“There are no permanent friends or foes in diplomacy; there are only permanent interests”
– Henry Kissinger
An enthusiast in international politics can figure out a lot of commonalities between India and Israel. Both the countries not just gained their Independence from the British rule in 1947, but also suffered partition of nations after their freedom. While India found a solution (formation of Pakistan) and is still struggling with it, Israel is struggling to get a one-state solution with Palestine.
Before we start the present India–Israel relationship, let’s have a walk through the ties between the nations in the last few decades.
Recalling the Past
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, India voted against Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1949. The reason was simple to deduce. Those days, India maintained a close relationship with Arab and Soviet Union, while Israel had close ties with the United States and Western Europe.
In 1952, the renowned physicist Albert Einstein was given the opportunity to become the President of Israel. When Einstein refused to take up the offer, he being a Jew wrote a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru intending to persuade him to support the establishment of the Jewish State. However, Mahatma Gandhi opposed the creation of Israel on a religious basis.
“We would have [recognized Israel] long ago, because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru
Nehru stated this after India officially recognized Israel in 1950. The same relationship continued for next few decades as India supported Palestine.
In 1956, the then-Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett visited India amid the Suez crisis as India was one of the mediators in the same. During Morarji Desai’s Prime Ministerial term, in the interest of expanding bilateral ties, Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan paid a secret visit to New Delhi in 1977.
The first open meeting between the prime ministers of the two states happened during the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in September 1985 where Rajiv Gandhi met his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres. All the meetings prior to this were not under a formal relationship.
The initiation of diplomatic ties between the India and Israel started in 1992. During P V Narasimha Rao government, with the end of Cold War and a major shift in India’s foreign and economic policy, Israel formally opened its embassy in New Delhi. In the same year, India opened its embassy in Tel Aviv (the capital of Israel), marking the beginning of a new relationship between the two countries.
These diplomatic ties facilitated India to acquire 32 IAI Searcher Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAV) from Israel in 1996. In the next year, Israeli President Ezer Weizman led a 24-member business delegation to India. He became the first Israeli President to visit India. In this visit, he met President Shankar Dayal Sharma and finalized a weapons deal involving the purchase of the Barak-1 vertically-launched surface-to-air missiles.
In 2000, after the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, L.K. Advani was the first senior Indian minister to visit Israel. In the same year, Jaswant Singh, the then Indian foreign minister visited Israel, following which India and Israel set up a joint anti-terror commission. In view of institutionalizing relations with India, Ariel Sharon visited India in 2000. He became the first Israeli PM to visit India.
Since then, India and Israel have continued the positive relationship. Various leaders from both the countries have been visiting their counterparts to increment bilateral trade and growth.
In October 2015, President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel to initiate deals on various collaborative projects on technology and culture. He became the first Indian President to visit Israel. To boost bilateral ties, External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj arrived in Tel Aviv on a two-day visit to Israel in January 2016. Last year, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid a visit to India for six days. President Rivlin instantly connected with the Indian population when he tweeted in Hindi.
The recent visit by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked another beginning towards a growing bond. The ground-breaking visit by Modi was the first by an Indian PM since the state of Israel was formed. Both the leaders offered deep respect for each other and promised to help each other to attain a great future. The major deals were in technology, agriculture, and defence. Both the countries criticized the growing terrorism environment and vowed to fight against it. This historic visit also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations (in 1992) by former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it was a warm meeting between two tireless reformers. On a lighter note, he also complimented Indian yoga practices and went on to say that-
“When I do a relaxing talasana pose in the morning and I turn my head to the right, India is the first democracy that I’ll see. And when Modi does a relaxing pose of vasistasana and he turns his head to the left, Israel is the first democracy that you can see”
After the establishment of various diplomatic ties, the India-Israel bilateral trade has grown bigger from a mere $200m in 1992 to more than $5bn in 2016. Also, the discussions are continuing about free trade agreement between two nations as it can bolster the bilateral trade. In the realm of defence industry, India increased its purchases from Israel over the years. Today, Israel is the second-largest source of defence equipment for India, after Russia. Reportedly, Israel has provided military assistance to India in its wars in 1962, 1965 and 1971. This has become the basis for defence ties between the two countries. The cooperation also extended to agriculture, science, and technology.
Over the years, the relationship between India and Israel has evolved to a more cooperative one. Today, Israel considers India as its strategic partner. This strategic relation has left many countries worried. And Indian people are overwhelmingly supporting this partnership. In diplomacy, it is true that there are only permanent interests; no permanent friends or foes.