In a previous article on www.internationalrelations.org, we discussed India and its relations with Middle Eastern ncntries. In this article, we will delve deeper into discussing the Israel-India relationship. We shall discuss the varied components of the relationship between these two countries. As we shall see, the leaders of these two countries have been working to build relations with one another. This has happened with regards to economic, as well as political interests.
History of Israel-India Relations
The relationship between Israel and India has existed for quite some time. For example, as Pant (2016) writes:
At crucial times, when India needed Israeli help, it got it unreservedly. Israel was willing to continue and even step up its arms sales to India after other major states curbed their technological exports following India’s May 1998 nuclear tests. Israel provided India with much-needed imagery about Pakistani positions using its UAVs during the Kargil War with Pakistan in 1999. That was ultimately instrumental in turning the war around for India. When India was planning to undertake a limited military strike against Pakistan in June 2002 as part of “Operation Parakram,” Israel supplied hardware through special planes. The terrorism that both India and Israel face comes not only from disaffected groups within their territories; it is also aided and abetted by neighboring states, increasingly capable of transferring weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations.
While India officially normalized relations with Israel in 1992, the two states have continued to work ties with one another in more recent years. Following the normalization of relations between India and Israel, there were some officials who made visits to both countries. However, there was no official at the highest level from India making the trip to Israel (where Ariel Sharon made a trip to India in 2003). There were plans for the Indian Defense Minister to visit Israel in 2006, but criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza changed these plans, as did the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War (Madan, 2016).
However, actions in recent years have suggested an improving relations between India and Israel. One of the more public pieces of evidence for this is India’s 2015 actions at the Human Rights Council. In 2015, the Human Rights Council was voting on a resolution challenging Israel for its military incursion into Gaza in 2014, instead of voting to support the resolution, India abstained from the vote. This was a large turnaround from the year past, when India voted in favor of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) any breaches of international human rights law, as well as international humanitarian law (Khalid, 2015). While the 2015 abstention won high favor among some within the Israeli government, others, such as the Palestinian ambassador to India, called the vote “shocking” (Khalid, 2015).
In addition, there is currently a large geopolitical shift in the politics of the Middle East. With a decreased role of the US, different countries are looking to re-evaluate their own relations. In some cases, they are looking to find new allies. In other cases, they are looking to create new relationships. In fact, there have been talks about Indian Prime Minister Nanendra Modi possibly making a trip to Israel, something that no Indian Prime Minister has done (the first Indian President to visit Israel was Pranab Makherjee, who went to Israel and Palestine in 2015) (Pant, 2016).
For the India-Israel relationship, both states have numerous reasons for wanting to work with one another.
Economic Interests: India and Israel are working on a series of economic initiatives with one another that includes but is not limited to a free trade agreement. But along with this deal, there have also been attempts to increase sharing of technology, research, and aims to increase tourism. In fact, ” Israeli tourism officials have highlighted the 13 percent increase in arrivals from India over the last year. And tourist arrivals to India from Israel have doubled over the last 15 years, including thousands of Israelis visiting after their compulsory military service” (Madan, 2016).
Military-Economic Interests: India-Israel relations are also centered on the issue of military weapons. India has been looking to increase its weapons purchases, and while Israel has not been the primary supplier of such weapons for India, India has been looking into buying more weapons from Israel. As Madan (2016) explains, “In the early 1990s, Israel—like the United States—did not really figure on India’s list of defense suppliers. However, between 2005 and 2014, it accounted for 7 percent (in dollar terms) of military equipment deliveries—the third highest after Russia and the United States.
As Indian President Pranab Mukherjee recently noted, Israel has crucially come through for India at times “when India needed them the most” (i.e. during crises or when other sources have not been available, for example, due to sanctions). The president referred to the assistance given during the Kargil crisis in 1999 in particular, but there has also been less publicly-acknowledged help in the past, including during India’s 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan.” For Israel, weapons exports to India make up a great deal of their overall exports. And for India, they felt that the Russian weapons were not technologically advanced enough, and the United States would not give them the weapons needed because of the US-Pakistan relationship. So, for India, Israel was a country that could deliver on both of these points (Swift, 2015). As some have also noted, while there were initial concerns by India of what their more public relationship with Israel would have related to their ties to Arab states, there is a belief by some that this may actually give India a bit more weight in their dealings with India (Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, in Swift, 2015).
International Relations Divisions Between Israel and India
Historically, India has been critical of Israel over the state’s treatment of Palestinians. However, while they are still speaking on Palestinian issues (and going to Palestine, as mentioned earlier), some of the leaders in India have been re-evaluating their overall relationship with Israel. Pant (2016) writes about this shift with regards to Israeli positions related to Palestine, saying that “Over the years, the Indian government has toned down its reactions to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. India has also begun denouncing Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in Israel, something that was seen earlier as rather justified in light of the Israeli policies against the Palestinians. India is no longer initiating anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and has made serious attempts to moderate the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) anti-Israel resolutions. This re-evaluation has been based on a realization that India’s largely pro-Arab stance in the Middle East has not been adequately reciprocated and rewarded by the Arab world.”
Part of the issue that has upset India with regards to their relations with many Middle Eastern countries has been their lack of support on the controversial issue of Kashmir. For India, they have felt that not only have the Arab states not spoken up on criticizing Pakistan over Kashmir (something India wants them to do), but they are unhappy that many of the Arab states continue to support Pakistan as it relates to this issue (Pant, 2016). Thus, what was once a quite relationship has not turned to a more open one between India and Israel.
Khalid, S. (2015). The beginning of an Israel-India ‘romance’? Al Jazeera English, 10 July 2015. Available Online: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/07/israel-india-gaza-150709005707545.html
Madan, T. (2016). “Why India and Israel are bringing their relationship out from “under the carpet”.” Brookings Institute. February 11th, 2016. Available Online: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2016/02/11-india-israel-relations-madan
Pant, H.V. (2016). Why India is Getting Serious About its Relationship with Israel. The Diplomat, January 26, 2016. Available Online: http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/why-india-is-getting-serious-about-its-relationship-with-israel/
Swift, R. (2015). India-Israel relationship emerges from the closet. The Media Line, in The Jerusalem Post, October 29, 2015. Available Online: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/India-Israel-relationship-emerges-from-the-closet-430415