Five strong reasons why PM Modi should visit Israel

Indians counted Israel among its best friends, with 58 percent of Indian population in 2009 expressing strong support for Israel, more than any other country.

India treats Israel as its mistress, happy to engage intimately in private, but hesitant to acknowledge the relationship in public.

That’s the view reportedly shared by Israeli officials toward India. They are not entirely wrong in their judgment of India when it comes to bilateral relations between the two countries.

India’s friendship with Israel is surprisingly low-key, despite the two countries enjoying a burgeoning defense and trade relationship. As of 2014, Israel was among India’s top three defense equipment suppliers, and the total bilateral trade between the two democracies stood at $4.52 billion, according to Indian embassy at Tel Aviv.

According to historic accounts, Israel supported India during its war with Pakistan in 1971. The extent of cooperation between the two countries is, however, still a subject of speculation. During the 1999 Kargil War, Israel reportedly supplied mortars and ammunition to Indian ground forces, beside fixing up the Indian Air Force with laser-guided missiles.

Cheerleaders of stronger India-Israel relationship blame India’s Congress Party for what they say are underdeveloped relations between the two countries. Congress in the past has been wary of supporting Israel too openly, lest it upsets oil-rich Gulf kingdoms who have been critical of Tel Aviv for its alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians. India relies heavily on oil imports from the Gulf monarchies and Iran, none of them viewing Israel favourably.

However, the current Indian administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be shedding India’s age-old reluctance in veering close to Israel. The Indian government in 2015 abstained from voting on a United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) resolution condemning Israeli forces for committing “war crimes”, which was seen as a significant shift from New Delhi’s earlier policy of not taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

(Source: Youtube/The Indian Express)

Many analysts saw the UN vote as India coming out from “under the carpet”.

It will be a long-shot to state how India-Israel relations will play out in the longer run. To begin with, here are five reasons why PM Modi should visit Israel sooner than later.

1. No Indian PM has visited Israel yet

Israel has been of great help to India militarily, being among few of India’s tried and tested friends. However, India’s Congress Party, right since India’s independence in 1947, has been wary of forging closer ties with Tel Aviv due to different moral considerations.

It was not until 1992 that India and Israel established full diplomatic relations, and it took another decade for the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in 2003. The visit of Ariel Sharon came during the reign of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a senior colleague of Modi at the BJP.

However, an Indian Prime Minister is yet to visit Israel. Prime Minister Modi was scheduled to pay a visit to the Middle-East country last year, but the visit kept getting delayed. Modi is now scheduled to visit Israel this year.

2. A powerful voice in the US Congress

The influence the powerful Jewish lobby enjoys in the US Congress is an open secret.

In the 1990s, supporters of free Kashmir in the US, reportedly under pressure from America’s Jewish lobby, negotiated the release of Israeli hostages abducted by separatist militants in Jammu and Kashmir.

As American President-elect Donald Trump makes overtures toward Israel even before he has assumed office, a closer India-Israel relationship may well be in India’s favour as to how the Trump administration views the world. Trump recently rattled supporters of two-state solution after supporting a proposal to move the US embassy in Israel to the disputed city of Jerusalem.

(Source: Youtube/Oxford Union)

While a Trump presidency looks like a win-win for Israel, India can hope to ride of Tel Aviv’s coattails to gain a greater influence in the Trump administration.

3. India-Israel alliance could serve as counterweight to Pakistan’s growing influence

India’s arch rival Pakistan has traditionally been more closer to the Islamic countries in the Middle-East than India, owing primarily to sharing the common thread of Islam. Israel, on the other hand, has been a steadfast ally of India, and has even supported New Delhi logistically in two of its armed confrontations with Islamabad.

There couldn’t be a more critical time for India to forge closer relations with Israel, as India’s tried and tested ally Russia takes a more neutral stand in India-Pakistan relations. India risks being cornered alone in the region unless it develops closer military relationships with other powers.

A closer partnership with Israel, with a reputation for strong military capability, seems to be a step in the right direction for India.

Pakistan and Israel don’t have formal diplomatic relations, a symptom of deep hostility between the two countries due to Pakistan’s vocal support for Palestine. The governments of two countries were involved in a heated row last month in the wake of a fake news article quoting a former Israeli defense minister threatening to destroy Pakistan.

4. India could benefit from Israel’s expertise in defense and civil technology

The two countries enjoy a strong counter-terrorism relationship, with both seen as victims of Islamist terrorism.  Israel reportedly agreed to supply India with 10 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) back in 2015, with the countries also set to sign defense deals worth $3 billion when PM Modi visits the Middle-East country this year.

Israel has also helped India greatly in modernizing its agricultural practices, with the countries collaborating to start a Center of Excellence for Vegetables in the northern state of Haryana to help Indian farmers increase India’s agricultural practices. As of 2013, around 50 percent of India’s workforce was engaged in agriculture but it generated just 13 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

India, which will overtake China as the world’s most populous country, has a huge stake in maintaining its food security.

(Source: Youtube/Defense Updates)

5. Close intelligence cooperation

India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) is believed to enjoy a close intelligence sharing partnership with Israel’s Mossad.

At the time of R&AW’s inception in 1968, then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reportedly asked Indian intelligence officials to forge a partnership with Mossad, with the common Islamist threats that both the countries faced reportedly in the back of her mind.

A stronger India Israel relationship could further cement the strong intelligence ties the two countries already share.