Up till now, Israel has been a partner that India has not been able to openly support but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country is likely to give a big boost in cementing the ties between the two countries. With this visit, Modi will become the first Indian Prime Minister to pay an official trip to the country.
The relationship that began in 1992, got a push after Modi became the Prime Minister. What is also noteworthy in terms of the perceived value that this trip carries is the fact that it marks the 25th anniversary of the ties between the two countries. Israel has admitted that there is a lot of “visibility” in Indo-Israel relations after Narendra Modi came to power and the Jewish nation respects that change. “The relations between India and Israel did not start in 2014, but what has changed is the visibility of things that we are doing together. What has changed is the very important and very much respected in Israel,” Israeli Ambassador Daniel Carmon said.
India-Israel historical ties:
India and Israel have had a good relationship before the Modi government came to power as well. The ties had actually been framed by former PM PV Narasimha Rao in 1992. Even before these ties were formalised, Congress led government had approached Israel for military know how during the 1962 war with China, 1965 war and in 1971 with Pakistan. Even in Manmohan Singh’s government, India and Israel have been close partners. Reports suggest that after the 2009 Mumbai attacks, India’s defence purchases from Israel had been increased to an extent that it replaced Russia as New Delhi’s largest defence supplier in 2009 for a brief time.
For the Bharatiya Janata Party too, it is not just Narendra Modi who has been supportive of ties between India and Israel. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000 had sent feelers to Israel and the then home minister, LK Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh had even visited Israel.
Modi’s support to Israel
In 2015, India abstained from voting on an “anti-Israel bashing” UNHRC resolution which condemned Israel over a UN report into the alleged war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict. Though India abstained from voting, it also played safe by making it clear that “there is no change in New Delhi’s long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause”. However, the decision gave a push to the ties and was also seen as a significant change in India’s stance towards Israel.
Why has India not openly supported Israel
With its large Muslim population, India has been under pressure to support the cause of Palestine Muslims and speak against the oppression of Palestinians by Israeli forces. Owing to the issue of suppression and displacement of Muslims and exclusion of Muslim community from Israel, India has been wary of connecting with Israel.
But as they say, the foreign policy decision cannot be made on the basis of ‘my friend’s enemy is my enemy’, the ties with Israel hold key importance for India. Here’s why
India largely depends on Israel for its defence requirements with over $1 billion worth imports coming from Israel. As per a report in February 2017, a Sweden-based think tank SIPRI had stated that while India imported 68 per cent between 2012 and 2016 from Russia, 14 per cent from the US, it also imported a big lot of 7.2 per cent from Israel.In fact, Israel has concentrated a lot of its efforts in developing technologies that aid heavy weaponry.
India and Israel also joined hands for its biggest military collaboration the Barak 8 missile system which is an anti-aircraft missile system. With the joint project between the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the missile system will be fitted in all Indian Navy warships in the future. The missile system includes both, Medium Range-Surface to Air Missiles as well as Long Range-Surface to Air Missiles.
Just ahead of Modi’s visit to the Jewish nation, his Cabinet gave a nod to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries on a water conservation campaign in India. With this MoU, the two governments aim to put water conservation on the national agenda in India. With this campaign, India will also look forward to encouraging citizens to save water in everyday life, promoting its re-use, recharge and recycling.
Agriculture has been one of the key pillars in ties between India and Israel. Back in 2006, the two countries signed the Agreement for Agricultural Cooperation which evolved into Indo-Israel Agriculture Project (IIAP). Increasing crop diversity, productivity and making the optimal use of its resources are the key goals of the IIAP. Israel has imparted its best-practices and skills to benefit agriculture in India.
Science and technology:
India has a lot to look up to Israel when it comes to science and technology. The country has set up electronic aircraft industries to give a boost to its nuclear program and strengthen Israel Defense Forces. The two countries had in 2016 decided to enhance their cooperation in the field of science and technology, including the establishment of a research and development fund with an investment of $20 million. Both the countries had agreed to give a boost to bilateral cooperation in science and technology under the S&T Agreement. Ranked as one of the best universities for Science and Technology, the Israeli Institute of Technology has seven Nobel laureates in its faculty.
Though it is surrounded by conflicts and has been in a state of war, Israel has been successful in building a startup culture. Owing to its lack of natural resources, the country has been largely dependent on innovation. Narendra Modi’s Make In India and Skill India campaign has a lot to learn from Israel’s efforts to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2016, Israeli startups made USD 9.2 billion in exits. To support startups, the Israeli government grants a $500 million fund. At least 150 of its companies are listed on NASDAQ and the country it at the top for country and business sector expenditure on R&D.
Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu told PM Modi that “the sky is the limit” taking the potential of their partnership into account. As Modi embarks on this historic visit, there will be a keen watch on whether India will gain from openely joining hands with Israel or will it be at a loss by not giving enough importance to Palestine.