India – Israel Relationship

Background of Israel-Middle East problems

Israel according to Old Testament of Bible is holy land of Jews in Levant. However today’s Israel comprises of transplanted European Jews in middle east. The problem is compounded by the fact that Levant which Israel occupies is holy land for both Christian and Muslims. Warfare over these lands is more than millennium old. During World War I – British foreign minister promised support for Jews homeland in Palestine (which was under British impearlism at the time) in exchange of Jews support to war effort. This started the migration of Jews to Palestine. This migration was resented by already settled Arab Palestinians and led to strife and near civil war. However after World War II the plight of Jews who were subjected to holocaust leading to murder of over 6 million by Nazis brought them wide spread sympathy. Moreover to seek solution of ‘Jew Problem’ European nations divided the Levant and gave Jews their ‘promised homeland’ Israel. This founding of Israel in Levant has been resented by Arabs since inception and has led to many wars – which by sheer ingenuity, bravery and generous aid from western countries Israel has won handidly.

Today Israel controls the holy city of Jerusalem where Muslims believes their prophet ascended to heaven hence is holy place for them. Jerusalem is also holy for Christian and Jews hence there is internecine warfare over Jerusalem.

Recently under conservative Prime Minister Netanyahu Israel has adopted policy of resettlement of Jews in captured land of Golan Heights thus tearing up peace treaty with Palestine Liberation Organization and leading to isolation of Israel in traditional supporter countries of western Europe and US. This has forced Israel to loo beyond its traditional allies towards India. India too needs a reliable defence partner who can supply it with sensitive defense tech which US won’t provide and its traditional partner Russia lacks. India has also emerged as a ‘relaxation’ destination for decommissioned Israel teenagers from its armed forces (Israel has conscription policy where all teenagers attaining age 18 have to serve mandatory 2 years in army). This increase co-operation with Israel flowered during the days of Kargil Skirimsh where Israel rushed to provide India with advanced weaponry like radars, artillery which played instrumental role in quick victory of Indian forces over strategically better placed Northern Light infantry of Pakistan. This defense cooperation laid grounds of future collaboration between India and Israel. Today both country enjoy significant partnership in defense, economic, technological and civilian partnership this has been cemented by high level state visits.

One of the Israel’s public concern has been India treats its as ‘mistress’ where it has relationship with it but is shy of coming out in public. However recently Indian leadership has been forthcoming about its Israel connections and many top level dignitary like President Mukherjee have visited Israel. Last year EAM Sushma Swaraj announced intention of PM Modi’s state visit to Israel. While it has been welcomed in many quarters but has also attracted angst from many.

Traditionally India has always enjoyed good relations with Palestine. In fact, the ties go back to the pre-Independence days. However, the past two decades have witnessed India embark on a strategic partnership with Israel after nearly four decades of diplomatic estrangement. For most of its pre- and post-Independence history, India saw the Israel- Palestine conflict through an ideological prism, pursued a foreign policy antagonistic towards the Jewish State, and refused to grant Israel full diplomatic recognition until 1992, the last major non-Muslim country to do so.

Reason of past Anti-Israeli stance of India

New Delhi had maintained an unfriendly posture towards Israel since Independence. Several factors contributed to this like – The fear of alienating its large Muslim population. Israel brings forth wide spread fears, sectarian feeling among Muslims . Cause of this forceful transplanting European Jews in Levant and capture of holy city Jerusalem by them. Another factor was cold War politics – Israel was supported by NATO nations of western Europe and US while Arab nations till Nasser were supported by USSR. In bid to to counter Pakistan’s clout in the Muslim world and to garner Arab support for its position over the Kashmir issue compelled New Delhi to pursue an exclusively pro-Arab and thus pro-Palestinian foreign policy for more than 40 years.

Change in Indian policy

After more than four decades of hostility, a host of developments, especially the end of the Cold War, forced New Delhi to change its stance towards Israel.

This re-evaluation has been based on a realization that India’s largely pro-Arab stance in the Middle East has not been adequately reciprocated and rewarded by the Arab world. India received not much backing from Arab countries in the resolution of problems it faces in its neighborhood, especially Kashmir. There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir. On the contrary, Arab nations have firmly stood by Pakistan, using the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to build support for Islamabad and jihadi groups in Kashmir.

Moreover if Arab Jordan could begin new relationship with Israel while supporting Palestine cause so could India do it has become the new hypothesis in strategic circles.

A New Beginning

After Israel and PLO armistice and recgnition of two state solution formally, India extended full diplomatic recognition to Israel in 1992. Ties between the two countries have flourished since then. According to an Israeli foreign ministry report, India is the most pro-Israel nation, ahead of even the US. The two natural allies have made counter-terrorism and military cooperation a part of their bilateral relations. New Delhi has benefited from Israel’s expertise in counter-terrorism training and border security, while Israel has emerged as one of India’s most important sources of sophisticated military equipment and weapons systems. Bilateral economic cooperation as well as collaboration in the fields of space research, trade, science and technology and education are thriving.


Major Diplomatic Initiatives

In 1997, Israel President Ezer Weizman became the first head of the Jewish State to visit India. He met Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma, Vice-President KR Narayanan and Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. Weizman negotiated the first weapons deal between the two countries — India bought Barak-1, a vertically-launched surface -to- air missile that has the ability to intercept anti- ship missiles such as the Harpoon.

In 2000, Jaswant Singh became the first Indian foreign minister to visit Israel. Following the trip, the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission. They also promised to intensify cooperation in fields such as counter-terrorism and information technology.

In 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit India when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government was in power.

New Delhi has continued to share cordial ties with Israel without diluting its ties with the Palestinians. Hence, it has managed to deftly pursue both parties in tandem.


Burgeoning ties

PM Modi and PM Netanyahu met at sidelines of UNGA Sep 2015

India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defense supplier to India after Russia. From 1999 to 2009, the military business between the two nations was worth around $9 billion. Military and strategic ties between the two nations extend to intelligence sharing on terrorist groups and joint military training.

India-Israel two-way trade in 2014 increased by 3.81% from US$ 4.35 billion in 2013 to US$ 4.52 billion in 2014 (excluding defense). Balance of including diamonds in 2014 was in Israel’s favor by US$ 45 million. In 2014 India was Israel’s 10th largest import source of Israel including diamonds and 8th largest export destination including diamonds. As of 2015, the two nations are negotiating an extensive bilateral free trade agreement, focusing on areas such as information technology, biotechnology, and agriculture.


With NDA government in power in India who have traditionally favored closer ties with Israel and US the close relationship with Israel is out in open public discourse. While there is some opposition to closer ties with Israel in Urdu press of India but politically it enjoys cross spectrum support. In defense India has moved beyond supplier-buyer relationship   and is trying to achieve co-development partner for new technology as it has been done with Russia in few area like development of BrahMos missiles. India- Israel ties are set to go in higher orbit with purported PM Modi vist to Israel this year. However there is question being asked in strategic circles of attractiveness of such move as Israel is increasingly being isolated internationally due to its hard-line position against resuming negotiation with Palestine on two state solution and festering conflict in middle east.


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