Foreign and Defense Policy

India’s Iran folly

Today’s bombing of an Israeli diplomat’s car in New Delhi is sure to raise international scrutiny on India’s problematic ties with Iran. According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran was behind the bombing outside the heavily guarded Israeli embassy—a stone’s throw from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s house—that injured the Israeli defense attache’s wife. If proven, the attack will cast a shadow on U.S.-India relations as well.

Even before the most recent incident, U.S.-India relations appeared to be heading toward a train wreck. At any rate, the odds ratcheted up last week as New Delhi signaled its determination to offer Tehran a lifeline as it battles U.S. and European sanctions. India intends to sidestep the sanctions by using a combination of rupees and barter to pay for Iranian oil imports. And on Thursday, adding insult to Western injury, India’s commerce secretary announced that a trade delegation would soon head to Iran to explore fresh opportunities as other countries retreat from its toxic economy.

While India lacks the capacity to single-handedly prop up Iran, its actions nonetheless send exactly the wrong message at a delicate moment in the international community’s effort to thwart Tehran’s rogue nuclear program. India recently overtook China as the world’s largest importer of Iranian oil. And the mullahs’ propaganda machine has quickly exploited supportive noises emanating from New Delhi to argue that they are not as isolated as they seem.

To be fair, as I pointed out in my most recent WSJ column, India has genuine reasons to seek friendly relations with Iran—chiefly oil, access to Central Asia, and a common stake in preventing a Pakistan-backed Taliban comeback in Afghanistan.

But by thumbing their noses at Washington in the face of its most pressing security challenge, the mandarins who run Indian foreign policy risk destroying goodwill painstakingly built over a decade by well-wishers of the relationship in both countries. The long term costs for India of a West that’s suspicious rather than enthusiastic about its rise are inestimably greater than the short term benefits of playing footsie with Iran.

Some well regarded Indian strategic thinkers argue that India should act as a bridge between the United States and Iran. But if this hasn’t happened over the past 10 years, it’s hardly realistic to pursue it in the midst of the current crisis. Instead of mistakenly believing that it can paper over differences with Washington, or (somewhat fantastically) get the entire Western world to suddenly see the revolutionary regime in Tehran in a kinder light, India should arrange for alternative oil supplies and join the international community in putting the squeeze on Iran. For its part, the Obama administration needs to make it clear that this—unlike disagreements over fighter aircraft purchases or commercial access for U.S. firms to India’s nuclear market—is much more serious than a mere spat between friends.

For India, the Iranian threat doesn’t rise to the level of Pakistan. Nonetheless, a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East, and one less country in the world bankrolling revolutionary Islamist terrorism, are both self-evidently in India’s interest. Reviving an old image of itself as a nation invariably at odds with the West despite ostensibly professing the same values is decidedly not. This is true regardless of who turns out to be behind today’s attack in New Delhi.

20 thoughts on “India’s Iran folly

  1. My 10 year old has more knowledge than this columnist…he wants us to follow the US…hook, line sinker….like Pakistan…we have our own strategic interest…lets not forget it was Iran which bailed us out in the UN on Human Righst issue way back in 1993…this moronic article is misleading…and Israel shouldnt complian…they have been killing Iranian scientists long enough

  2. 1. Just as US relations with Pakistan is independent of it’s relations with India, India’s relations with Iran is also independent of its relations with the US.

    2. Just as the US will not give up Pakistan for India, India will also not give up Iran for the US.

    3. Just as a nuclear Pakistan is apparently not a treat to the US, a nuclear Iran is also not a threat to India.

    4. Just as the US provide tens of billions of dollars to make sure Pakistan’s economy does not collapse, India will also do everything it can to help Iran’s economy.

    Iran is India’s gate-way to the Central Asia. There is no absolutely no reason for India to abandon Iran, a neighbour with which it has a civilizational connection, and very important economic and strategic relations.

  3. Can the columnist explain what benefit India got from Obama administration? How has our good behavior with Washington all these years earned us any help regarding David Headley, punishing Indian IT companies, aiding Pakistan knowing it is arming itself against India with US aid? The truth is US and Europe choose their battles and we should have the strategic autonomy to choose our battles. India has NO issues with Iran and their nuclear testing has no bearing on our national security. When price of oil rises, none of these western countries are going to help us and our govt has to pay for it.

  4. What do Indians think of Iran carrying out attacks in their country? Indians could easily be killed in such attacks. Is thumbing your nose at the US worth the lives of innocent Indians?

    Nations have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Hopefully India has markets outside the US and Europe. Are the Iranians looking to buy goods and services from Ta Ta?

    • @ Pat,

      Just as the Pakistani nukes are apparently not a threat to the US, Iranian nukes are also not a threat to India, regardless of what you would think.

      Please don’t bother about India’s markets in US and Europe. India has a middle class bigger than the population of the US, flush with cash to spend ……….. and it is growing …. !!

    • If nations only have permanent interests, just remember that Israel thought it was in its interest to sell to the Chinese advanced radar technology developed by America. None of our NATO allies, Japan, South Korea have ever sold American technology without permission. Just don’t expect the U.S. Congress to mention that.

  5. You’re discounting the fact that Indians, and especially the middle class no matter how closely they’re tied to America are inherently anti-American thanks to years of Nehruvian brainwashing! There is simply no constituency in India for toeing the American line on Iran!

    • @ Amey,

      Indian middle class are not anti-American by any stretch of imagination, proven by the recent polls which showed popularity of the US ranks amongst the highest in India and Poland.

      From Indian point of view, America is a great country with its great people. Everything about America is great …… except its foreign policies ……… India is a victim of the same for over four decades ………. !!!

    • How arrogant it is to ask other country to toe your line? Has US EVER cared India’s battles against terrorists in Kashmir and other places? On the contrary, India is providing aid to Afghanistan and involved in nation-building. Will US toe Indian line on Pakistan and its sponsorship of terror? It is US war to fight Iran just as it deems Syria is not its battle to fight.

  6. By entering a sovereign country and murdering their top scientists, Israel opens the box of retaliation in kind. They always hold up thier injury to the world when someone actually responds to their murderous provocations. It also puts the 25,000 to 40,000 Iranian Jews at risk, who, up until now, have been treated better by Persian Muslims than the 20% of Arab Christians and Muslims who live in Israel itself as Israelis. (Yes, 1 in 5 Israelis are Arab, within Israeli borders, not counting the many other Muslim and Christian Arabs in the Occupied Territories, which have, in effect, increased Israeli held land by 300%, including fertile land and plentiful water supplies).

    • Attempting to murder a diplomat’s wife as she goes to pick up her children at school hardly seems like a retaliation “in kind” to attacking scientists and military personnel managing an illegal nuclear weapons program, now does it? Think before you type.

      That said, I fail to see how supporting Iran during the sanctions does much good for India over the long term. They seem to be acting with little forthought or consideration– much like the Europeans a few years ago. Attempting to feed the tiger allies and potential allies in the hopes it doesn’t eat you never works in the long run. A nuclear armed Iran– and acquisition of nuclear weapons by neighboring states that will inevitably follow a nuclear armed Iran– is bad for India no matter how you look at it.

      They’re being incredibly disigenuous and shot sighted– and, like China, will have to accept partial responsibility if and when Iran goes nuclear.

  7. This is clearly a propaganda article. Does the author have any proof of the Iranian nuclear program? Conspiring that the US continues to supply Pakistan with weapons and know how which enable it to promote terrorism in India, the US can take a hike. W should do what’s best for India and not for the US. The US wouldn’t even be looking Irans way if there was no oil involved. All the instability in all the regions where oil is available has been promoted by the US, Syria, Bahrain, Libya. All of them are the doing of Obama and his shills.

  8. There is a sentence in your WSJ article: “Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons is America’s single most pressing security concern” which is quite breathtaking. Reading it I was transported to circa 2002. Remember those days? Mushroom clouds? WMD?????

    I don’t know how much they pay you to write up the same crap every time a bomb goes off in some part of the world and Netanyahu (and his neocon cabal in USA) cry Iran.

    Iran is no security concern for USA!!!! None whatsoever!!!! Its a bit of a headache for Israel but Israel has nukes and blanket support from USA, EU and possibly China. Iran might be a bigger headache for Saudi Arabia but that’s not our concern and possibly they too enjoy tacit US support.

    The recent veto of China, Russia clearly show the state of geopolitics. Most likely the same duo are at work making sure Iran’s oil supply is not cut off. I’m glad Indian government has caught up on geopolitics and started looking at its own interests.

    I don’t know who you are trying to fool but certainly not Indians anywhere.

  9. Is India a demcracy? Islam is not a big fan of democracies. Or does it even matter? You are infidels to them. Soon the jihadists will come for you.

    • India is victim of terror long before US had anything on its soil. It is just that your government and media has played mute spectator thinking it is someone else fight. You seem to have woken up after 9/11 but we have been fighting it since 1980s.

  10. The author has no clue what he is talking about. India and Iran have centuries of historic and civilizational relationship. Indepence trumps kissning up to bullies for table-scaps.

  11. The problem of the Pakistani army and the ISI’s expansionist policy of “strategic depth” has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way. This policy, rooted primarily in Pakistanis’ perception of their country’s identity as an Islamic state and pursued in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and parts of India, has been manifested in support for various Islamist militant groups for at least four decades as a means of projecting Pakistani influence abroad. [page 3]

    It is also likely that the Pakistani military and intelligence, after securing their interests in Afghanistan, will focus their policy of strategic depth on India, Kashmir, and Bangladesh, destabilizing the whole of South Asia. [page 6]

    In failing to address the problem of strategic depth in any meaningful way, US strategy has also inadvertently swung the Indian government away from its formerly pro-Western orientation, because New Delhi, like Tehran, has a vested interest in an independent Afghanistan, free of Taliban rule, so as to reduce Pakistan’s influence in that country. Thus, for example, in April 2010, Foreign Minister SM Krishna reiterated New Delhi’s official disagreement with Washington’s opposition to the Iranian nuclear program and welcomed Tehran’s plan to send low-enriched uranium to Turkey. This policy shift was effectively a reversal of the Indian government’s Nov 2009 vote alongside Washington at the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the Iranian nuclear program to the UN Security Council. [page 5]

    Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan Policy Brief By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi | Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012

  12. So a non-nuclear Iran is a threat to the world, and India needs to get on board. But, the billions of dollars in weapons systems that the U.S. gives to Pakistan are aimed solely at India, and India has to just live with that threat. You’re really asking why the Indians are not cooperating with the U.S.?

    • Your assumption is invalid. It is a *nuclear* Iran which is a threat to the world and that is what everyone should be seeking to prevent. Please try to keep up.

      • No one has demonstrated with conclusive proof that Iran has violated the terms of the NPT, a treaty it signed, but Israel did not. There has been no instance of switching fuel from its reactors to a weapons facility. All that has been shown is that Iran has ramped up its nuclear program, but it is perfectly within its rights to do so. So, Iran is currently a non-nuclear nation, and thus is not a threat. You deal with threats as they are, not as they might be. If you do the latter, you are just repeating the disaster that was Iraq.

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