome), UAVs (which they sell even to the Russians)
and 5 billion dollars of military exports, is attractive to Asian
countries developing their own militaries as they rise economically.
Finally, in intelligence matters, which are so critical to many
developing countries, Mossad, with its strong human intelligence
capabilities, is attractive for helping these countries overcome foreign
threats to their rise to power.
Most of all, Israel has developed strong relations with the two Asian
countries in the BRICs—China and India. Both of these countries, which
had no diplomatic relations with Israel before 1992, now have major
Israeli embassies in their capitals (Beijing and New Delhi) as well as
consulates in their leading cities (Shanghai and Mumbai).
Militarily, Israel is the second biggest arms exporter to India
today, and sold it the Phalcon AIWACS system for a billion dollars back
in 2004. In turn India in 2004 launched a 300 kilogram Israeli satellite
in orbit which dramatically increased Israeli intelligence gathering
capabilities against the Iranian nuclear program with clear images in
all kinds of weather. At one time in the ‘90s Israel was the second
biggest arms exporter to China (4 billion dollars worth of exports). In
turn Israeli intelligence works closely with Indian intelligence against
radical Islamic threats and is on friendly terms with its Chinese
Economically, Israel can claim $5 billion worth of trade with India
and over $8 billion dollars with China. It hopes to boost trade with
the world’s second largest economy by GDP to $10 billion in the coming
years. Back to India, Israel is working with it on the framework for a
Free Trade Zone that within five years could triple annual exchange
between producers in each country to $15 billion. Politically, Israel
supports India in its fight over Kashmir and against Pakistan, while
China also battles Islamic fundamentalism in Xinjiang Province.
Outside the two BRIC members, Israel has developed diplomatic
relations with a large range of Asian countries. It has extensive trade
with a number of these nations—ranging from $2 billion with Japan and
South Korea, to several hundred million dollars worth of trade with
Vietnam. It also has growing economic and educational ties with
Singapore. Israel has developed strong relations too with a series of
newly independent states formerly part of the Soviet Union, including
Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.
Not all of these relations have been easy. Few Asian states face
serious existential threats as Israel has and continues to face. And it
can’t be forgotten that some of them are Muslim states (as Pakistan and
Indonesia), plus very few have attained Israel’s strong First World
economy ($33,000 GNP/person) status.
But it seems as China and India have risen economically, so has
Israel’s global status. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s four day to
visit to China this week highlights the importance of China to Israel.
Excitingly for Israel, the importance is mutual. As Chinese Ambassador
to Israel Gao Yanping stated ahead of the visit, “China views its
relationship with Israel with tremendous importance.”Truly Asia is the
new frontier for Israel in the 21st century.
Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of
International Studies at the University of Denver and Asaf Romirowsky is
the acting executive director for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East