In 1992, under PM Chandra Shekar’s administration, India forged diplomatic relations with Israel; adopting a course opposite from Mahatma Gandhis, who opposed the creation of Israel as an ethnoreligious state. India-israel relations
Before accepting Israel as a country in 1950, India voted against the partitioning of Palestine plan in 1947 and the admission of Israel in the UN in 1949. Even then, for the next 4 decades, India maintained a political distance from Israel.
During these Cold War years, India was chained by several political factors to not diplomatically endorse Israel: its commitment to the non-aligned movement, arm’s imports from the USSR, the vast Muslim population’s sentiment, its sympathy to the Palestinian cause to gain Arab support, and its dependence on the Arab states for oil.
Strengthening India-Israel relations
Overtime several key factors veered India’s administration into bridging the gap between the two countries. Primarily, USSR’s disintegration had left India without a benevolent great power and a huge arms sales partner. Secondly, impressed with Israel’s grit to foster a military-industrial complex from scratch, India ached to enhance its defense sector as well.
Moreover, India’s economic liberalization in 1991, its’ failure to acquire Arab support for the Kashmiri cause, Israeli military support to India in the conflicts with Pakistan and China in the 60s, and Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan revealed that diplomatic relations with Israel were no longer a high-risk endeavor. India-Israel Relations
India’s much-anticipated goal of military modernization
To fill the void left by the USSR, India had to significantly diversify its suppliers, giving way to the Western nations and Israel.
Israel has often been termed as a ’no-questions-asked-supplier’, transferring its most advanced technology without placing any restrictions. It was one of the few countries to not condemn the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998.
Instead, Israel steadily increased its arms sales to India even though it faced sanctions and isolation from the international community. Both nations also did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with each supporting the other’s decision.
Even in the Kargil War of 1999, Israel assisted India with weapons, significant upgrades to the IAF’s aircrafts and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) surveillance systems.
Essentially, the normalizing of relations in 1992 brought India’s much-anticipated goal of military modernization and Israel’s aim of commercializing its defense industries into reality – transforming the relationship into a strategic partnership.
India’s budding relationship with Israel has now blossomed under the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
During the Modi regime, India-Israel relations have continued to bloom
Since the establishment of Narendra Modi in 2014, India-Israel relations have only continued to bloom. The total trade value between the two in 1992 stood at a mere $200 million. In 2018, it had shot up to a colossal $5.84 billion; Israeli arms sales being the cornerstone of this relationship.
India – shackled by constraints in its’ defense production including lack of technical expertise and manufacturing infrastructure – saw Israel’s share in its’ arms market shoot up after 2014.
Between only May and November 2014, just as PM Modi was sworn in, Israel exported $662 million worth of Israeli weapons and defense equipment. This value exceeds the total Israeli exports to India during the previous 3 years combined. The 2 countries also signed an intelligence-sharing agreement in the same year.
Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in 2017, signifying healthy relations between the two. India and Israel also signed an MoU on Israel’s renowned cybersecurity during the state visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to New Delhi in 2018.
After receiving the required political backing in 2018, the Indian administration finalized the purchase of 10 armored Heron TP drones from Israel which was originally proposed in 2012.
India-Israel relations: New era in their military relationship
Both countries have also ramped up their joint military exercises since 2017, marking a new era in their military relationship.
Although Israel is not a major exporter of heavy weaponry, it is one of the best in producing the technology and ammunition of such systems. For instance, the SPICE-2000 bomb, produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (RADS), was equipped in the Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft that performed the Balakot airstrikes in February 2019.
Moreover, the Indian military installed an Israeli-developed comprehensive integrated border management system (CIBMS) along its border with Pakistan in August 2017.
Many of the leading high-tech companies are also forging joint ventures.
In March 2016, India’s firm Reliance Defense and Israeli firm RADS signed an agreement to collaborate in producing various missile defense systems and surveillance balloons for the Indian military. In April 2017, Israel Aerospace Industries finalized a $2 billion deal with India’s army and navy to provide them with advanced air defense systems. This was Israel’s largest-ever defense deal and made India, its largest arms customer in 2017.
As relations between India and China worsen, New Delhi seeks closer relations with the West and Israel.
Kashmir, another Palestine?
The right-wing political parties, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), to which PM Modi belongs, and the Likud Party, to which PM Netanyahu belongs, share an ideological similarity with a common Muslim antipathy. They believe in an ethnoreligious link to an ancient past, which gives them supremacy over the land and other ethnic groups. For Zionists, it is the land of Israel and for Hindu nationalists, it is to purify India by containing Muslims.
In August 2019, the Indian government unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s special status, waging a demographic war in the region. In the pursuit of electoral interests, BJP advocated a settler-colonial project in the most militarized region in the world – with more than 5 million Indian soldiers.
Thousands of civilians and activists have been restricted to their homes, subjected to detention, torture, mass arrests, judicial apathy, and a communication blackout – same as Palestinians. As BJP, similar to the Likud party, feeds its population the rhetoric of moral superiority, crimes against humanity prevail.
This bold move can be better understood in the context of support that the BJP gets. With a similar blueprint to follow, India’s consul general, Sandeep Chakravorsky, in 2019 said,” India should adopt the ‘Israeli model’ in Kashmir.”
He further claimed that if Israel can do it, they can do it too. In 2018, Mark Sofer of the Israeli Foreign Ministry is reported to have said, “I really don’t see any difference between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hamas” – Lashkar being held responsible for terrorist activities in IOK by the Indian administration.
In 2019, India voted in favor of Israel at UN-ECOSOC to deny a Palestinian human rights organization named ‘Shahed’ the observer status, indicating a shift in India’s voting practice in the UN.
The first sign of this shift was witnessed in 2015 at UNHRC when India abstained from voting on a resolution that criticized Israel for violating human rights in Gaza. This was the first time the ‘largest democracy in the world’ had ever voted against Palestinian interests. On the flip side, Israel supports India’s stance of Kashmir being its’ internal issue.
The political marriage between the two right-wing nationalist leaders has brought the two nations closer than ever. PM Modi has ushered India into a new chapter in history by cementing a strategic partnership with Israel. Judging from the current ethos of the nations, both leaders are expected to remain in power for the near future and to continually support one another on the geopolitical stage.
This ideological affinity will not bode well for the Kashmiris, Palestinians, or human rights.
The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at Jamal17_m@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.