Howard Epstein





Last week, I attended a talk by a well-respected Indian scholar at a university in the Tel Aviv area (you will see why I am being so discreet in a moment) on the difficulties that India has experienced in increasing its trade with Iran. The presentation, supported by over 20 detailed slides, showed that the deficit in two-way trade was not by reason of a deficit of effort on the part of the Indians. What stood out from the presentation, however, were two things, one manifest but both unspoken. First, plain but unspoken: all that Iran has on offer is commodities. Plainly, apart from making systems with which to damage Israel, the Iranians were somewhat short of ideas. No life-enhancing apps (such as Waze, made in Israel and sold for $1.3b in 2013), no industry-leading systems (such as Mobileye for autonomous vehicles, made in Israel and sold for $15.3b in 2017) and no life-saving or life-enhancing medical devices (too numerous to list, but invented and developed in Israel for over a generation). No. Just oil, gas, copper, zinc and the like was all that Iran could offer India.

What was also unspoken was why Iran had such a limited repertoire when it came to goods for sale and why India was unable to form a normal reciprocal relationship with the Mullocracy. Was this elephant so plain to all in the room that it could go unremarked? I decided that it was not, so I asked (to abbreviate my question) whether Iran was labouring under a command economy (one in which everything is directed from the ultimate base of power). Of course, back came the admission, this was, indeed, the root cause of India’s frustration in seeking to develop trade with Iran. The Revolutionary Guards control all activity in the country. (Incidentally, one point that was made – and clearly – was that the Iranians did not hide, in trade talks, their obsession with Israel, and that they were forever questioning India’s relations with the Jewish State.)

I suggest that the Indians divert their energies elsewhere. An ideologically-driven Shia state, with central command over the economy, is not going to rub noses, and exchange furs for blubber, with a Hindu – one might say increasingly-Hindu – India, perpetually on the brink of nuclear war with its Muslim, highly-radicalised neighbor, Pakistan. And, certainly, as Prime Minister Modi’s regional appointees increasingly put the wind up the Moslem population of India – greater in number than all of those in monolithically Muslim Pakistan – the Iranians are not going to be better disposed in the future towards India.

Incidentally, there was another question, from elsewhere in the room, that led to an eminently predictable answer: whether there was any cultural exchange between the two countries. Well, it appears that traditional Indian dancing (usually by willowy girls with bare midriffs) does not so much go down, as kick up, a storm in Tehran. And as for Bollywood, don’t even go there. Too much fun and exuberance for Iran’s people to be exposed to.

The Indians will, I suspect, eventually tire of trying to deal with the Iranians, whom they appear not to trust in negotiations in any event. And India knows where to shop for those hi-tech and military items that it does not make for itself – Israel.

India may be a better market for Israel than so far recognised. According to Ernst and Young, the Indian workforce will, within the next three years, grow to 900 million, whilst that of China has already begun to shrink from its high of 793 million in 2013. (To put all that into perspective, the American workforce is less than 160 million.) India has two further distinct advantages over China: it is democratic politically and it is democratic commercially. In the end, China, whose workforce is lopsided by reason of the one-child policy – a habit that Audi-aspiring young urban couples are finding hard to kick – with its global-power aspirations, will lose out to India commercially. Thus perish all dictators – some by poisoning, some by the bullet and some by fiscal implosion, having ignored the central requirement for balance in the economy. For all India’s idiosyncrasies, corruption and chaotic style, it does not have China’s problem with grey banking, widespread corruption, and absolute ruthlessness, at the top and well over a billion people yearning for democracy that threatens to blow away the system sooner or later, even if it will be later.

So those attending the India-Iran trade lecture were not told the whole story, but it seems that no-one is telling even the great alleged purveyor of fake news, Donald Trump, the whole story about the Deal of the Century that he hopes to pull off. Not yet anyway for, as Carolyn Glick pointed out at length in this weekend’s Jerusalem Post, the majority of the Israeli population is, shall we say, somewhat underwhelmed at the idea of a Two State “Solution”, having a better feel that any group of pundits, experts or negotiators, be they Kerry or, if he thinks it can work, Jason Greenblatt. The following results were reportedly obtained by Mina Tzemach for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:-

  • for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria in exchange for peace: 29%;
  • for full withdrawal from Judea and Samaria in the framework of a peace deal: 23%;
  • for a pull-out under which Israel would trade sovereignty over the so-called “settlement blocs” for sovereignty over lands inside of the 1949 armistice lines: 36%; and
  • for an Israeli withdrawal from everything outside the settlement blocs even without such a trade: 43%

In other words, to the concept of a Two State “Solution”, the Israeli people replied, “loh”, “nyet”, “non” and “no, thank you very much”.

Israelis are not stupid. In the year of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, they are fully aware that their sons, husbands, brothers and grandsons, and those of their cousins and neighbours, have been patrolling the streets of Hebron for half a century – and they are prepared for it to go on. For how long? you ask. No-one would have foreseen in June 1967 that, still in June 2017, the IDF would still be there; but in June 2017, we shall know it is possible that another fifty years may see no change. And Israel can take it, certainly as the alternative to making concessions with our security to people who bring up their children on a diet of mock-assassinations of Jews whom they are told are the descendants of pigs and apes.

So, here is what “they” (our government) has failed to tell us on this subject: that they are not prepared to do business over the fence and the overhanging branches and the shared watercourses with neighbours who hate us. Now, whether that is because the government we have is venal or unrealistic, we do not know; and nor shall we for as long as it says there are NO PRECONDITIONS to “peace” talks. We should have a precondition for the PLO, PLA or to whatever entity the world would have us capitulate. It should say clearly “abandon your anti-Semitism, start with your schools and spread it in your media: Jews are constructive people, who are here to stay. One of their companies can be worth as much as all the aid you got from the EU in twenty years. The only way to “kill” them is with kindness. Then they will, over time, roll over and allow you to tickle their tummies. But for as long as you attack them, verbally or otherwise, they will notice and react.

This is the whole story, and the sooner it is disseminated and digested the sooner we can all move on.

© April 2017 Howard Epstein

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