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Tuesday , December 21, 2010 at 11 : 32

Playing with fire


Think about this. Mr A is in trouble. His home is on fire. He picks up the phone and asks for help from all his friends and well-wishers. Everyone comes forward, even a prickly neighbour who has recently fought with A.

But Friend B, who lives not too far away, is of no help at all. He tells A, sorry but I don't have what you need. End of conversation.

A is hurt. If B is lucky, the friendship may not be affected. But the odds are A will likely remember how B didn't have the decency to do basic things that friends normally do - like ask A what else he needed, or just take the initiative to send any help, material or otherwise, it thinks might come in handy.

But forget help, B doesn't even have a few words of sympathy for A. And when he does, it's too late - A has dealt with its crisis.

This could be a sad little pathetic tale of two individuals that plays out every single day in some part of the world. Except it's more than that. This is a story about Israel and India.

Recently, Israel requested for fire extinguishing planes to deal with its national emergency of the Carmel fires. The call was made by a senior official in Bibi Netanyahu's government to the Prime Minister's office. The request was blown away by New Delhi, and perhaps with good reason. The Israelis were told we didn't have any planes of the kind they had requested. But why did we feel we had nothing else to offer? And what exactly is the point of the PM expressing his sympathy weeks later except to add insult to injury?

The Israelis live in a rough neighbourhood, they have few friends, and many hostile neighbours. India should have stood by a friend. Instead, it's Turkey, with which Israel has had a run-in earlier this year over aid to Gaza, that has earned Israel's gratitude. Ankara sent across two of those planes despite Israeli forces killing 9 Turks in military action this May. It was just two planes but the symbolism was not missed. India, on the other hand, was missing from a group that included the Palestinians who sent fire trucks, Muslim countries like Egypt and Jordan, and several EU and small Eastern European countries like Greece, Bulgaria, and Cyprus apart from the United States and Russia. And Israel has made a note.

Politically, it was hard for Mr Tough Guy Netanyahu to request assistance. He has, since the fires, faced a lot of flak for bringing 'shame' to his country. Culturally, this is a society that serves in the army as a way of life, that has young adults doing exceptional volunteer work at home and abroad. They feel they can handle anything - wars, suicide bombers, even international isolation.

The Israelis are a proud people, just picking up the phone and asking the world for help has been a big deal.

A little bit of sensitivity from India would not have been out of place. Instead, we had New Delhi's baffling inaction. It's almost as if Delhi slept through the crisis and then someone in the government woke up and belatedly realized that something had to be said. Some others will suggest the Congress-led government has deliberately ignored its Israeli friends so that it finds favour with its minority vote-bank. I will not believe that this government can be so myopic or foolish or petty.

But I do remember how ordinary Israelis stood by this country during and after the Mumbai attacks. I remember how Israelis, on holiday in Leh, dropped everything and helped out people affected by the flash floods. I remember how Delhi expects, almost as its right, that Israel share counter-terror intelligence with it.

And I hear all too often from my government how India deserves its rightful place at the big boys' club in the UN Security Council. But before we venture out to save the world, we ought to begin treating our friends with respect and dignity.


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More about Paarull

Paarull Malhotra is CNN-IBN's Chief Diplomatic Correspondent. When she's not reporting, she's a newscaster. She considers herself very lucky because she enjoys what she does - which is covering India's relations with the world, with a special focus on the neighbourhood. Her areas of interest are Af-Pak, West Asia and China. She's an East West Centre fellow, and prefers to relax by blogging, tweeting, reading and travelling. You can reach her on her blaze page via ibnlive.com or on her facebook page. Paarull's twitter handle is @paarull