The relationship between India and Israel has been steadily strengthening since the two countries established diplomatic relations in1992. Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s foresight that laid the foundation of the Indo-Israeli partnership deserves tribute for this development. The back-channel security talks existed before the normalization of bilateral relations between India and Israel. Afterward, in recent years, India has been more willing to establish a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship with Israel which includes liaising on countering the terrorism and deepening military ties.
The Shift in Policy after 2014
Post 2014, with NDA government’s rise to power in 2014, Israel seems to have gained greater priority over other West Asian countries in India’s diplomatic agenda. This very clear that India and Israel have been deepening their ties in counterterrorism, defense, science and technology, space exploration, agriculture, and several other areas.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s close ties with Israel which can be traced to the period when he was the chief minister of Gujarat when Israel emerged as a key player in helping Gujarat achieve impressive economic growth.
On 29 January, India and Israel marked 25 years of diplomatic ties. By keeping this in view, the two countries have planned a series of events which include the exchange of prime ministerial visits before the close of the anniversary year in January 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be visiting Israel in June this year. It would be the first- ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel.
The first meeting between Modi and Netanyahu happened in September 2014 in the backdrop of the UN General Assembly session in New York. It turned out to be the first meeting between prime ministers of the two countries in a decade.
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel in October 2015 which was the first visit by an Indian president to Israel. Normally, the Indian president’s foreign visits do not attract much attention. But Pranab Mukherjee’s visits of Palestine, Jordan, and Israel were seen as a precursor to the much-expected visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel in June.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also made her visit to Israel in January 2016. Her visit was part of the continuation of the effort by New Delhi not only to strengthen India’s relationship with Israel, but also to make it more public.
India’s Shift on Palestine Issue
In past, important visits made by top Indian leaders to Israel were combined with Palestine in a single tour. The visits of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Union Home Minister L. K. Advani in 2000, and S. M. Krishna’s visit as an external affairs minister in 2012 were all described as regional visits because the ministers held meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian government during their tour.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel in November 2014 which was a landmark visit in the sense that it was confined to Israel only. Indian government’s omission of the Palestinian Authority from Home Minister’s visit was seen as an Indian government’s intent to shift the tradition of collaborating high-level official visits to Israel with visits to Jordan and Palestine.
Now, at this time, the Indian government has decided to do away with the previous era’s tradition with Israel. Earlier, India always put restrictions on rapprochement with Israel, based on progress in the Israel-Palestine dispute.
Evidence of India’s shift on Palestine issue can be found in the recent actions of the India government, one of them is India’s abstention during a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) vote criticizing Israel’s “alleged war crimes” in Gaza last year.
The vote in UNHRC was on the basis of a report by the UNHRC, which concluded that both Israel and Palestinian armed forces may have committed war crimes during the 50-day Gaza war that killed about 1,500 people. India was among the five countries that abstained voting. The other countries who abstained were Macedonia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Paraguay. The US, Israel’s biggest ally, voted against the resolution.
Deals between India and Israel
At present, Israel is one of India’s top defence partners with India. India has been importing unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance, surface-to-air missile systems, and radars and anti-tank missiles from Israel between 1992 and 2016. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which analyses global defence sales, India has been the world’s biggest importer of major arms from 2012 through 2016. India’s arms imports account for 13% of the global total. The SIPRI data also shows that the last five years, defence trade between India and Israel has averaged more than $1billion annually.
India is also seeking to buy a medium-range surface-to-air missile defence system from Israel. This deal would be worth of $2.5 billion.
Apart from Defence, counter-terrorism constitutes the most high profile part of the India-Israel relationship.
The relationship also constitutes food security, energy, water, agriculture and academia, education and health.
1. Indo-Israel strong relationship would directly impact the Indo-US relation which is seen as a new formed axis between India, Israel and the U.S.
2. It would also impact India’s long fought war against terrorism. It will help India to corner Pakistan in international State.
3. Strong bilateral relationship might boost India’s defence strategy.
4. India is also expecting to get a support from Israel in UNSE permanent membership.
5. It would also give India a special recognition in other international front like NATO, ASEAN, BRICS etc.
6. Farmers of India will benefit from Israeli expertise in drip irrigation. Many Start-ups in Hyderabad and Bangalore see Israeli agricultural firms as role models.
India has historically supported the independence cause of Palestinian state. Some experts have argued that a solo visit could seriously jeopardize India’s traditional stance. Till now, India has managed to preserve a pragmatic balancing act between regional players in the West Asian region. It would be difficult for India to ignore its crucial energy ties with Iran and the Gulf states. And one could also wonder that whether Indian Prime Minister’s solo visit would be able to achieve new tangible results.
Another challenge in front of India is New Delhi’s bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. India requires a firm endorsement of its candidature from the Arab countries. Those Arab countries form a large group in the UN General Assembly and they might not like to see India distancing itself from the Palestinian cause.
Israeli diplomats and politicians have been very candid about Israel’s close friendship with India. This favourable public reference to Israel makes present Indian government different from its predecessors in dealing with Israel. Positive signs appear with these developments between Israel and India. It is also visible in India’s discernible shift in Israel policy. Given this, it can be anticipated that India will succeed in delinking Indo-Israeli relations from domestic and international political concerns, and India’s relations with the Arab world.