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8.1] India Israel Relations

“The Indian and Israeli markets do not compete with one another but complete one another.”

  • Dr. Ron Malka, Ambassador of Israel to India,
India Israel Relations

Indo Israel relations in various sectors have been expanding robustly since diplomatic ties were established in 1992. Since then, the two sides have done well to focus on the colossal potential that exists in taking the partnership to the next level.

The bilateral relations hinge on three pegs i.e., economic, defence, and people-to-people contacts. From US$ 200 million in 1992 (comprising primarily of diamonds), Indo Israel trade diversified and reached US$ 10.77 billion (excluding defense) in FY 2022-23. Indian exports to Israel accounted for US$ 8.45 billion and Israeli merchandise exports to India at US$ 2.32 billion. While the merchandise trade is largely in favour of India, Israel has been the second largest defence supplier for India after Russia.

Culturally, India is known in Israel as an ancient nation with strong traditions. Young Israelis perceive India as an attractive tourist destination. Every year over 35 thousand tourists from Israel, visit India. Yoga, which originated in India, is also popular in Israel. Small Jewish communities have been living in India for centuries.

1. India Israel Historical Relations

India and Israel have always had puzzling relations. While the two countries share many common traits, it took them more than four decades to establish official diplomatic relations. P. R. Kumaraswamy, in his book “India’s Israel Policy,” reveals surprising inconsistencies in positions taken by various leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi, regarding Israel.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Harijan: “The cry for a national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. Why should they not, like other people on earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to English.”

Pandit Nehru carried forward the vision of Gandhi and opposed the creation of Israel at the United Nations conference in 1947.

In 1950 India officially recognized Israel but did not establish full diplomatic relations. India followed the non-aligned path and forged ties with many Arab states. The Indo Israel relationship was initially based on popular consensus and only later became an official one. India publicly kept a distance from Israel until the late 1980s, but there were many bilateral activities between the two countries.

Post Cold War, the demise of the USSR brought about a new era in India-Israel relations. India was dependent on USSR for its arms and military support and the disintegration of the USSR posed severe threats to India’s arms security. India had to shift towards Israel for arms import.

India opened an embassy in Tel Aviv in 1992, signifying a formally established, full diplomatic relationship. Since then, the bilateral relationship has grown at an astonishing pace. Both countries see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by neighbors that train, finance, and encourage terrorism. As a result, both countries also view their cooperative relationship as a strategic imperative.

There were also other reasons for India shifting towards Israel.

Firstly, the opening of India’s economy post-1991 reforms compelled India to leave its protectionist policy and start engaging with other countries of the world.

Secondly, Egypt, which led wars against Israel, signed a peace agreement in 1970s establishing diplomatic relations.

Thirdly, The Gulf Arab nations are lowering their priority on the Palestine issue, as frustration had grown for Palestine leaders because they criticize Arab countries for normalizing ties with Israel. Later even Palestine also agreed to a reconciliation with Israel. Hence, there was no point in India maintaining its rigid stance against Israel.

2. Present Status of Indo Israel Relations

“Out of the closet” has become the accepted phrase to qualify India and Israel’s growing strategic depth since Modi became the first sitting PM to visit Israel. The relationship between India and Israel is moving on an upward trajectory. PM Modi and Israeli’s PM Netanyahu share an excellent equation. They are working together to build strong connections between the institutions so that their relationship grows in all the sectors. As stated by PM Netanyahu, “India and Israel share a deep friendship that is evident in our collaborations.”

India’s growing influence in the international arena has inclined Israel towards India. Israel wants a growing strategic partnership with India. Both countries have more in common besides the trade and commerce relationship. In recent years, Israel has taken a strategic decision to strengthen economic relations with China, Japan, and India.

3. Indo Israel Areas of Cooperation

3.1 Agricultural Cooperation

Israel is well known for its climate resilient agriculture. Acknowledging this, India has chosen Israel as a strategic partner in the field of agriculture. Under a comprehensive Work Plan for cooperation in agriculture signed in 2006, agricultural cooperation between the two sides is formalized through 3-year Work plans. The sixth of such joint action plan (2021-23) was signed in May 2021.

Working together, so far, India and Israel have developed 29 operational Centres of Excellence (COEs) across India in 12 States, implementing Advanced-Intensive agriculture farms with Israeli Agro-Technology tailored to local conditions. These centres generate knowledge, demonstrate best practices and train farmers.

India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanization, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro- irrigation and post-harvest management particularly in Haryana and Maharashtra. Israeli drip irrigation technologies and products are now widely used in India.

3.2 Defence Collaboration

Defence and security collaboration is the key to the growing India-Israel ties. Israel being the second-largest source of defense equipment, accounts for over a billion dollars of defense purchases each year. India has purchased integrated underwater harbor defense and surveillance systems, surface-to-air missiles from Israel. Israel and India have continued to sign joint venture defense deals and collaborate with the ‘Make in India’ movement to manufacture defense equipment in India.

In 2021, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and it’s Israeli counterpart signed a Bilateral Innovation Agreement. The agreement facilitates the joint production of defence technology such as drones, robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum technology and other areas. Production is jointly funded by both agencies and all technologies developed under the agreement will be available for use by both India and Israel.

3.3 Counterterrorism

India’s stand against jihadist extremist and militant groups is in line with Israel’s stand on terrorism as both are targeted by the similar groups. Besides, both countries are expanding up counter-terrorism cooperation and sharing real-time intelligence on issues crucial to national security.

3.4 Space Collaboration

India and Israel signed a cooperative agreement promoting space collaboration in 2002. Since then, Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) are collaborating on using satellites to improve land and other resources. India has successfully launched TecSAR and RISAT-2 radar imaging satellites of Israel from the PSLV of ISRO.

3.5 P2P Relations

India Israel people to people relations predate G2G relations. In Israel, India is known as an ancient nation with strong cultural traditions, and an attractive tourist destination. Around 3500 Israelis visit India every year, whereas around 50000 Indian visit Israel each year. There are also direct flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.

Several private and public Indian universities have entered into academic agreement with their Israeli counterparts. The Government of Israel also offers short term summer scholarships for Indian students. India offers ICCR scholarships to Israelis every year for various courses in Indian institutions.

There are approximately 85,000 Jews of Indian-origin in Israel (with at least one Indian parent), who are all Israeli passport holders Further, there are about 14,000 Indian citizens in Israel, employed in various professions like diamond traders, IT professionals, students and also care-givers employed by Israeli elders to take care of them.

4. Impediments in India Israel Relationship

Israel and China’s growing closeness and cooperation in various sectors influence Israel- India relations. China is the second-largest trading partner of Israel, while India occupies the seventh position. Israel has also agreed to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Asian infrastructure, and Investment bank. Israel and China also signed agreements on cooperation in tourism.

The Israeli-Palestinian ongoing conflict has also affected India’s relation with Israel. India’s support for Palestine is an integral part of India’s Foreign Policy. India has always been active in supporting Palestinian rights across various multilateral forums. As MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, India has been consistently supportive of the Palestinian cause and has called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Because India maintains its stance on the Palestine issue, relations between India and Israel may get affected.

Further, India’s over-reliance on Gulf countries is also a potential hurdle in India Israel relations. Arab countries provide huge remittances, energy and hosts large Indian diaspora. India cannot pursue our relations with Israel at the cost of Gulf.

5. Scholarly Perspective

5.1 C Rajamohan

“The approach of current government is transparent and more confident. There was no need to hide closeness with Israel. 1) Israel is critical for conventional and non-conventional security of India. India can get high technology weapons at a much cheaper prize.  2) Israel has expertise in servicing Soviet weapons.  3) Israel has expertise in controlling cross border terrorism.  4) Israel is also important for food security. It has expertise in climate resilient farming. Thus, Israel is natural ally for India.”

5.2 Nicolas Blarel

“The strategic partnership is a rhetoric. There is no scope for natural ally, they are placed in different security situations. They do not even have common enemies. There are ‘obvious constraints’ on their strategic relations and regional pressures over India will prevent India from taking neutral position.”

6. Future of Indo Israel Relations

Israel recognizes India as a ‘true friend’, Ron Malka reiterates this by calling the relationship a very “emotional one” as well as appreciating the presence of a natural “mutual trust and affections.”

According to journalist Seth J Frantzman, Israel sees India as the key country and wants a growing strategic partnership with India. Both Israel and India are seen as oases of democracy in tough neighborhoods, both are leading industrial powers, and both seek to cooperate other in different sectors. Analysts predict that both Israel and India will develop warmer relations in the near future.

We can see greater cooperation between India, Israel, and the US on defense technology and strategic issues. However, at the same time, Israel will continue to work with China, and India must learn to live with that.

Posted in PSIR NOTES

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