Evolution of India-Israel Relations

India Israel relations

The relationship between India and Israel is often referred to as a “marriage made in heaven”, the ties between the two countries have flourished since 1992 mainly due to common strategic interests and security threats such as Islamic extremism the nature of these threats is similar though they arise from different sources. Apart from that both the nations have many convergences, such as India being the biggest patron of Israel’s military-Industrial complex. Moreover, many countries have not recognized Israel as a Nation whereas its recognition from the world’s largest democracy, i.e. India gives many intangible benefits to Israel’s stand. Despite such similarities, some significant structural and policy differences do exist.

Though at present, there has been a recent growth in the relations due to domestic-ideological relations but the relationship has matured to a level where whoever is in power in both countries the mainstay is foreign policy continuation.

However, this was not the case, when Israel was created in 1948 after the Second World War. At that time India had voted against the formation of Israel by partitioning Palestine at UNO, as Israel was to become a country for Jews based on religious lines, whereas the horrific memories of partition of India on religious grounds, did not pertain to India’s world view. Also, India had a large domestic Muslim population, so as to not hurt Muslim sentiments, especially since Pakistan had predicted that India would eventually turn into a Hindu majority country, not respecting the sentiments of Indian Muslims but later on, in September 1950 India extended recognition to Israel but full diplomatic relation was not established until the 1990s, under the then P.V. Narasimha government.

Timeline of Some Significant Events in India-Israel Relations

  • 1948- Israel was founded. India had voted against the formation of Israel by partitioning Palestine at UN.
  • 1950- India accorded formal recognition to Israel, but full diplomatic relations were not established until the 1990s.
  • 1953– A Consulate of Israel is opened in Bombay.
  • 1992– Shift from “estrangement to engagement”, with the formal establishment of diplomatic ties under the P.V Narsimha government in India.
  • 2017- Narendra Modi became the first ever Indian Prime Minister to visit  Israel following a “dehyphenation policy” between Israel and Palestine, PM Modi did not visit Palestine during the trip, breaking the convention. Relations between the two get elevated to a strategic partnership.
  • 2018– India voted against the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at UNGA. Jerusalem is a holy place with religious significance for the Abrahamic religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
  • 2021– India abstains from voting in the UNHRC resolution adopted to set up a  permanent commission to probe human rights violations in Gaza, the West Bank, and Palestine.

Dehyphenation Policy, means dealing with two countries, having adversarial relationship between them, in an independent manner. Here in this context it means that India’s relationship with Israel would stand on its own merits, independent and separate from India’s relationship with the Palestine

Overview of the India Israel Relations

Even though full diplomatic relations were established in 1992 but Israel had helped India in the 1962 War with China, the 1965 War with Pakistan, and in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War by supplying weapons based on high technology, also there has been a tacit intelligence cooperation between Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Israeli MOSSAD since the 1960’s. After the assassination of former Indian PM Indira Gandhi when National Security Guard (NSG) was formed in India, there were unconfirmed reports that Israel played a key role in the training of NSG.

The gradual shift in India’s policy from the 1990s has been owed to the West Asian countries backing Pakistan, even prominent countries like Egypt and Jordan had established formal ties with Israel by then, along with the changing geopolitical landscape due to the end of the Cold War and disintegration of USSR, it prompted India to diversify its defence needs.

Israel: India’s Mistress?

Euphemistically in international relations, it is called, “if Palestine is India’s wife, Israel is its mistress.” the reasons for this are that India’s relationship with Israel has often been likened to that of a clandestine affair, where both nations maintain a secret affair behind the curtains but hesitate to openly acknowledge it.

In 1950, New Delhi officially recognized Israel, yet during the Cold War due to concerns about not upsetting its sizable Muslim population, as well as the need to sustain strong ties with the Arab world for oil, remittances, and the Kashmir issue, India adopted a reserved stance towards Israel. Throughout much of its post-independence history, India derived benefits from its association with Israel in private while refraining from public acknowledgment.

Areas of Cooperation:

In recent years both countries have collaborated across a spectrum of domains, spanning technology to defense which has paved the way for a promising partnership between India and Israel.

 One of the strongest pillars of India-Israel bilateral relations is defence trade, where Israel is a source of advanced military technology to India. Israel has supplied India with Phalcon AWACS (Airborne warning and control system), Radars for India’s ballistic missile system, the Barak surface-to-air missiles, and the recent spike in the purchase of anti-tank missiles. India is one of the largest arms buyer from Israel.

Figure 1-Trade Indicator Values of Israel’s arms exports (2011–2021, figures in US$ millions).  Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database
Figure2-India’s arms imports from Israel (2001–2021, figures in US$ millions).  Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database.

Regarding security, strategically speaking India and Israel both express shared concerns regarding the increasing threat of terrorism in the West Asian region, given that both nations have experienced terror attacks. In the context of the Kashmir issue, particularly involving Pakistan, Israel has consistently supported India by offering essential intelligence information and supplying weaponry during times of conflict.

In terms of cooperation with respect to agriculture and water conservation, Israel’s expertise in drip irrigation, dryland farming, post-harvest management, and advanced agricultural technologies has benefited India.

India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) has been set up and PM Modi has also welcomed Israeli partnership in Indian manufacturing, pointing to the winning combination of India’s size and scale and Israel that has sharpness and edge.

India is one of the few countries in the world where the Jews didn’t face discrimination and anti-Semitism. There are approximately 85,000 Jews of Indian origin in Israel. Cultural cooperation is growing with robust People-to-people contact as evident in the growing numbers of tourists visiting either country.

Apart from this, there is burgeoning growth in the trade, over the last 25 years, bilateral trade between the two countries has increased from $200 million to more than $4 billion (excluding defence) apart from that there have been cooperative engagements ranging from para-diplomacy to space sector.

Areas of Concern:

Despite such similarities, some significant structural and policy differences do exist, such as India is a multi-ethnic, pluralistic, secular state, whereas Israel is a religiously conceptualized state, apart from that both the countries have significant policy differences, for example on the Palestinian issue, Iranian nuclear problem, Israel growing closeness with China, etc.

There are also concerns now regarding the present volatile state in West Asia, especially after Israel declared a “state of war”, in the aftermath of a massive attack by Hamas and deepening fault lines in the West Asian region.

Way Forward

They have traveled a long journey from being estranged partners to becoming strategically inseparable partners in the present times. India’s stance on the world’s longest-running conflict has shifted over time, transitioning from a staunchly pro-Palestine position during the initial four decades to a delicate balancing act due to its three-decade-long amicable relationship with Israel.

After PM Modi visited Israel in 2017, a reciprocal visit was made by the then Israeli PM. “India-Israel relations are like a marriage made in heaven”, commented PM of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.

Personally PM Modi shares a warm chemistry with Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu but India always has an arduous task of balancing the situation in the complex waters of  West Asia, where it has friends on many sides of the aisle to name a few like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel and UAE, the four major powers in the region.

So to unlock the complete potential of this partnership, it is essential for both India and Israel to behave as mature democracies. They should make efforts to comprehend and value each other’s constraints concerning a range of regional and global matters, moreover, the current tragedy in West Asia propels India to play an important part in securing peace and stability in the region.

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