5 reasons India-Israel relations are important

Ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv, the spotlight has shifted to his chemistry with Benjamin Netanyahu.

 |  6-minute read |   03-07-2017
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Narendra Modi will be the first Indian prime minister to make an official visit to Israel. Starting tomorrow, July 4, a new chapter in the two decades of diplomatic ties between the two countries will be opened, and it’s something that’s being celebrated among the consular and media circuits as a major achievement. Although PM Modi has been slated to visit Israel ever since he took office in May 2014, the official visit is finally happening only now.

With Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, calling Modi as one of the “most important global leaders”, and Israeli dailies churning out op-eds in favour of the upcoming Modi visit, it’s obvious that the time is opportune for a more comely India-Israel bilateral ties. There has been mutual admiration echoed officials and commentariat of both the countries, and while the thorny issue of Palestine, whose independence India has been traditionally in favour of, remains, under the Modi regime that has become a question of diplomatic irrelevance.

mn_070317043300.jpgPrime Minister Narendra Modi with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in 2014. (Image credit: PMO)

Hinged on defence, intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism on one side and cooperation in water harvesting and agriculture on the other, there are a number of avenues in which India-Israel ties would be key to the emerging global order, which is seeing faster realignments than any time in the last half of the 20th century.

Defence deals

Israel is set to topple the US as the chief exporter of arms and ammunitions to India with Barak missiles, surveillance drones and other big league defence deals. In fact, an unstable Trump regime in the US has Israel worried and its strategic think-tanks are considering India as an important alternative.

Although Israel does not produce entire military systems, it’s a crucial supplier and maker of parts, and its expertise in small and medium range conflict zones has been proven in the West Asian muddle where it’s a participant, as well as against the Hamas, Palestinian insurgents and others battling Israel in various fronts.

Almost USD two billion worth Indian contracts have been won by Israel Aerospace Industries, or Rs 13,000 crore, the largest in the history of Israeli defence industry, and it’s mainly for the supply of Medium Range Surface to Air Missiles to the Indian Army, according to defence expert Ajai Shukla.

Similarly, long-range surface-to-air missiles, including Barak 8, will be useful to shoot down anti-ship missiles at ranges out to 70km. This and much more are on the cards as far as propping up India-Israel defence cooperation is concerned.


Though, India must be vigilant of the fact that much of its Russia-sourced weaponry might not work well with the new incoming range from Israel, and might create an awkward inventory of ammunitions that don’t talk to each other.

National security and counter-terrorism

But India and Israel are boosting up the counter-terrorism cooperation and sharing real-time intel on issues crucial to national security. The chatter in the Indian diplomatic circles is full of high praise for Israeli counter-terrorism and intelligence units, and the ties can be taken forward based on common threats from global terrorism.

According to a 2014 piece in India Defence Review, “The robustness of India-Israel relations marked in the Israeli Prime Minister Benzamin Netanyahu’s statement in a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi on 29 September 2014 in New York, Netanyahu told Modi that “sky is the limit” as far as the prospects of India and Israel relationship goes.”

Water and agriculture

Israel has become one of the foremost technology superpowers in areas such as rainwater harvesting, use of oceanic water and using that for irrigation in the most dry land. Israel has transitioned from a water-deficit state to a water-surplus state, and has pioneered the water desalination technique, something that’s absolutely significant in the era of climate change, rapid loss of fresh water bodies, and rise in seawater levels.

In India, tormented by an unruly monsoon and languishing agriculture sector reeling under alternating droughts and flash floods, the use of salt water imported from Israel assumes immense importance. But that would mean rethinking farming of cash crops such as sugar cane which take up huge amounts of water and have terra-firmed Western belts of India into parched lands of depleting ground water.

Moreover, Israeli drip irrigators are a cheap method of slow watering of dry lands and ensuring no water loss, but they work only in large holdings, while Indian land holding are often miniscule to involve modern mechanized techniques.

Zionism, 'Hindu Rashtra' and Jewish Diaspora

There have been many in the Indian public sphere who have openly supported the Zionist state of Israel and seen in it a model state for India under Modi. Those dreaming of a Hindu Rashtra are enamoured of Israel’s sway on international relations, on the question of Palestine, as well as its suppression of political insurgency with clinical precision. There are vocal supporters of India-Israel ties who find that Tel Aviv and its unabashedly state-driven identity politics is a counter measure for India’s own weakened “secularism”.  

That said, India is home to a major population of Jewish expats, who are happy in this land of multiculturalism and multiple religions. Modi is slated to visit little Moshe, the infant survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks at Café Leopold, whose parents perished in the terrorist ambush.

Palestine and Kashmir

India has always been in favour of the creation of the independent state of Palestine, and since 1992, when formal bilateral relations with Israel were established, the political parties and the successive governments have tried to walk the tightrope on furthering India-Israel ties, while also backing creation of Palestine and the struggle for freedom.

The shifting grounds in the West Asia and a new overtly pro-Israel establishment in the US means that India under Modi might steer clear of the thorny question of Palestine now, and veer more towards Israel. This will be cemented by Narendra Modi’s official visit, of course.

Moreover, in the international press, the increasing clamour for equating Palestine with Kashmir is also pushing India under Modi to become slightly more tightlipped about the former. In 2016, though India voted against Israel at a UNHRC session, it abstained from the one sponsored by Palestine designating Israel’s indiscretions and expanding Israeli settlements in Gaza and West Bank as “war crimes”.

That said, PM Modi has also hosted Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in May 2017, just ahead of his Israel visit, in an effort to hush the whispers in the international circles that India would be abandoning the Palestinian cause altogether. India and Palestine signed five pacts to boost cooperation in various sectors, including IT, health, agriculture, etc.

Looks like it’s going to be more of a balancing act from New Delhi, despite heightened strategic ties.

Also read: Ahead of Modi's visit, India and Israel can learn a lot from each other



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