Foreign Relations | India-Israel Relationships

There has been a steady strengthening of India's relationship with Israel ever since India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, despite Indian attempts to keep this flourishing bilateral relationship out of public view. This bilateral relationship assumed an altogether new dynamic and came under full public scrutiny with the visit of Ariel Sharon to India in September 2003, the first ever by a ruling Israeli prime minister. The excitement surrounding this visit and the future prospects of Indo-Israeli relationship signaled the sea change in relations between the two states. In sharp contrast to the back-channel security ties that existed even before the normalization of bilateral relations, India now seems more willing to openly carve out a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship with Israel, including deepening military ties and countering the threat posed by terrorism to the two societies.

A flourishing Indo-Israeli relationship has the potential to make a significant impact on global politics by altering the balance of power, not only in South Asia and the Middle East, but also in the larger Asian region, which has been in a state of flux in recent times. However, notwithstanding the convergence of interests on a range of issues between India and Israel, this bilateral relationship will have to be carefully managed because of a host of constraints which circumscribe this relationship. 

Historical Background
India recognized the state of Israel in 1950, two years after its establishment in 1948. However, diplomatic relations were not established until 1992.[1] This was mainly because of India's support and sympathies with the Palestinian cause. India was a founder member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that was supportive of anti-colonial struggles around the world and this also meant strong support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). India became one of the first non-Arab states to recognize Palestinian independence and also one of the first to allow an embassy of the PLO in its capital. 

India's anti-Israel stance was also part of the larger Indian diplomatic strategy of trying to counter Pakistan's influence in the Arab world and of safeguarding its oil supplies from Arab countries. It also ensured jobs for thousands of Indians in the Gulf, helping India to keep its foreign exchange reserves afloat. India and Israel also ended up on the opposite sides during the Cold War, with the United States strongly supporting Israel, while India's sympathies were toward the Soviet Union. The Congress Party in India, the dominant force in Indian politics since India's independence in 1947, opposed Israel in large part because it viewed Israel as the analogue of Pakistan, a state based on religion. This also hampered growth of Indo-Israeli ties in the immediate aftermath of Indian independence. 

Despite this, however, it is remarkable that India and Israel managed to come together on a range of issues, especially the close collaboration between the Indian intelligence agency, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and Israel's Mossad. This collaboration was the result of a secret cooperation agreement in the area of security, intelligence and military equipment. Israel also never hesitated to come to India's defense, publicly and vigorously, in most of India's major conflicts. While India got tacit help and support from Israel during its 1962 war with China and 1965 war with Pakistan, India's relations with Israel went downhill in the early seventies with the worsening of the Arab-Israeli dispute after the 1967 war. 

It is also important to note that Jews have been a part of India for well over a thousand years. The most distinctive aspect of the Indian Jewish experience is the complete absence of discrimination by the host majority. Jews have lived in India without any fear of persecution, a fact that has been well appreciated by Israel. Even though the Jewish population in India is estimated to be around 6,000--following the emigration of over 25,000 to Israel between the 1950s and 1970s--the community's contributions to India remain substantive. 

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, India was forced to reorient its foreign policy to accommodate the changing international milieu. India also embarked on a path of economic liberalization, forcing it to open its markets to other nations. It was in 1992 that India granted full diplomatic recognition to Israel, leading India and Israel to establish embassies in each other's country. Since then, the Indo-Israeli bilateral relationship has attained a new dynamic with a significant upward trend. However, while the exchanges in diverse fields intensified, the overall connection deliberately remained low profile. Such an approach was thought to be necessary in order to insulate the other interests India had in the Middle East from being affected by the Arab animosity towards Israel. In this context, Ariel Sharon's visit to India in September 2003 was an important benchmark in that it made clear to the world that India was no longer shy about its burgeoning relationship with Israel. 

Defense Collaboration
The ballast for Indo-Israeli bilateral ties is provided by the defense cooperation between the two states with India emerging as Israel's largest arms market, displacing Turkey, with Israel becoming India's biggest arms supplier. With the end of the Cold War, the lure of the Russian arms market for India has diminished due to a high degree of obsolescence. Moreover, with Israel specializing in upgrading Russian equipment, it has emerged as an alternative source of hi-tech defense procurement as India has decided to diversify its defense purchasing.With huge investments in research and development, Israeli weapon systems are considered the cutting edge in various areas of the international arms market, even compared to American and European products. This is primarily because a high technology defense industry is a matter of vital national security for Israel. The extent of Israel's defense industry reflects its precarious geopolitical situation of a nation of about six million surrounded by a largely adversarial Arab world many times its size. Despite enjoying a close relationship with the United States, self-reliance in defense is a mantra that Israel has followed almost to perfection. Israel has also adopted a pragmatic attitude with respect to weapon sales to India as opposed to other developed states that have looked at weapons sales to India from the perspective of balance of power in South Asia. Israel was willing to continue and even step up its arms sales to India after other major states curbed their technological exports to India following India's nuclear tests in May 1998.From anti-missile systems to hi-tech radars, from sky drones to night-vision equipment, Indo-Israeli defense cooperation has known no bounds in recent times.

Space Collaboration
Israel has expressed interest in collaborating with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) towards utilizing satellites for better management of land and other resources. Israel has also expressed interest in participating in ISRO's Chandrayaan mission of sending an unmanned craft to the moon. Israel's TecSAR radar satellite was launched by India on 22 January 2008. The Indian PSLV launch-vehicle was chosen instead of its own home grown Shavit rocket.This was due to the cost of the PSLV, $15 million compared to the Shavit at $20 million.Tecsar is an Israeli spy satellite, primarily meant to monitor Iran's military activities.

In March 2009, India launched the RISAT-2 satellite which is based on the technology employed in Israel's TecSAR. The satellite has the capability to take high resolution images at night and can carry out reconnaissance operations even through a dense cloud cover. Most Indian satellites currently in operation lack these capabilities. The decision to purchase the satellite was taken in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Trade agreements
Bilateral trade, which was at $200 million in 2001, grew to $4.7 billion by 2010, excluding defense trade. This includes manufacturing, satellite launch, agriculture and diamond industries.In 2008, Israel and India finalised a three-year plan to introduce crops such as olives, dates and grapes to be introduced and cultivated in the states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, to create an agricultural market that meets Western demand for products like olive oil.Recently India and Israel are in talks to create a fund worth $50 million for mutual cooperation in the agriculture sector. Israeli drip irrigation methods which were used for greening their desert is India's another area of interest.