This is part two of a two-part piece on India and Israel. Read part one here.
Official diplomatic relations were only established in 1992 even though India recognised Medinat Yisraʾel (Israel’s official name) as early as 1950. After independence, India and Israel differed in their stances and views. During the period of the Cold War, the countries took diverging paths with Israel turning to western capitalism, and India remaining non-aligned.
Non-alignment, in fact, served as one of the causes for the weakening of ties between India and Israel in the 20th century. While India pushed for greater ties with the Arab countries through the non-alignment policy, it also pushed Israel away, as Nehru was wary of Israel’s hostility with the Arab world. This, paired with a benevolent attitude of Indian foreign policy towards Palestine, did not foster warm relations between the countries.
Isolated ties continued for a good part of the upcoming decade characterised by closed-door diplomacy between India and Israel. There were regular crests and troughs in relations — when Atal Bihari Vajpayee forged warmer relations with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Congress reverted it back to seclusion in 2004. Now Indo-Israeli relations are at an all-time high and on the path to further forward progression.
Currently, India is the largest buyer of Israeli arms and defence equipment and this is bound to increase. In terms of trade, India is one of the massive foreign exchange and investment contributors to Israel, accounting for over USD 84 billion in Israeli exports and, thus, being its 3rd largest trade partner in Asia.
Benjamin Netanyahu and his party subscribe to a similar conservative, nationalistic ideology — Modi’s Hindutva closely resembles Netanyahu’s Zionism. Both leaders have also exchanged visits to each other’s country to sign various agreements in areas of trade, economy and defence, with Modi being the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. Ever since the dawn of the BJP-era in India in 2014, the Indo-Israeli relationship has been improving as compared to the UPA epoch of politics when India was in its infancy. Even today, Indian ethnocentric ideologists look up to and admire Israel’s vision of establishing an ethnic democracy and wish to recreate that in India. Israel thus caters to and reinforces many of India’s aims in South Asia.
But at the same time, due to the constant changing geopolitical climate in the Middle East caused due to various factors including the Arab Springs, Iran’s aggressive adventurism, increasing terror and the decline of the Pax Americana footprint, India needs to re-evaluate the aspects of its relationship with Israel which calls for dynamism.
The Abraham Accords
The signing of the US-fostered Abraham accords with UAE and Bahrain has paved the way for Israel to normalise ties with other nations in the region such as Sudan and Morocco. Even though Saudi Arabia has not openly signed an agreement, the accords can be considered an implicit nod of Saudi Arabia to pursuing ties with Israel.
The Abraham accords not only serves as a part of something bigger but also provides a backdrop for India to generate something out of the Peace process. India has welcomed the signing of the deal and has reiterated its support for the two-state solution to create peace in the region. UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel are all strategic allies. Thus, India is bound to benefit from the stabilisation of relations between these countries as firstly, it removes the burden of a balancing act between Israel and the Arab states, and secondly, it provides an impetus for a multilateral synergy to occur.
The politics of Israel is highly unstable with four elections taking place only within the course of 24 months. This can be accounted to the system of proportional representation elections to the Knesset which Israel uses in contrast to India’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) election system. Israel being a multi-party state, multiple parties are represented in the Knesset. Hence, formation of coalitions are predominant.
The elections have multiple parties and leaders contesting who may not hold the same view in terms of foreign policy. A looming possibility of the replacement of the right-wing Likud Party by a center-leaning government may lead to some form of distancing between India and Israel. Irrespective of this, there is enough assurance that relations between India and Israel are headed in an upward direction.
India and Israel’s shared goals and beliefs, coupled with the changing power dynamics in both Israel and the Middle Eastern region, can only call for refreshment and re-envisioning of the collaboration between the countries. Whatever modification occurs in foreign policy, it should ensure that both the countries persevere in mutual development in areas of security, economy and trade.