SEP 8: "A victory by the Congress Party under the leadership
of Sonia Ghandi in the elections to be held in India in May will not lead to any
change in India's policy toward Israel. The good relations will continue, and in
certain area even grow deeper," assesses Lieutenant General J.F.R. Jacob, a
former senior Indian army officer and a Jew, who yesterday completed a five-day
visit to Israel. "If I had to rank the present-day level of relations between
India and Israel," Jacob adds, "I would give them a 9 out of 10."
J.F.R. Jacob. "Indian finds Israel to be a friend on which it can rely."
General Jacob has close ties to the National Party (BJP),
which in the course of its four years in power has tightened relations with
Israel and expanded defense cooperation with it. For many years, Jacob served as
the party's security adviser. Nevertheless, he says, "based on my personal
acquaintanceship with the current foreign minister, I see that the Congress
Party, like the National Party, has an interest in maintaining very good
relations with Israel." Jacob notes that it was the Congress Party that in early
1992 established diplomatic relations with Israel, "and since then, every Indian
government has found Israel to be a friend on which they can rely."
Jacob doesn't think much of the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
on public opinion in India. Although India is the largest democracy in the
world, he says, "you have to remember that over 70 percent of Indian society is
an agricultural population, which cares about its everyday struggles for
existence and survival, and is not interested in foreign affairs."
General Jacob gained prominent fame in his homeland when he headed the Indian
army forces that vanquished the Pakistani army in the war that broke out between
the two countries in 1971, over control of the Bangladesh region (which after
the war became an independent state, having formerly been East Pakistan). For
his decisive role in the sweeping victory, Jacob was granted a commendation of
Jacob is proud to say that his illustrious military career is the indelible
proof of the tolerance of Indian society. That is the only way to explain how he
succeeded as a young Jew, the scion of a family that migrated some 150 years ago
from Iraq and settled in Calcutta, to be appointed to one of the most senior
command positions in the army.
His full name is Jacob-Farj-Rafael Jacob. He was born in 1923. At age nine, his
father, a successful businessman, sent him to a boarding school in the city of
Darjeeling, about 500 kilometers from Calcutta. From then on, he only went home
on school holidays. In 1941, at age 18, he enlisted in the Indian army, which
was under British command. "My father was against my enlistment," he recalls,
"but after I found out about the atrocities of the Nazis and their treatment of
the Jews, I decided that I would be a military man." Upon his enlistment, Jacob
joined an artillery brigade that was dispatched to North Africa to reinforce the
British army against the German army under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The
brigade arrived after the battles were over. From there, Jacob's unit was sent
to Burma. "I wanted to fight Germans," says Jacob, "but in the end I fought for
three years against the Japanese."
Did you ever meet Orde Wingate?
Jacob: "I was a major in the artillery when I met him in Burma. I know what your
opinion of Wingate is, and on his contribution to training special forces in
Palestine [the reference is to the Haganah's Special Night Squads - A.B.], but I
have a different opinion of him as a commander. In Burma, he was assigned a post
that he could not fill [sabotage of communications behind the Japanese army
lines - A.B.] His military perception was mistaken. He was a disaster. I prefer
not to say any more than that."
General Jacob is a graduate of artillery schools in England and the United
States and specialized in advanced artillery and missiles. Prior to his
appointment as commander of the Eastern Command (along the Bangladesh front), he
commanded an infantry and artillery division. He retired from the military in
1978, following 37 years of service. Jacob tried his hand in the business world,
but remained in close contact with government echelons. In the late `90s, he
became the governor of the Goa province, and subsequently became the governor of
the state of Punjab, which borders Kashmir.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel, Jacob
has paid many visits to Israel. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin invited him to
attend the Jerusalem 3,000 celebrations. On his recent visit here, he even
contributed items of Judaica from his parent's home to the Museum of Babylonian
Jewry in Or Yehuda. His home in New Delhi has for years been a pilgrimage site
for Israeli diplomats, researchers and security officers.
Why is India interested in Israeli military technology?
"Because Israel's know-how and technology are very advanced. But also because
countries like the United States and England are not as generous as Israel.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Israel has proved that it is
happy to work together with India."
This is a big change, compared with the way things were before relations were
established between the two countries.
"Actually, there is a long history to what is now happening. As early as 1962,
during the war between India and China, prime minister Nehru appealed to prime
minister David Ben-Gurion, asking him for military aid. Already then, Israel
sent military equipment, mainly 120 mm. mortar rounds. It happened again in the
war against Pakistan in 1965 and in the war in 1971: Israel supplied India with
mortar rounds, even 160 mm. rounds. And Israel once again proved its generosity
in the military conflict with Pakistan in 1999; on that occasion, it also
assisted in supplying ammunition, even bombs meant for the Mirage jets of the
Indian air force."
How do you see the development of defense cooperation between India and Israel?
"The primary collaboration lies in the shared interest of both countries related
to the war on terror, and everything that entails: Electronic fences, radar
systems, sensors. Israel also assists with missiles. There is cooperative
development and production of helicopters. And of course, the Phalcon
surveillance aircraft; they are intended for early warning of a surprise attack
by Pakistan or China."
India has also shown interest in purchasing Arrow missiles.
"I estimate that when the United States removes the obstacles, India will be
highly interested in acquiring Arrow missiles for defense against ballistic
missiles. We need them especially for protection against Pakistan."
In the wake of the talks now being held between leaders of the two countries,
aren't relations between India and Pakistan better?
"India has been attacked several times by Pakistan. We cannot take risks, and be
unprepared for a surprise attack. India should be prepared for both Pakistan and
China. Therefore, there is a need for anti-missile missiles. Due to the
Pakistani danger and the threat of launch of missiles with nuclear warheads. And
it is important to mention: We don't want U.S.-made Patriot missiles, which are
only capable of intercepting missiles at a low altitude of 20 kilometers [as
opposed to the Arrow, which is designed to intercept missiles at an altitude of
100 kilometers or more - A.B.]."
Al-Qaida in Kashmir
In spite of the differences in size between India and Israel, there is a
similarity in their geopolitical status. Both are surrounded by Muslim states,
they have large Muslim minorities, and are threatened by Islamic terror. "India
has no problem with Muslim countries," says Jacob. "It only has a problem with
terror. And the trouble is that Pakistan has become an asylum for terror groups.
The bin Laden people are active in Kashmir and we suspect that his people are
active not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan. [Pakistani President]
Musharraf claims Pakistan does not support terror, but it is turning out that it
does not have the ability, or the means, to supervise the terror groups. And I
don't know what the truth is.
"In spite of everything, I say that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is
not expected because the two countries cannot afford such a thing. Basically,
there is a balance of terror between the two."
Israelis in Goa? They don't help, they don't hurt
In his post as governor of Goa toward the end of the `90s, General Jacob had an
opportunity to get to know other sides of the Israeli character. "I had a chance
to meet with Israelis in Goa. These young people came there after lengthy army
service, without money. All that they want is to live cheap, on the beach."
Were there any problems with them?
"Some of the Israelis are involved in drug dealing, but this is a small
percentage. I can say the Israelis do not cause any real damage. But at the same
time, their contribution to Indian tourism is insignificant because they do not
spend money, since they do not have any.
"I would like to see Israelis coming not only to Goa or Puna, but to get to know
the country, to learn its culture. At the same time, I understand them. They
arrive in India immediately after army service. They want to have fun and to
enjoy life and that's okay, too. I don't have any problem with it." (A.B.)