India-Israel Relations

This article deals with ‘India-Israel Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here .

Brief History

JL Nehru

  • Israel-Palestine conflict was one of the first issues that independent India had to deal with in the UN .
  • Before  vote in General Assembly,  Nehru received a letter from Albert Einstein requesting India’s support for resolution on partition of Palestine. Nehru answered that India could not support this . Nehru favoured the idea of a united Palestine and not one divided by religion. Perhaps he was influenced by our own experience of partition and strongly favoured a federation of two states .
  • India recognised the state of Israel soon after it was created in 1948 but it did not establish diplomatic relations .
  • Hence, Nehru was neutral supporting Arabs and accommodating the Jews.

Indira Gandhi

  • India adopted a hardcore pro-Palestine stance.
  • Although Arab nations supported Pakistan while Israel supported India in 1965 and 1971 wars, India branded Israel as aggressor in  Six Days War (1967) and Yom Kippur war (1973).

Rajiv Gandhi

  • Rajiv Gandhi, educated at Cambridge University, signaled a fresh Indian approach towards Israel and though unable to reverse the traditional Indian pro- Arab foreign policy completely, initiated a number of moves in favour of Israel.
  • He also held a meeting with Shimon Peres, his Israeli counterpart, at a UN session in 1985.
  • In 1987, allowed the Israeli Tennis team to play in India at the Davis cup.

PV Narsimha Rao

He established full diplomatic relations (1992) . Reasons for this were as follows

  1. In 1990-91, there were internal divisions in the Arab world related to the Gulf War. In the Kuwait crisis, PLO supported Iraq while Arabs supported Kuwait.
  2. Domestically in India, the economy needed a push and USA was the only country that could give India the needed financial muscle. India understood that the US financial assistance is tied to India opening up its relationship with Israel.
  3. Jordan (in 1991) and Egypt (in Camp David Accord-1978) has already signed a peace treaty with Israel.
  4.  China too gave diplomatic recognition to Israel.
  5. Arab countries through OIC were trying to internationalise Kashmir Issue .

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

  • Expansion of India-Israel relations in several fields, including defence.  Israel supplied, much needed ammunition to India during the Kargil War .
  • India continued to extend her support to the Palestinian cause, although the intensity had diminished.

Manmohan Singh

  • Vastly expanded relations with Israel, especially in the defence sector and this undoubtedly had some impact on India’s stand on Palestine.  While India continued to vote in favour of the UN resolutions, it stopped co-sponsoring many of them.

Narendra Modi

Policy of Dehyphenation

India wants to maintain its relationship with both Palestine and Israel, and strengthen bilateral ties with each separately.

Instances showing this

  • PM Modi made standalone visit to Israel without travelling to Palestine and later also made standalone visit to Palestine without travelling to Israel (both first such instances).
  • India increased its trade and security partnership with Israel but also  voted at the UN General Assembly against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
  • Tilt towards Israel but without being hostile to Palestine.

Decoding this bonhomie

  • India using Dehypenation Policy to secure her national interests  .
  • There are three players in Middle East i.e.
    • Israel : Jew
    • Saudi Arabia : Sunni
    • Iran : Shia
    • By engaging with all without favouring any, India would be seen as a non partisan party in that area.
  • Palestine issue is hanging since 6 decades and is not the main issue in Muslim world now. It has been taken over by Shia- Sunni rivalry epitomised in Syria & Yemen civil war. India is using this opportunity to rebalance it’s relations .
  • Military support provided by Israel since the Kargil conflict of 1999 and  assistance provided by Israel in agricultural and water technologies to some Indian states has led to  direct interactions between Indian state governments  .
  • Both regimes i.e. Netanyahu and Modi are ultra nationalist in character .
  • Israel, only non-Muslim nation in Middle East can be important ally in fight against ISIS.

Why Israel matters a lot to India ?

1 . Defence Cooperation

  • India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the third -largest defence supplier to India after Russia & USA .
  • Israel has supplied ammunition during Kargil War and Howitzer guns during 1962 war .
  • Israel has also pledged support to the ‘Make in India’ mission in the defence sector . Israel has vast experience in the Military Industrial Complex which they had developed indigenously and therefore was not bound by End User Licensing Agreements (EULA).
  • To make our borders safe, India intends to use hi-tech anti-infiltration systems used by Israel  .
  • RAW and Mossad has links that goes back to 1968 when RAW was created. India has cooperated with Mossad to get vital intelligence about radical Islamic groups. The Field Officers of RAW  are also trained by Mossad today.  In 19767, Mossad even trained Indian Field Officers of RAW to carry out air strikes to destroy the Pakistani Kahuta plant where RAW had found out secret nuclear enrichment done by Pakistan to develop a nuclear bomb.
  • India has acquired large number of defence equipment including
    1. Heron-I drones
    2. M-46 field guns
    3. Barak 8 LRSAM Missiles
    4. Spyder anti-aircraft missiles
    5. Spike Anti-Tank Missiles
    6. Phalcon AWACS
    7. Night vision technologies

2. Agricultural Cooperation

  • India is a water stressed nation with annual per capita availability of water being less than 1500 cubic meters. Israel is also a water scarce nation with per capita availability of water less than 200 cubic meters, yet, is an agriculture exporter to the European Union. It has achieved this fiat as Israel has become the global leader in drip irrigation and has pioneered the desert agriculture .
  • Many states have signed MoUs in field of agriculture
    • Maharashtra : To address farming crisis in Vidarbha & Marathwada
    • Rajasthan : To developing Olive Plantation
  • Israel has also setup Indo-Israel Agriculture Project Centre in Karnal .

3. Water  Management

  • Israel’s expertise includes
    • drip irrigation
    • recycling of urban wastewater 
    • desalinisation of seawater 
  • IDE, an Israeli company, has built several desalination plants in India, including Chennai.

4. Trade Relations

  • India’s total trade with Israel is $6.06 billion in 2014 with trade balance  in India’s favour  (57%) .
    • Exports : Mineral fuels and oils 
    • Imports : natural or cultured pearls and precious stones, worth $1.20 billion. 
  • Since 2010, the two countries have been negotiating a free-trade agreement for goods and services .

5. Tourism

  • India is among the favourite tourist destinations for Israelis.
  • Kasol Valley is known as Mini-Israel & Goa is also among the favourite spots.

6. Startups

  • Israel is a country of Startups and thus, its expertise and advice on Start up India Programme could definitely give a boost to this programme.

7. Space Cooperation

  • ISRO & Israeli Space Agency are cooperating on number of projects
  • India and Israel signed MoU on Atomic Clocks which is of importance in GPS Satellites (used in NAVIC / IRNSS System).
  • India and Israel has also signed MoU on electric propulsion for small satellites.

8. River Clean-up

  • Israel has high tech technology for cleaning rivers which can be used in Namami Gange Project.  

9. Others

  • Israel has backed India’s entry to the UN Security Council as a permanent member.

Side Topic  : Abrahamic Accords

2020 : UAE and Israel signed a US-brokered agreement that has come to be known as the ‘Abraham Accord’.  According to the Accord, UAE and Israel would establish formal diplomatic relations and in exchange, Israel would suspend its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

India-Israel Relations

Reason for signing the Accord

  • Iran Factor : Sunni powers like UAE consider Iran as their major adversary instead of Israel in the changed political scenario.
  • Need to reorient their economies: To diversify petrodollar fueled economy,  Arab states need to invest in technology driven sectors. Israel being the leader in technology in West Asia can aid Arab states.
  • Need to address threat of political Islam: It is a transnational concept often embodied by the Muslim Brotherhood and one which certain Gulf Arab rulers view as an existential threat to their dynastic monarchies.

Implications on India

Positive implications

  • It has raised the hope of peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act.
  • It will result in peace in the Middle East and is beneficial for large Indian diaspora living in the Middle East.
  •  Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism and Free Economic Zones. This sector is stand to gain due to the rapprochement between Israel and UAE.

Negative implications

  • Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to UAE (and Arab countries), particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic. This will increase the competition for Indian diaspora in the Middle East.