Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel with the trip expected later this year. During his electoral campaign, he was labelled as “Israel’s best friend in South Asia.”[i] Israel has risen in India’s diplomatic agenda and will continue to do so under PM Modi. Israel’s ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon stated that while the relationship between the two countries has evolved in the last 25 years, it has become “more visible” over the last one and a half years.[ii]
Israel and India established full diplomatic relations in 1992. Ever since, there has been a steady strengthening of relations. The two countries have been working together on counter-terrorism, defence, agriculture, water and energy sectors. Trade has grown from $200 million in 1992 to over $5 billion in 2015 and the defence relationship has also deepened with India buying $662 million in arms since PM Modi’s ascendancy to power in 2014. India is the world’s largest buyer of Israeli weaponry and is Israel’s third largest trading partner in Asia, just after China and Hong Kong.[iii] The two countries facing similar instances of cross border terrorism has also been a factor in drawing them closer to each other. They have also been negotiating a free trade agreement, and trying to increase mutual investments. Israel has helped India on many occasions. It was willing to continue and even step up its arms sales to India after other major countries curbed their technological exports following India’s 1998 nuclear tests. It also provided India with much-needed imagery about Pakistani positions using its UAVs during the Kargil War in 1999 which proved instrumental for India. More recently, former Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni also stated that “if they need us, we will help India where needed” in light of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008.[iv]
Increasing ties with Israel does come with one tricky setback, relations with Palestine and the Arab world. Even though India has successfully managed to pursue diplomatic relations with conflicting countries independent of each other, India may face more difficulty in this instance. The country’s decision to abstain twice from voting on a resolution in the United Nations which called on Israel to face the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed during the Gaza conflict did come as a shock to the Palestinian officials. They saw it as a departure from India’s historical support for Palestine, especially since India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s authority over the Palestinian people. Even a statement by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee where he assured that “Our bilateral relations with Israel are independent of our relations with Palestine” may not be enough to convince the latter.[v] India did, however, end up voting in favour of a new Palestine-backed resolution that sets up a database of Israeli and international firms working in the illegal Israeli settlements.[vi]
The governments tilt towards supporting Israel and furthering ties could also stem from the fact that India has received no worthwhile backing from Arab countries in the resolution of problems it faces in its neighbourhood, especially Kashmir. There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to control the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir. Instead, Arab nations have firmly stood by Pakistan, using the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to build support for Islamabad and jihadi groups in Kashmir.[vii] Thus, there is no reason why India should not pursue ties with Israel, who is a leader in defence and security technology.
This tilt could however hamper India’s bid towards permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council as it would be banking on endorsement from the Arab countries. Due to the recent happenings in the Middle East, Israel will surely want to further ties with India, despite its historical support of Palestine. The growing threat to Indian security will also ensure that the Indian government will try and reap as much as they can from Israel’s military expertise. The Indian government will have to cautiously play its cards in order to balance between Israel and Palestine, though it will not hamper relations with Israel as the Arab countries will not be able to replace what Israel can offer to the country.
[i] Nicolas Blarel, 19th February 2015, The Myth of India’s ‘Shift’ Towards Israel, The Diplomat, http://thediplomat.com/2015/02/the-myth-of-indias-shift-toward-israel/
[ii] Subhajit Roy, 14th January 2016, 24 years on, why India looks set to finally come out of the closet on Israel, The Indian Express, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/in-fcat-why-india-looks-set-to-finally-come-out-of-the-closet-on-israel/
[iii] Harsh V. Pant, 26th January 2016, Why India Is Getting Serious About Its Relationship With Israel, The Diplomat, http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/why-india-is-getting-serious-about-its-relationship-with-israel/
[iv] Ronen Medzini, 27th November 2008, ‘We’ll help India where needed’- Livni, ynet news, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3629955,00.html
[v] Kedira Pethiyagoda, 3rd November 2015, How India can maintain its delicate Israel-Palestine balancing act, Brookings India, http://www.brookings.in/how-india-can-maintain-its-delicate-israel-palestine-balancing-act/
[vi] Devirupa Mitra, 26th March 2016, India Votes Against Israel on Key Settlements Resolution, but Abstains Again on War Crimes, The Wire, http://thewire.in/26075/india-votes-against-israel-on-key-settlements-resolution-but-abstains-again-on-war-crimes/
[vii] Dhirenn Nair, 16th January 2016, India’s Israel Disconnect: Rhetoric vs. Reality, The Diplomat, http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/indias-israel-disconnect-rhetoric-vs-reality/