An Era of India-Israel Relations By Kunika Khera
The recent three-day[i] visit by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi to Israel has proven to be a historic one with the countries signing 7 pacts[ii]. This has been hailed as an important diplomatic mission for India and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has also shown his eagerness to improve the ties between the two nations. However, little is known about the history shared between the two developing countries and the kind of rapport that existed between the two in the past.
India and Israel have shared a long and complicated history. India’s attitude towards Israel was affected by various element such as India’s own partition due to religion and its’ other international relations. Many leaders were also sympathetic to the Jews and the Israeli cause. It was on 17 September 1950 when India officially recognised Israel as an independent state. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel in 1992, bilateral trade and economic relations progressed rapidly.[iii]
In 1962 and 1965, it was Israel who provided India with arms when it was attacked by China and was also facing an arms boycott from US and the Soviet Union. Similarly, in 1971, when India was involved with Pakistan in a war, Indira Gandhi had asked the then Israeli PM, Golda Mier, for military support. The country diverted the weapons ordered by Iran and sent them to India.[iv] Israel had also offered in 1983 to carry out an aerial strike to destroy Kahuta reactor and the developing nuclear weapons programme by Pakistan for India.
It was the year of 1992 when the former Indian PM, PV Narsimha Rao decided to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel so as to create an alternative arms and weapon source for India at a time when the Soviet Union was itself struggling for its survival. The question arises what took India so many years of establishing an expressed relationship with Israel, even though it had recognised it in 1950.
The relationship between remained unofficial during this time. The reason behind India’s conscious and apprehensive outlook was due to various reasons. The government feared that their support of Israel would infuriate the Muslims in the country. Along with this, India also did not want to antagonise the other Arab countries who provided for most of the foreign exchange reserves and oil reserves to the country. The hegemony of Indian National Congress(INC) was another cause of the government’s reluctance as the major leaders of the party felt that Israel was a result of religious conflict which reminded them of India’s own partition in 1947.[v] All these factors hindered the road to alliance between the two states.
However, soon, PV Narsimha Rao realised the need for this alliance and its’ strategic importance for India. In 1997, for the first time, the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, visited India. In 2008, the two countries went on to form a joint terror commission.[vi] Eventually, the two countries saw various diplomats and ministers visiting and exchanging dialogues with the aim of developing a better partnership on the defence, agricultural and commercial fronts.
A research in 2009 found that 58% Indians showed sympathy to the Jewish State in comparison to the 56% Americans.[vii] President Rivlin in 2016, stated that India had assured that “the time will come they will never, never, ever let anyone [act against] the existence of Israel”[viii]. From US$ 200 million in 1992 (comprising primarily of diamonds), merchandise trade diversified and reached USD 4.16 billion (excluding defence) in 2016.[ix]
But no diplomatic mission has been as successful as the present one. This meeting has elevating their alliance from mere friendship to ‘strategic partnership’. Benjamin Netanyahu hailed this as a match made in heaven.[x] This meeting has resulted in signing of 7 agreements with focus on collaboration, countering terrorism, and trading intelligence.
Such efforts can be attributed to the Narendra Modi government. Sushma Swaraj, the current foreign minister had also visited Israel last year. David Carmon, ambassador of Israel to India had remarked that though the relationship between the two countries has been developing during the past 25 years, it has become more visible under the Modi government.[xi]
What the dynamics shall be shared by the two countries in the future remains unknown; but since the alliance has raised the attention of the international community, something must be done right.
[i] The visit is from July 4 to July 6.
[ii] SukumarMurlidharan, There are Dangers for India in Modi’s Embrace of Israel, The Wire, https://thewire.in/154265/modi-israel-netanyahu/, 6/7/2017, 19:47.
[iii] India-Israel Economic and Commercial Relations, Embassy of India, Tel Aviv, Israel, https://www.indembassy.co.il/pages.php?id=14#.WV5HWYiGM2w, 6/7/2017, 19:57.
[iv] Pramit Pal Chaudhari, India, Israel have deep defence ties, Hindustan Times, Page-12, 6/7/2017.
[v] Harsh V. Pant, India-Israel Partnership, http://www.rubincenter.org/meria/2004/12/pant.pdf, 6/7/2017, 22:25.
[vi] Jaswant Singh was the first Foreign Minister to visit Israel.
[vii] Itamar Eichner, From India With Love, YNet News, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3696887,00.html, 7/7/2017, 08:06.
[viii] TovahLazaroff, India won’t let anyone threaten Israel’s right to exist, The Jerusalem Post, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Rivlin-to-Post-India-wont-let-anyone-threaten-Israels-right-to-exist-473410, 6/7/2017, 22:43.
[ix] For further information of commercial and economic relations between the two nations see Supra Note 3.
[x] Shishir Gupta, I for I, Hindustan Times, Page-1, 6/7/2017.
[xi] Santosh Chaubey, India-Israel Relations over the years, India Today, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/india-israel-relations-narendra-modi-kargil-independence/1/993642.html, 7/7/2017, 8:15.
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