Israel kills ex-Indian Army official, bilateral ties unhurt

While former Indian Army official Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale was killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip, New Delhi remained mute, apparently to protect ties with Tel Aviv.

Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale

Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale

A former Indian Army official, Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale, working with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), was killed by Israel on Monday when his vehicle was struck at Rafah in the Gaza Strip

Another staff member, accompanying Col Kale, was also injured in the attack. Hundreds of UN staff members have been killed by Israel since it launched its aggression on Gaza last October. 

Col Kale, 46, was travelling to the European Hospital in Rafah in a UN vehicle when he was killed.

“Today a UN vehicle was struck in Gaza, killing one of our colleagues and injuring another. More than 190 UN staff have been killed in Gaza. Humanitarian workers must be protected. I condemn all attacks on UN personnel and reiterate my urgent appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire & the release of all hostages,” the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shared on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

India didn’t condemn Israel’s attack on its citizen, however, it has officially expressed grief.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale(Retd), Security Coordination Officer in the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) in Gaza on 13 May 2024. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and dear ones,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shared on X.

Col Kale, who hailed from Pune and lived in Thane, Maharashtra, studied at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University from 1996 to 2000 and later joined the Indian Army. He served in the 11 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles before taking premature retirement in 2022.

After retiring from the Army in 2022, Kale joined the UNDSS as a Security Coordination Officer two months ago and reached Gaza about a month ago. Col Kale is survived by his wife Amruta and two teenage children, son Vedant and daughter Radhika. 

The Israel Defence Force (IDF), whose officials, along with Indian Embassy staff in Tel Aviv and Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff paid last respects to Col Kale’s remains, has promised to investigate the matter.

Col Kale’s killing exhibits the strange ties between India and Israel. 

Although the IDF’s actions are a violation of conflict rules, India didn’t condemn the killing of its former army officer vocally.

While India and Israel share a strong bilateral bond, India’s balanced foreign policy on West Asia has caused certain annoyance for Tel Aviv.

While India inked a deal with Israel to send 42,000 skilled workers there to work in various sectors, including construction, nursing and care, etc, before Israel attacked Gaza, it has also reiterated its position that supports a free Palestinian State, since the beginning of the aggression.

Although the Indian government views the current conflict in Gaza through a counter-terrorism lens, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, contrary to India’s official position on the contentious West Asian issue, stood by Israel and supported it on social media following Hamas’s attack on the occupied territories on October 7th, it has been supporting the Palestinian cause in the UN bodies.

Recently, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, emphasised India’s commitment to a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israel. She reiterated that India is supporting a two-state solution where the Palestinian people will be able to live freely in an independent country within secure borders, with due regard to the security needs of Israel. 

India further demanded the release of Israeli hostages stuck in Gaza. India, on May 10th, voted in favour of a draft that qualified Palestine as a full member of the UN. India recommended that the Security Council should reconsider the matter “favourably”.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemned the resolution, describing it as an “absurd decision” that highlights “the structural bias of the UN” and rewards the actions of Hamas on October 7th.

He further said the message that the UN is sending to our suffering region is “violence pays off”.

India’s vote for permanent membership of Palestine in the United Nations and its two-state solution commitment could have terrible consequences for the bilateral ties between India and Israel.

The balancing factor

On Monday, when Col Kale was killed, Mr Modi’s government signed a historic deal with Iran on the Chabahar Port management. Iran, a bete noire of Israel, is viewed as a pariah state by the US-led collective West and Tel Aviv. 

Yet, by ignoring the overt and covert warnings, New Delhi boldly signed the deal on the crucial port, which will increase its scope of trading with Central Asian countries and Russia, bypassing Pakistan.

What will be the repercussions of Col Kale’s killing in Palestine? Can it affect India-Israel relations?

At a time when India has been vocal about Palestine’s right to statehood and strengthening its bonds with powers that Israel considers a threat to its existence, can the safety of thousands of Indians in Israel be guaranteed?

Can India-Israel friendship sail through the bloodbath?

A student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Priya writes on global issues and politics.

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