“The Indian and Israeli markets do not compete with one another but complete one another.”Dr. Ron Malka, Ambassador of Israel to India,
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- economic, defence, and people-to-people contacts. The mutual trade between the two countries touched $5 billion in 2019. India is Israel’s seventh-largest trading partner. Israel has also been the second-largest defence supplier for India after Russia and both countries also cooperate on counter-terrorism issues.
Culturally, India is known in Israel as an ancient nation with strong traditions. Small Jewish communities have been living in India for centuries. Young Israelis perceive India as an attractive tourist destination. Every year around 30-35 thousand tourists from Israel visit India. Yoga, which originated in India, is also popular in Israel.
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 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 relationship between both the countries 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 neighbours 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 up 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.
Lastly, Israel supported India militarily in the Indo-China and Indo-Pak War. There has always been backchannel engagement between the two countries.
PRESENT RELATIONS BETWEEN INDIA AND ISRAEL
“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. PM Netanyahu stated, “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.
KEY AREAS OF COLLABORATION AND COORDINATION!
Trade and cooperation between the countries focus primarily on security-related deals and aid in areas such as agriculture and water desalination.
India is collaborating with Israel for an agriculture project, which aims to set up centers of excellence for India’s agriculture. Israeli technology has also been useful in turning Haryana into a major mango-producing state. Ambassador of Israel Dr. Ron Malka stated that- With agriculture being the backbone of the Indian economy, Israel wants to share its achievements and developments as well as mistakes to support the country, just as friends do.
The key to the growing India-Israel ties, however, is in the realm of security and defense. 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.
India’s stand against jihadist extremist and militant groups is in line with Israel’s stand on terrorism as both are targeted by the same groups. Besides, both countries are expanding up counter-terrorism cooperation and sharing real-time intelligence on issues crucial to national security.
Despite the Coronavirus outbreak, India and Israel’s friendship continued to shine. India also exempted Israel from the export ban and allowed Israel to import pharmaceuticals raw materials from India. The countries jointly developed a rapid COVID 19 testing technology to give test results in less than a minute.
India and Israel signed a cooperative agreement promoting space collaboration in 2002. Since then Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (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.
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 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.
FUTURE OF INDO ISRAEL
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 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.