INDIA-ISRAEL BILATERAL RELATIONS

INDIA-ISRAEL BILATERAL RELATIONS

 

Basics and Background
  • Although India had recognised 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 a considerable potential for Indo-Israeli cooperation in the field of science and technology, particularly in areas such as dry land farming.
  • Israelis, particularly the youth, were attracted by the India 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 liberalisation 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 the nations.

 

 

Factors which 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.

 

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 neighborhood, 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 maneuvering 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.

 

Political Cooperation
  • 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 cyber security, 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.
Economic Cooperation
  • 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.
Investment
  • 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.

 

Agriculture
  • Under a comprehensive Work Plan for cooperation in agriculture signed on 10 May 2006, bilateral projects are implemented through MASHAV (Center for International Cooperation of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and CINADCO (Centre for International Agricultural Development Cooperation of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development).
  • Agricultural cooperation between the two sides is formalized through 3-year Work plans wherein 3-year Action plans are developed.
  • The two sides signed the fourth phase of the joint action plan (2018-20) in July 2017.
  • Out of 29 Centres of Excellence expected to be fully active by 2020 in twelve Indian states (Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal), 25 have been commissioned.
  • India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanization, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro- irrigation and post-harvest management particularly in Haryana and Maharashtra.
  • Israeli drip irrigation technologies and products are now widely used in India.
  • Some Israeli companies and experts are providing expertise to manage and improve dairy farming in India through their expertise in high milk yield.

 

Defence and Security
  • India imports critical defence technologies from Israel.
  • There are regular exchanges between the armed forces.
  • As part of the regular goodwill visits of Indian ships, three Indian naval ships from the Western Fleet made a port call in Haifa in May 2017.
  • INS Tarangini, a naval training ship, made a port call in Haifa in September 2018.
  • There is cooperation on security issues, including a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism.
  • In February 2014, India and Israel signed three important agreements on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, Cooperation in Homeland Security, and Protection of Classified Material.

 

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.

 

Culture
  • 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.

 

Education
  • 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.

 

Indian Diaspora
  • 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.

 

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.

 

Differences
  • 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.

 

Challenges
  • 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.

 

Way Forward
  • Taking steps to balance the differences between India and Israel is often difficult and complicated.
  • Flexibility in favour of India’s national interest must be made the top priority of the Indian government while dealing with Israel.
  • India has so far been successful in balancing its interests in the Middle East, both bilaterally and multilaterally, without taking sides with neither of the conflicting nations in the region.
  • Maintaining apolitical ties with the Sunni-dominated and Shia-dominated Arab countries and Israel is a step in the right direction.
  • Development along with transfer of defence technology will help India.
  • India can leverage its space technologies to Israel for its developmental purposes where India enjoys upper hand.
  • An integrated approach involving government to government, government to business and business to business interactions between Indians and Israeli agencies.
  • India could adopt the three-layered Israeli strategy that goes beyond security to build a cyber system that is robust, resilient and has strong defence capabilities.
  • Both need to cooperate to combat growing radicalisation and terrorism, including in cyber space