Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

30 years of India-Israel Diplomatic Relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India-Israel-Gulf Trilateral

A recent speech by the PM Modi has marked three decades since New Delhi established formal diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv on January 29, 1992, when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister.

India-Israel Relation: A Backgrounder

(I) Recognition of Israel

  • Both nations became independent almost at the same time, in the late 1940s, following a long struggle against British Colonialism.
  • Though India had recognized Israel on September 17, 1950, full-fledged diplomatic relations between the countries were established on January 29, 1992.
  • Their diplomatic relationship was previously based on popular consensus and only much later became official.

(II) India’s reluctance for extending ties

  • The popular perception of Israel was negative as it was a state formed on religion and analogous to Pakistan.
  • This was because during that time India was a young state that needed to take into account Arab states’ numerical impact at the United Nations.
  • Furthermore, it could not afford to antagonize its Muslim population by establishing ties with a Jewish state.
  • Sympathizing the Palestinian cause is a by-product of these motives.

(III) India’s shift towards Israel

  • Though India voted against a UN resolution for the creation of Israel, once Israel is created, India officially recognized Israel (in 1950).
  • But full diplomatic ties were established only in 1992.

Reasons for India prioritizing Israel

  • India’s exclusion from OIC: The formation of an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969 which neglected the sentiments of Indian Muslims by blocking India’s membership to this group by Pakistan is one of the primary triggers for the change instance.
  • Backing of Kashmir: India has received no backing from the Arab countries on the Kashmir Issue. There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir.
  • Support in crucial wars: Israel supported India during the Indo-Pak wars even before full diplomatic ties were established.
  • India’s US allegiance: With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US as a superpower, India started aligning itself with the US, and this further added to our improved relations with Israel.
  • Deviation from NAM: After decades of Non-Alignment and Pro-Arab policy, in 1992 India changed its stance and established full diplomatic ties with Israel.
  • Support at global forums: Israel has always been a vocal supporter of India’s permanent seat in the UNSC.
  • Technology: India’s world-class institutes of higher education could benefit from the strong culture of research and high-end innovation that thrives in Israel.

Israeli interests in India

  • India presents a massive market for Israel’s manufactured goods and technology.
  • India has for long enjoyed great goodwill among Israel’s citizens as the only country in the world where Jews have not faced anti-Semitism.
  • There are many instances of Jews under Hitler’s persecution finding shelter in India including some that were said to have been facilitated by Nehru.
  • The minuscule Jew community was able to rise to eminence in various fields.
  • Israel cherishes its admirers in India for its ability to thrive in spite of very adverse situations in its short history as an independent nation.

Collaborations between India and Israel

[A] Military collaboration

  • Against terrorism: India and Israel have increased collaboration in military ventures since both nations face the threats of rising radical terrorism and separatism.
  • Arms trade: India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defense supplier to India after Russia.
  • Security: Working groups in areas of border management, internal security and public safety, police modernization, and capacity building for combating crime, crime prevention, and cybercrime were established.
  • Defence R&D: IAI is developing the Barak 8 missile for the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force which is capable of protecting sea vessels and ground facilities from aircraft and cruise missiles.

[B] Political collaboration

  • Since the up-gradation of relations in 1992, defense 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.

[C] Agriculture collaboration

  • India has chosen Israel as a strategic partner (G2G) in the field of agriculture.
  • This partnership evolved into the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project (IIAP), under the Indo-Israel Action Plan, based on an MOU signed by Indian and Israeli ministers of Agriculture in 2006.
  • The partnership aims to introduce crop diversity, increase productivity & increase water use efficiency.
  • India has a lot to learn from the dryland agriculture of Israel. The Economic Survey 2016-17 batted for Indo-Israel cooperation in drip-irrigation technologies.

[D] Economic collaboration

  • 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, etc.
  • Major imports from Israel include chemicals and mineral products, base metals and machinery, and transport equipment. Potash is a major item of Israel’s exports to India.

Various deterrents in ties

  • Bilateral Trade and investment still below potential: From just $200 million in 1992, bilateral trade (excluding defense) peaked at about $5 billion in 2012 but since then it has dropped to about $4 billion. Also, bilateral trade has not diversified much—diamonds and chemicals still make up for the large chunk of the pie.
  • Connectivity between the two countries is still poor with just one direct flight from Mumbai 3 times a week and no direct flights from Delhi.
  • Historical retrenchment: India’s consistent support for a sovereign, independent, viable, and united Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognized borders, side by side, and at peace with Israel and Pro-Arab stance has been a sticky point.
  • Limited People to People ties and cultural differences: Israelis and Indian approach business differently and often find it difficult to get on the same page.
  • India’s support for Palestinian Cause: Though formal ties were established in 1992, the ideological divide resurfaces time and again due to India’s affinity for Palestine.

Way forward

  • Indian policy appears to be guided primarily by strategic considerations.
  • There is a strong need to use soft power diplomacy to build people-to-people bridges and to add to economic benefits through robust inter-country tourism.
  • The Indian and Israeli markets do not compete with one another but complete one another.
  • A potential quadrilateral with US and UAE can help this relationship soar to new heights.


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