by Vinod Narayanan
“The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth” the words are from Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu while his visit to India on January 2018 both Nations have bilateral ties in trade Science and Technology military supplies extract covering almost all facets of international affairs.
Trade and cultural exchange activities between Israel and the Indian subcontinent begin in the 10th century that is during the reign of King Solomon. Ancient procedures of Commerce and Maritime communication have been inscribed in the document of Periplus of the Erythraean sea (a manuscript that lists the ports, landmarks, trading opportunities laws of ports, etc.).
Trade and Commerce flourished between the two countries until the European Imperial forces colonized India. India and Israel had fought a common Imperial enemy the British. India had to suffer centuries of colonialism but the British occupied Jerusalem slave in 2oth century only, 9th of December 1917 precisely and withdrew on 14th May 1948. After India’s Independence though, India have many common traits with Israel it took nearly four decades to set up a formal and cordial diplomatic relation. Ignoring the facts such as both Nations become independent almost the same chronological time. India and Israel followed the democratic form of administration in a neighbourhood where democracy is a vague Idea or nonexistent.
India Government during that period led by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru abstained from recognising Israel till 1950 and voted against the partition of Palestine plan of 1947 and also voted against Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1949.
Pic 1: Mr. Netanyahu and Mrs. Netanyahu with P.M Modi at Gujarat
This non-recognition phase of the Nehru led Indian government arose due to various political apprehensions which can be classified into four reasons.
The government on the ideological stance opposed Israel due to the perception that it was a state based on religion, symmetrical to the creation of Pakistan.
Indian Independence leader Mahatma Gandhi believed use had a good case and a prior claim for Israel, but or post the creation of Israel on religious terms. This ideology was also adopted by Indian National Congress, the majority Party which was ruling the Centre.
India was one among the founders of non aligned movement along with President Nasser of Egypt and several Arab Countries were its members at 1961, Egypt opposed the creation of Israel, and the two neighbours were having territorial and other political issues. So, establishing ties with the newly formed Jewish State would not have been considered a cordial move by neither Egypt nor the Arab countries which sympathize with the Palestinian cause.
As a young nation, India had to take account Arab Nation’s numerical impact at the United Nations.
Another obstacle in the way of India Israel’s diplomatic ties was India’s close relations with the Soviet Union( now Russia) since during the cold war period and before Israel in client towards the United States led Capitalist block.
The then India government had to present sympathy towards Palestine and the Palestinian cause abstaining from the political ties with Israel to avoid vexing the Muslim population residing in India.
Various Indian politicians who are ideologically right inclined or Centre from right, sympathize with the creation of Israel. Veer Savarkar supported the creation of Israel on both moral and political grounds and condemned India’s vote against Israel at the UN. Guruji Madhav Sadashiv Golwalker appreciated and applauded the aspirations of Israelite Nationhood.
India did not want to jeopardize the large number of its citizens working in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, who were helping India maintain its foreign-exchange reserves. India’s domestic need for energy was another reason for the lack of normalization of ties with Israel, in terms of safeguarding the flow of oil from Arab nations.
India officially recognised Israel on 17th September 1950.
Pic 2: Bollywood actors and directors take a selfie with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah in Mumbai.
Jawaharlal Nehru as the then Prime Minister stated
” we would have recognised Israel, long ago because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries”
Israel was permitted to open a consulate in Bombay (now Mumbai). India – Israel relations strengthened on and after 1992. After decades of non-aligned and Pro-Arab policy, India had formally established full-fledged relations with Israel when it opened an Embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992. The major reason for the sudden change of policy is due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist bloc. The Indian economy also liberalized during this period.
Another significant breakthrough in this regard is the Madrid conference that was held in 1991, this conference aimed to revive the Israel-Palestinian peace process through negotiation involving Arab Nations and Israel. Other similar developments include the 1993 Israel-Palestine Oslo accord and the 1994 Israel- Jordan peace agreement. These peace negotiations helped India to form close ties with Israel.
Pic 3: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel President Reuvan Rivlin during the visit of 2017.
In 2017, prime minister Narendra Modi became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. At that historical event Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his welcoming speech summary of the formula for success as “I2 T2”. Which meant Indian talent times Israeli Technology, it equals Israel- India’s tie for tomorrow.
Later, when Mr. Narendra Modi met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, he in what seems to be a response to the previous comment by Mr. Netanyahu said that “I for I” is “India for Israel”. ” I with I” is “India with Israel”, Indians feel that Israel means Israel is a real friend.
From the statements of world leaders, it is precisely clear that ends enhancement of bilateral ties is a vision of both nations in the future.
During the 2017 visit of PM Narendra Modi, Seven agreements/MOU s were signed in the areas of research and development, innovation regarding water supply, agriculture, Science and Technology, military supplies, and space research.
In 2018 when the Israeli Prime Minister visited India in a government to government(G2G) , agreement on cybersecurity, oil and gas cooperation, transport were signed along with five other Semi government agreements. Mr. Netanyahu also met Bollywood Actors and Directors at a function held in Mumbai during this visit.
Military and Strategic bilateral ties
India’s arms trade with Israel had reached almost $600 million in 2016, making Israel the second-largest source of defense equipment for India, after Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report, Israel is the third-largest supplier of defense items to India after Russia and the USA, the first and second respectively. Israel was one of the few nations, including France and Russia, that did not condemn India’s 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests. Following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Israel offered a team of about 40 special-operations forces and assistance in the investigation. Paramedics, medics and other professionals from Israel were also sent to aid India. The strategic cooperation between the two countries began during the Sino-India War of 1962. It continued its arms trade with India even after the sanctions and international isolation after the nuclear tests.
In 1965, Israel supplied M-58 160-mm mortar ammunition to India in the war against Pakistan. During that time India expected the strategical and military help of USSR, since China is also a Communist Nation, the Soviets declined to assist on war front and offered peaceful talks between India and China.
The bilateral merchandise trade stood at $5.02 billion (excluding defense) in 2016-17. While exports from India were $3.06 billion, the import to India from Israel was $1.96 billion. The diamond trade constitutes more than 53% of the bilateral trade. Major exports from India to Israel include precious stones and metals, chemical products, textiles, and textile articles, etc. Major imports from Israel include chemicals and mineral products, base metals, and machinery and transport equipment. Potash is a major item of Israel’s exports to India. The major investments from Israel in India include renewable energy, telecom, real estate, water technologies, etc., and are also setting up R&D centers or production units in India.
Science & Technology Sector
Under a Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement in 1993, Science and Technology institutions undertook joint research. Specific areas of cooperation include IT, biotechnology, lasers and electro-optics. In 2012, both nations signed a five-year $50 million academic research agreement for promoting collaborative research in various disciplines, including medical technology, IT, social and welfare sciences, humanities and arts. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu while on his welcoming speech for Mr. Narendra Modi said Sky will not be the limit of India-Israel ties as both countries will be partnering in Space research and expedition.
Following the coronavirus pandemic, on 9 April 2020, India exported to Israel a five-ton shipment of drugs and chemicals. The consignment included ingredients for the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. On this occasion, Sanjeev Singla, India’s ambassador to Israel stressed the bilateral ties between both the countries.
The Pandemic and Chinese aggressiveness to expand its borders both territory and geo-Political has made the free and democratic world unite against the Dictator regime. Geo-Political equations are changing and the concept of Indo-Pacific regional and maritime issues are gaining relevance which made the informal Strategic forum of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad countries comprising U.S, Japan, Australia, and India. In such a changing scenario, the strategic cooperation between India and Israel carries immense potential and India must harness the technological expertise from Israel to modernize the indigenous defense industry. As the USA sees a major role for India in maintaining the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific more technologies are likely to be transferable in the future. With improving strategic understanding between India and the US these technologies can be flexibly deployed to various wings of the military. Indo-Israel defense cooperation must be up-scaled in terms of Combined Ventures and Joint Research and Innovation which can be a force multiplier to realistically achieve India’s ambition to be a major global power.
About the Author:
Vinod Narayanan is a Civil Service Aspirant, a former IT Professional, and a law graduate who conducts freelance research in the subject ‘National Movements’. He has received Gujarat Sahithya Academy award ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ for his works.