- To mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, India and Israel launched a commemorative logo.
- The logo features the Star of David and the AshokaChakra– the two symbols that adorn the national flags of both countries- and forms the numeral 30 depicting the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations.
Background of India and Israel Relations
- Although India had recognized the Jewish State of Israel way back in 1950, it established full diplomatic relations only in 1992.
- Since then there has been an upswing in the relations between the two countries in view of the common concerns about religious extremism and global terrorism.
- Israel and India have developed close “cooperation” in intelligence sharing and “counter-insurgency” operations.
- India has become a major buyer of Israeli armaments.
- There is considerable potential for Indo-Israeli cooperation in the field of science and technology, particularly in areas such as dryland farming.
- Israelis, particularly the youth, were attracted by the Indian culture and history, leading to the initiation of liaison. The Israelis visited India, resulting in the budding of the people-to-people ties. This formed a significant base for the establishment of the formal diplomatic relationship in 1992.
- Since 1992, many of these impediments ceased to exist. Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, breaking a huge anti-Israeli mind-set among the Indians.
- Another significant breakthrough in this regard is the Madrid Conference that was held in 1991. This conference aimed to revive the Israeli-Palestine peace process through negotiations involving the Arab nations and Israel.
- Other similar developments include the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accord and the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Agreement. These peace negotiations helped India form close ties with Israel.
- Other events that led to the improvement of bilateral ties include the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the liberalization of the Indian economy.
- Once these barriers were removed, the bilateral ties have exponentially improved at a rapid pace, becoming a strategic asset for both nations.
Factors that held back India –Israel ties for the first forty years after independence
- Legacy of freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi who opposed the creation of a Jewish state.
- A fear of alienating its large Muslim population
- Cold War politics
- A desire to counter Pakistan’s influence in the Muslim world
- A need to garner Arab support for its position over the Kashmir issue compelled New Delhi to pursue an exclusively pro-Arab and thus pro-Palestinian foreign policy for more than forty years.
Israel has sold radar and surveillance equipment for military application and it also gives counter-insurgency training to India’s anti-terror forces
India-Israel cooperation increased dramatically in 2014 with the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Between Modi’s election in May 2014 and November 2014, Israel exported $662 million worth of Israeli weapons and defence items to India.
This export number is greater than the total Israeli exports to India during the previous three years combined. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made the first-ever official visit of an Israeli Defense Minister to India in February 2015.
On May 10, 2017, three warships from the Indian navy docked in the port of Haifa, ahead of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s scheduled to visit during the Summer. The ships, the INS Mumbai, the INS Trisula, and the INS Aditya, participated in a Naval drill with the Israeli navy when they entered the port.
In wake of the strained relationship between China, India announced plans in July 2020 to purchase additional weapons from Israel. The defence ministers of both Israel and India have discussed strengthening bilateral ties where there was interest expressed in encouraging greater participation of Israeli defence companies in the Indian defence sector
Collaboration in Agriculture
The two nations in 2008 started an agrcultural fund worth $50 million that focused on dairy, farming technology and micro-irrigation. This constituted the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project. .
By March 2014, 10 centres of excellence operated throughout India offering free training sessions for farmers on efficient agricultural techniques using Israeli technological expertise. Vertical farming, drip irrigation and soil solarization are some of what is taught at the centres. Farming at these centres focuses on mangoes, tomatoes, pomegranates, and citrus fruits.
- Since the up-gradation of relations in 1992, defence and agriculture have become the two main pillars of the bilateral engagement.
- The political ties have become especially cordial under the Modi Government.
- In 2017, Prime Minister Modi became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.
- During this visit, the diplomatic relationship was upgraded to a strategic level and seven agreements/MoUs were signed in the areas of R&D, innovation, water, agriculture and space.
- In 2018, the Israeli Prime Minister visited India, during which Government to Government (G2G) agreement on cybersecurity, oil and gas cooperation, film cooperation and air transport were signed, along with five other semi-government agreements.
- An increase in the high-level exchanges in recent times has expanded cooperation in areas like trade, agriculture, science and technology and security.
- The bilateral merchandise trade stood at $5.02 billion (excluding defence) 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.
- India is Israel’s third-largest trading partner in Asia after China and Hong Kong.
- In recent years, bilateral trade has diversified to include several sectors like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT and telecom and homeland security.
- Major exports from India to Israel include precious stones and metals, chemical products, textiles and textile articles, etc.
- The major investments from Israel in India include renewable energy, telecom, real estate, water technologies etc., and are also setting up R&D centres or production units in India.
- The extent of Israel’s investment in India is not available as most of these are routed via third countries such as Singapore, USA.
- Also, India’s investments in Israel are mostly in drip-irrigation, pharmaceuticals, wastewater treatment, IT etc.
- Israel’s flexible export policy meets Indian demands for technological transfer that have recently been an important part of governments overall developmental agenda.
Science & Technology
- 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 2005, India and Israel signed an MoU to set up i4RD fund to encourage bilateral investment into industrial research and development and specific projects.
- Under the agreement, at least one Indian and one Israeli company must be collaborating on a project for it to be qualified for the fund.
- 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.
- Israel has also offered to assist with India’s Clean Ganga Mission by providing its expertise in water management to address water scarcity.
- Israelis know India for its culture and tradition, making it an attractive alternative tourist destination.
- In 2017, Indian tourists became the second largest from an Asian country.
- In 2011, cultural artists and performers from India participated in a three-week festival commemorating 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
- In 2019, a large-scale summit was organized to boost cultural ties.
- On February 15, 2020, the first of its kind Jerusalem-Mumbai festival was held in Mumbai to promote artistic and cultural ties between the two nations.
- This festival aimed to establish a link between the cities of Jerusalem and Mumbai and boost cooperation in the field of music, culinary art and dance.
- In recent years, several public and private Indian universities have entered into academic agreements with Israel’s educational institutions.
- Since 2012, Israel has been offering post-doctoral scholarships to students from India and China in all fields for three years.
- India too offers scholarships to Israelis every year and an equal number of scholarships are offered by Israel for 10-month programmes in specialized fields of study.
- In 2014, the Indian diamond community in Israel had set up a fund to finance study tours to India for meritorious Israeli students of Hindi.
- There are approximately 85,000 Jews of Indian-origin in Israel (with at least one Indian parent), who are all Israeli passport holders.
- The main waves of immigration into Israel from India took place in the fifties and sixties. The majority is from Maharashtra (Bene Israelis) and relatively smaller numbers from Kerala (Cochini Jews) and Kolkata (Baghdadi Jews).
- In recent years some Indian Jews from North Eastern states of India (Bnei Menashe) have been immigrating to Israel.
- While the older generation still maintains an Indian lifestyle and their cultural links with India, the younger generation is increasingly assimilated into Israeli society.
Shift in India’s Israel Policy
- 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.
- India has received no worthwhile backing from Arab countries in the resolution of problems it faces in its neighbourhood, especially Kashmir.
- There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in the cross border insurgency in Kashmir.
- On the contrary, Arab nations have firmly stood by Pakistan, using the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to build support for Islamabad and jihadi groups in Kashmir.
- If Arab nations, such as Jordan, have been able to keep their traditional ties with Palestine intact while building a new relationship with Israel, there is no reason for India not to take a similar route, which might give it more room for diplomatic manoeuvring in the region.
- Additionally, the 1991 Madrid Peace Process prompted India to conclude that if the Arab world and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) were now willing to negotiate with Israel, New Delhi had no reason to maintain the status quo.
- They face common challenges such as the terrorism that both India and Israel face comes not only from disaffected groups within their territories; it is also aided and abetted by neighbouring states, increasingly capable of transferring weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organizations.
DE-HYPHENATION OF RELATION
- De-hyphenation means delink two entities and consider them as individuals.
- Now India’s relationship with Israel would stand on its own merits, independent and separate from India’s relationship with the Palestinians.
- This has bolstered the scope for addressing India’s national interests effectively and diversified access to new markets and technologies.
- The hyphenation was a compulsion during the Cold War era, but it continued to underpin India’s approach even in the subsequent period, probably out of the fear of antagonising the Arab.
- However, due to disturbances among the Arab states they were left incapable of pursuing a strong foreign policy that made it easier for India to pursue its relations with Israel.
TWO- STATE SOLUTION OF ISRAEL PALESTINE ISSUE
- It envisages an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel west of Jordan river.
- 1937: Proposed on basis of Peel Commission report but rejected by Arabs.
- 1948: UN partition plan given with Jerusalem under international control
- Oslo Accord, 1991: Provided the foundation for political boundaries as it stands today.
- The Madrid Conference of 1991 was a peace conference co-sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union to revive the Israeli–Palestinian peace process through negotiations.
- UNSC Resolution 1397: Agreed in 2000 with support from USA and becoming first UNSC resolution to agree on two state solution.
India’s stand on Israel Palestine issue
- India, for a very long time, had called for the 2-state solution that supports the establishment of a sovereign independent state of Palestine.
- However, India’s stand on Israel-Palestine conflict has not hindered the growing diplomatic relationship with India and Israel.
- Yet, the recent close ties with Israel have diluted India’s stance on the issue.
- In 2014, India favoured a UN resolution that established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate a violation of an international humanitarian and human rights law in the “Occupied Territories” during Operation Protective Edge conducted by Israel in the Gaza strip.
- However, the Indian Government did not pass a resolution in the parliament condemning the Israeli action, contrary to the earlier practices.
- At the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), India abstained on the resolution that welcomed the report of the same Commission of Inquiry, making it the first time India had refused to vote against Israel at the UN.
- However, the Indian government clarified that this does not mean that there is a change in India’s traditional support for the separate state of Palestine.
- Nevertheless, from the growing strategic ties, it is evident that India is distancing itself from advocating for the Palestinian cause.
- Difference in terms of Iran– Where on one hand Israel considers Iran an existential threat, India, on the other, has a historical relationship, and finds the cooperation useful for energy supplies, and an alternative route through Chabahar port to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
- Different approach towards Arab world– While Israel has inherent differences with Arab countries, India has significant stakes there and India’s recent vote at the UN against America’s move on Jerusalem was a reflection of that underlying reality.
- Stand on China– China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia, there are strong technology and investment linkages.
- In terms of Pakistan, Israel’s interest lies in keeping open the possibility of relations, while there are serious tensions among India and Pakistan.
- Differences in terms of technology transfer– There exist differences between India and Israel over issues related to technology transfer, end-user agreements and a proposed free trade agreement, more so given India’s policy of ‘Make in India’.
- The free trade agreement (FTA) is stuck because of the concerns from the Indian domestic industry.
- It is difficult to delink Israel and Palestine in India’s foreign policy, making it a significant consideration while strategizing the diplomatic relationship with Israel and other nations in the Middle East.
- India’s ties with Iran are challenged in the current situation due to its close ties with Israel and the US, making it choose between these nations.
- Israel’s politics dominated by its antagonistic attitude towards the Palestinians is also making it difficult for India to enhance the diplomatic relationship.
- Israel’s discrimination towards minorities, especially the Jewish minorities from India is hindering the diplomatic ties.
- The inflexible stance by the current government in Israel and the US makes it highly difficult for India to maneuver and balance its ties with Iran and other nations that are against Israel.
- The ties between the two nations have flourished since 1992, primarily due to common strategic interests and security threats.
- Indians are sympathetic towards Israel and the government is balancing and recalibrating its West Asia policy on the premise of its own national interest.
- India and Israel need to overcome the vulnerability of their religious extremist neighbours and work productively on global issues like climate change, water scarcity, population explosion and food scarcity.
- A more aggressive and proactive Middle Eastern policy is the need of the hour for India to reap the maximum benefit of the geopolitical realignments gradually being brought in by the Abraham Accords.
Source: Economic Times