Significance: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his maiden visit to India described India-Israel relationship as a marriage made in heaven despite the fact that Jewish state was disappointed by India’s vote at the UN against the Jerusalem issue. He also said that his visit to India will strengthen cooperation between the two countries in various areas like technology, agriculture and other spheres that are changing the world.
India- Israel Relations from 1948 to 1992: National interest becomes the guiding principle in foreign policy.Indo-Israel relations was not extensive and were restrictive because of the broad parameter of Arab-Israeli relations and conflicts. The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was a proposal which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The Partition Plan provided for the progressive withdrawal of British armed forces and the delineation of boundaries between the two States and Jerusalem.India voted against the November 29 resolution partitioning Palestine and creating the new state of Israel on Palestinian soil.
It, however, accorded the recognition to the state of Israel, later, in September 1950. The relationship remained informal in nature. Still, India did not exchange the diplomatic representative between the two states. India’s opposition to official diplomatic relations with Israel stemmed from both domestic and foreign considerations like:
- Domestic reasons: Politicians in India feared to lose the Muslim vote bank if relations were normalised with Israel.Also, India did not want to cause problems for a large number of its citizens working in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf who were helping India maintain its foreign-exchange reserves. India’s domestic need for energy was another reason for the lack of normalisation of ties with Israel in terms of safeguarding the flow of oil from Arab nations
- External Reasons: India’s foreign policy goals and alliances also proved problematic to formal relations with Israel, including India’s support for the pro-Palestine Liberation Organization Non-Aligned Movement etc., India’s desire to counter Pakistan’s influence with the Arab states. On an ideological level, the dominant political party in India during this era like the Indian National Congress opposed Israel due to their perception that it was a state based on religion analogous to Pakistan.
India’s Reapproachment from 1992: India formally announced its decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel on January 29, 1992, under the Prime Ministership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. India formally established relations with Israel when it opened an embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992.Ties between the two nations have flourished since, primarily due to common strategic interests and security threats. The main reasons for the diplomatic shift are:
- Organisation of Islamic Cooperation: is an international organization founded in 1969, consisting of 57 member states. It allegedly neglected the sentiments of Indian Muslims and OIC is used as a platform by Pakistan for spreading its interests. India opines that OIC has no locus standi on India’s internal affairs.
- Non-reciprocity: 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 neighbourhood, 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.
- Trust in Israel for India under emergency situations: When India needed Israeli help it got it unreservedly. Israel was willing to continue and even step up its arms sales to India after other major states curbed their technological exports following India’s May 1998 nuclear tests. Israel provided India with much-needed imagery about Pakistani positions using its UAVs during the Kargil War with Pakistan in 1999. That was ultimately instrumental in turning the war around for India. When India was planning to undertake a limited military strike against Pakistan in June 2002 as part of Operation Parakram, Israel supplied hardware through special planes.
- Converging interests: India and Israel live in complex geographies. We are aware of strategic threats to regional peace and stability. India has suffered first-hand the violence and hatred spread by terror like Israel. IT prompted diplomatic action and both countries have now agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also cooperate to combat growing radicalization and terrorism, including in cyberspace.
- Cold War: The end of the Cold War became a turning point when India and Israel found that there were several common interests. It became very easy to reach out. Israel made a breakthrough in the Oslo accord when Israel recognised Palestine’s right for self-determination. It made it easy for India and several other nations to reach out to Israel.
- Nature of Politics: The willingness of Moscow to normalize relations with Israel just days before the inauguration of the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991 and the sudden disappearance of the USSR along with the domestic emergence of an alternate party to Indian National Congress have caused softening the hesitation to Israel.
J.N Dixit, the former Foreign Secretary, who was involved in the entire process of India’s decision to establish a diplomatic
relationship with Israel wrote in his memoirs that “three important developments caused India to establish diplomatic ties with Israel first is the Gulf War of 1991, second is the general attitude of the Arab states toward the problem of Kashmir and third is the conclusion of a peace agreement between the PLO and Israel.
India’s UN Vote on Jerusalem: In a major diplomatic setback to the United States and President Donald Trump, 128 countries voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution rejecting U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It included India, which voted against the United States and carried forward New Delhi’s principled position on the issue about a month before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to India. The vote of India in UN is important because:
- Balancing Act of diplomacy: Over the years, the position of India has shifted from the periphery to the centre of the international system. The Middle East is an important region for India’s commercial, security, energy, and diplomatic interests. India’s 2016-2017 trade with Arab countries, at $121 billion, accounts for 18.25 percent of India’s total trade, while its trade with Israel, at $5 billion, accounts for less than 1 percent of total trade. Therefore India cannot afford to lose the hold on Arab countries.
- Pragmatism: India has been equally active in ensuring its diplomatic impression in the Arab world. India pragmatically pursued a thorough engagement with the Arab world by visiting Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, inviting the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi as the chief guest for Republic Day celebrations etc. along with expanding relations with Israel. It also conveys that an anti-Islamic ideology is not the cornerstone of the India-Israeli relations.
- Multilateralism: India’s principled vote emphasizes its commitment to multilateralism and its consistent opposition to institutionalized discrimination by powers. India has stood its moral ground by not bowing to American pressure, thus exhibiting itself as a strong responsible actor within the international system that retains its principled position on international issues. India, with its unique position in terms of its strong ties with Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, can carve out a greater role in overseeing the regional order in West Asia, especially in the context of dwindling American dominance and its efforts to gain its long-coveted permanent seat on the UN Security Council.