India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992. Since then, the bilateral relationship between the two countries has grown stronger. The countries have worked closely at economic, military, agricultural and political levels. Both India and Israel see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by neighbours that train, finance and encourage terrorism and this has propelled them to view their cooperative relationship as a strategic imperative.
Early bilateral relations
In 1950, India had allowed an Israeli immigration officein Mumbai to facilitate the voluntary immigration ofIndian Jews to Israel. Internationally, India publicly maintained a distance from Israel till 1980. Subsequently, it gaveIsraelde-jurerecognition and allowed Israel to maintain a consulate in Mumbai.
Indians have travelled to Israel for courses and trainings in departments like irrigation and technology. Weapons supplied by Israel have helped India edge ahead of Pakistan during the Kargil war in 1999. Israel had also sent an IDF emergency response delegation to India to provide humanitarian relief and treatment for the victims, following the 2001 earthquake.
India has become one of Israel’s largest trading partners and many of the world’s leading high-tech companiesin Israel and India are forging joint ventures that are successfully competing in the global market. Trade and cooperation between the countries is based primarily on security-related deals. In the early 2000s, the Indian army declared its intention to implement a modernisation programme. Since then, military deals with Israel have grown exponentially. Today, India is the top export target of Israel’s defence industries. Agriculture and water desalination are the other two areas of cooperation. As of July 2013, India-Israel trade had risen to approximately $6 billion (approx.) a year. Defence and diamond deals between the two countries amounted to $4.13 billion during 2016.
Problems and prospects in India and Israel relations
Israel is predominantly a Jewish state with a troubled relation with its Muslim neighbour, Palestine. India, on the other hand is a secular country with a large population ofMuslims. Nehru was predominantly a supporter of the Arab cause and was hesitant in accepting Israel as a new state. It took more than two years for India to recognise Israel as a new formed country. In contrast, India was the first non-Arab state to recognise the “State of Palestine” in 1988 and in2012 it called for Palestinian statehood to be recognised by the United Nations.
Interestingly, India’s relationship with Israel has alwaysthrived under the reign of the right wing BJP andIsrael has been considered a highly significant supplier of defence arms. Israel proved to be an important ally during the Kargil war.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel has changed things. It marks a transition in India’s history. India has finally gone all out in announcing its critically important relationship with Israel. Modi is determined to boost the country’s military expertise and build a sophisticated, world-class military force. Israel has emerged as the third most important arms-exporter after US and Russia, and is said to be supplying arms worth about $1 billion a year to India.
In April 2016, India signed a $2 billion missile defence deal with Israel for purchasing sophisticatedmedium-range surface-to-air missile systems (MRSAM). Last year, India signed two important deals with Israel’s Aerospace Industries that manufactures defence systems.
According to Manoj Joshi, Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and a senior journalist, “Modi and Netanyahu probably see each other as birds of a feather. Both are right-wing and revel in muscular policies both at home and abroad, though in Netanyahu’s case, the posture is an outcome of his dependence on extreme right-wing parties.” Added to this is Modi’s decision to de-hyphenate the Palestinian relationship by avoiding a visit to Ramallah, the Palestinian headquarters. This will definitely bring about a change in the long standing India Palestine relations and bring Israelcloser to India.
On the other hand, Israel sees Iran as an existential threat. To curb this threat, it has done everything to get the US on board and has cherished the US actions under Trump against the nuclear programme of Iran. Iran, on the other hand, forms an important part of India’s geopolitical aspirations. Iran’s location and the Chah Bahar and International North South Transportation Corridor projects will offer New Delhi a means of countering China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR), which has a part moving through the PoK. This visit by Modi is a small but interesting part of a bigger picture. It has the potential to re-chart the nature of relationship India has with West Asia .