The relationship has moved on to strategic dimensions with significant mutual trust and regard for each other’s concerns and sensitivities. This does not obviate India taking independent positions or expressing its views on issues where it differs with Israel and this has been the remarkable trait of Indian foreign policy. – Ambassador Anil Trigunayat*
Although India had recognised Israel in 1948 itself, the diplomatic relations were established only in 1992 under the Government of Prime Minister Narsimha Rao even though the bold stories of Israel’s offer to decimate Pakistan’s Kahuta nuclear facility, (if India permitted the refuelling to their fighter jets in the then Bombay which was not agreed to) continued to fascinate the public imagination.
Moreover, Israeli adventurist and exceptional technological prowess and progress stories have created a significant constituency at the grass root level in India. Similarly an average Israeli holds India in high regard for its inclusive and diverse culture and ancient civilisation. Israeli Defence Forces’ young recruits after completing their strenuous training prefer to spend months in India recuperating and healing through Yoga, music, travel and Ayurveda. Besides more than 80000 Jews of Indian origin continue to excel and promote the Indian warmth and bonhomie in Israel.
Although during the past 25 years bilateral cooperation especially in Agriculture, Security and defence sectors continued to deepen the high-level exchanges were few and far between due to India’s domestic compulsions, having the second largest Muslim population, and also the predicated West Asia policy and wide-ranging important relations with the Middle East countries especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) where India’s real stakes are very high.
During the high octane periods of conflict and public posturing with regard to Palestinian issue it was pragmatic to weigh the pros and cons of any considered departure that could be termed blatant and potentially hurt India’s interests by the other side. This has changed especially since 2015 when former President Pranab Mukherjee paid the first Head of State-level visit to the Jewish State after visiting Jordan and Palestine as per the established practice. It was the first visit to all the three countries.
2017 was a special year for Indian diplomacy as both India and Israel celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has an excellent personal rapport and chemistry and friendship with PM Netanyahu since his days as the Chief Minister of Gujrat when he also visited Tel Aviv, paid the State visit to Israel in July 2017 to an exceptional welcome by Bibi. Ice was broken. They had agreed on several projects and before the visit of PM Netanyahu to India earlier this month, the Israeli Ambassador claimed that most of them had effectively moved apace although some parts were pending with the Indian side. Amb Carmon wrote
“Innovation is interwoven into every field of India-Israel cooperation, but the field of innovation itself has also advanced since July.
The Technological Innovation Fund created during Prime Minister Modi’s visit has been ratified by both our governments and a call for proposals has already been made. The promised India-Israel Innovation Challenge has awarded 36 Indian and Israeli start-ups in agriculture, water and health with tools to boost their technology. All conceived in July, delivered in January.” Israel India Innovation Fund (I4I) that PM Modi fondly calls “India 4 Israel “ or vice versa has become the mainstay for innovation and development.
PM Modi, during his visit once again , was able to see the immense technological advancement and progress and strides that the resource-deprived Jewish state had made and several of these could easily be adapted to Indian agriculture, innovation, water desalination, drip and arid -irrigation, water and health, start-ups, education and space etc. India and Israel have cooperated effectively in intelligence sharing and training, counter-terrorism and cybersecurity. More importantly in a short while, Israel has emerged as the 3rd biggest supplier of billions of dollars’ worth arms and equipment to India after Russia and the US. Transfer of Technology has not been a major issue with them since that is one of the pre-conditions India usually seeks to entail in such defence deals.
The relationship has moved on to strategic dimensions with significant mutual trust and regard for each other’s concerns and sensitivities. This does not obviate India taking independent positions or expressing its views on issues where it differs with Israel and this has been the remarkable trait of Indian foreign policy. Iran and the Palestinian issue are the two such key issues. As far Israel it does not discount the possibility of having closer ties with Pakistan in future which is deemed as an anathema or for that matter Israel’s endorsement of China’s Belt & Road Initiative that still irks India. Hence the perceived and implicit national interests and domestic compulsions and continuity tend to dictate the positions and course of action that does not prevent closest possible bilateral cooperation and engagement which is the case with India and Israel.
Over the years India has de-hyphenated its stance hitherto predicated on Israeli- Arab- Palestinian emotional outbursts and takes a stance on a case to case basis as has been witnessed in its UN voting record. The fact that PM Modi had a solo trip to Israel without visiting Palestine before or after was much of a concern for liberals in India and Arab watchers but then PM Modi visits important countries on a stand-alone visit – that underlines the solo importance we attach to a particular relationship.
The fact that he will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Palestine on February 9 this year will assuage the feelings of the Palestinians and will vindicate India’s decades’ long position on the issue of Palestine. As such India provides huge assistance in capacity building and by way of budgetary support to Palestine. In December 2017 in the UNGA, India voted against the US resolution declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel that could have annoyed both President Trump and Bibi. On the other hand, India refused to condemn Israel on the most recent Gaza war or for that matter abstained on a UN vote against Israel. While balancing is the key, given India’s economic strength and objective and principled positions on international issues it has emerged as a credible interlocutor and this role as a regional power it will be called upon to perform and it should be ready for it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited India at the invitation of his dear friend on a six days long tour from January 14-19 this year along with a 130 member strong business delegation that in itself was unusual but underlined that Israel values India as a major economic powerhouse, fastest-growing major economy and a huge growing market. Almost 15 years ago PM Sharon has visited India in 2003. Welcoming him PM Modi tweeted “Welcome to India, my friend PM @Netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations”.
Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations. @IsraeliPM #ShalomNamaste pic.twitter.com/sidgMmA1fu
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 14, 2018
This was a repeat of the warmest welcome and words of gratitude and appreciation and personal indulgence and hospitality that Bibi had showered on PM Modi in last July. Shalom Namaste became a buzz word during the visit. PM Netanyahu called on President and excellent discussions with PM Modi where substantial discussions on concrete issues and future direction were held.
Nine agreements/ MoU in areas of air transport, cooperation in oil & gas, cybersecurity, film co-production. PM Modi accompanied him and Mrs Netanyahu to Ahmadabad where ten miles long Road Show of the cultural expanse of India was laid out. He also inaugurated the Raisina Dialogue 2018 organised by Observer Research Foundation and Ministry of External Affairs apart from addressing the CEO’s Forum. Bibi also inaugurated the I create innovation hub. In Mumbai at the “Shalom Bollywood”, he enchanted and interacted and invited top Bollywood actors and producers and filmmakers to shoot their films in Israel, even though the three Khans were prominent by their absence. This would surely help dent the Boycott and promote tourism which as such is reported to have increased by 31% this year. Visa facilitation was also discussed apart from more flights and connectivity. Thus the visit covered almost the whole gamut of bilateral relations and how to enrich them further in the next quarter century.
Although the visit took place in the somewhat negative backdrop from the Israeli perspective since just a few days ago India had voted at the UNGA against the US decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel since it was against the established red lines and India’s consistent policy on the issue of Palestine. Secondly, a US$ 500 million deal for purchase of anti-tank Spike missiles was cancelled which obviously did not go down well.
The issues were discussed and it is understood that the deal even if partly may be revived. On India’s vote in the UNGA, PM Netanyahu dismissed it as “ One Vote does not decide the bilateral relationship” which is on a sound and trusted footing. In fact, the Joint Statement articulated the way forward “ The two Prime Ministers discussed the developments pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. They reaffirmed their support for an early resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians for arriving at a comprehensive negotiated solution on all outstanding issues, based on mutual recognition and effective security arrangements, for establishing a just and durable peace in the region.’
The characteristic of a profound relationship is to maturely manage the differences. And that was done while exchanging views and positions and matters of bilateral, regional and global importance within the ambit of strategic partnership. It is a win-win partnership that is bound to go to higher trajectory over the years to come beside joint initiatives for sharing the developmental experience of the two countries with other countries in water, healthcare and education sectors. With the next 25 years horizon in mind “The two Prime Ministers believe that durable and multifaceted cooperation is beneficial for the welfare of the people of both countries, and consider the next twenty five years as an opportune time to strengthen bonds between the peoples of India and Israel through activities that enhance understanding and create opportunities for mutual progress. They agree to continue high-level exchanges and to maintain dialogue in all areas, and to work in practical ways for the benefit of their peoples.” Joint Statement underscored.
Democratic Israel surely understands India’s importance being the largest democracy in the world and a benign economic powerhouse which PM Netanyahu summarised in his tweet “ My first visit to India, a world power that is strengthening its relations with Israel. I am excited about this historic week that will further strengthen Israel’s international standing”.
*Anil Trigunayat is the former Ambassador of India to Jordan. Libya and Malta. He is a member of the All India Management Association/Delhi Management Association as well as that of Oxford and Cambridge Society of India and the Association of Indian Diplomats ( former Ambassadors). He is also the Honorary Member of the International Trade Council, Brussels.
Currently, he is steering a Committee on the promotion of trade and investment with Africa and the Middle East at the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries. He is also honorary Adviser to BRICS Chamber of Commerce.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.