After 70 years, India and Israel’s longing bromance is finally out of the closet

Published: July 7, 2017
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Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu walks with India's PM Narendra Modi, as they visit Olga Beach near Hadera, Israel on Thursday. PHOTO: TWITTER

It took a long time coming, 70 years to be precise, but perhaps it was inevitable. In the nearly seven decades, since the state of Israel came into existence, no Indian prime minister set foot in the country. 

But true to the unorthodox style that is revitalising Indian diplomacy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally corrected this longstanding anomaly with his trip to Israel this week.

The extraordinarily warm welcome Modi received illustrates how much his hosts wanted this visit to happen and how much it matters to them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was effusive in his welcome address, using a few Hindi words and liberally sprinkling catchy acronyms, much like Modi does in his speeches.

Over the last 25 years, the relationship with Israel has emerged as one of the most important bilateral relationships for India, especially in the critical areas of security, water management and agriculture. The progress that Israel has made in these fields over the years has been admirable and India stands to learn a lot from the Israeli experience. Israel has also been a reliable supplier and has stepped in to provide key technologies and armaments during times of crisis, including during the Kargil conflict in 1999.

From the Israeli perspective, a strong partnership with a large country is invaluable. It is isolated in its neighbourhood and many countries walk a veritable tightrope when it comes to balancing their relationships with Israel and the influential Arab world. The full-fledged endorsement and support of India, a like-minded liberal democracy, becomes a source of great strength and legitimacy for Israel.

Furthermore, Israel needs economic partners to fuel its own growth and a massive market, for instance, India can absorb a lot of Israeli products and technologies, providing just the boost Israeli industry needs.

In addition, amidst the clear practical advantages of the relationship between these two countries, there are deep historical links as well. India’s shores have been a safe haven for Jews for centuries and they have had the freedom to practice and preserve their faith without facing the anti-Semitism that has followed the community everywhere else in the world.

Yet, despite all these obvious synergies, the two countries have largely kept their relationship very low key due to two major factors. First is the reluctance of generations of Indian politicians to antagonise its substantial Muslim population that plays a major role in influencing electoral outcomes in the country.

Secondly, India has been a little too conscious of Arab sensitivities and has chosen to bend over backwards to avoid offending them. These were indeed the underpinnings of the Nehruvian ideology that guided independent India’s worldview.

Starting with PV Narasimha Rao in 1991, India has gradually started adopting a more pragmatic approach in its diplomacy, and it was under him that India finally established formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, by which time several Arab nations themselves had established ties with Israel. Even then, India kept its relationship with Israel largely confined to the closet. There was a lot of cooperation, but with little fanfare.

PM Modi has articulated a significant departure from Nehruvian coyness in several matters, and his trip to Israel makes a strong statement about the direction he intends to steer India towards.

India is committed to the two-state formula and recognises the legitimacy of Israel as the home for Jewish people and a separate Palestine. It is also strengthening its relationship with key Muslim countries like the UAE and Iran on a more assured footing. Its growing economic strength and geopolitical importance allows it that space, which was earlier constrained by its dependence on oil imports for its energy needs and the large number of Indians who live and work in the region.

In a lot of ways, India and Israel are natural partners, and with its rapidly growing global profile, India can pursue this relationship more openly. The two countries face many similar challenges and the solutions that Israel has developed for addressing those challenges can be applicable for India as well.

Large parts of India are arid and agriculture is heavily dependent on erratic rains. Israel has pioneered several irrigation technologies that can help Indian farmers overcome this dependence. Similarly, Israeli companies have developed cutting edge technology in the field of IT and there is tremendous scope for joint Research and Development. The $40 million innovation fund that was announced during the visit is a reflection of the potential that exists in this sphere.

Security is another key area where the two countries will continue to expand their cooperation. In addition to weapons and related technology, there is a strong focus on counter-terrorism. Both India and Israel have been firmly in the crosshairs of Islamic terrorists and closer cooperation between the two can greatly strengthen their security architecture.

For India, decoupling its Israel ties with the deep relationship it has with the Arab world will be a major accomplishment and a mark of its maturing and self-assured diplomacy.

Both countries have emerged from a tumultuous past and still face severe existential threats in their neighbourhoods. Yet, despite being under siege, they have not just survived but have flourished while retaining their unique cultural essence in an environment of animosity and suspicion in their respective neighbourhoods.

Ultimately, as much as India and Israel need each other, the world also needs these two multicultural and inclusive countries to thrive. Indeed, the world will stand to benefit from the lessons these two have learnt in their own journeys.

Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (twitter.com/amitnangia06)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rafiq Ali

    We need to learn a lot from Israel. It’s a country so advanced in science, technology and all other field of knowledge. Whole of Muslim world cannot afford to fight militarily or intellectually with Israel. That is the bitter truth.Recommend

  • Vectra

    The fallen empire is now rising.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    @disqus_PngFpp2bex:disqus
    happy to see such a sensible comment. Israel is a country with 20% Muslim minority. They take care of their minorities well and all have equal rights. Israel is tarnished by vested interests. As far as Palestine is concerned, less said the better. Palestinians from west bank and Gaza are mortal enemies. These between blood brothers. You can never have a unified Palestine. There will be blood bath. Only Palestinians will die.Recommend

  • saad

    Isn’t Modi’s visit giving goose bumps to Arab States especially GCC countries? Or their ideology not to accept Israel is being compromised for personal interestsRecommend

  • Ahsin Sana

    i dont see any rational reason of publishing blog of an Indian citizen in Pakistani news website despite the fact that he blatantly termed Kashmiri Freedom Fighters and Palestinian Freedom Fighters as Islamic Terrorists, it seems either Editor didnt read the article by himself or its intentional.Recommend

  • wb

    GCC countries are weeks away from recognizing Israel. They’ll have to.

    Understand this, before Islam came into existence, all of Middle East belonged to Jews and Pagans. Meccah and Madina were Jewish cities with sprinkles of Pagans and Christians who lived side by side peacefully. And there was not a single Muslim. This is a statistical fact.
    Recommend

  • Sane

    What is the rationale that Indian reads a Pakistani news website.Recommend

  • Zain Abidin

    What India does, Pakistan usually follows. Let see when Pakistan will recognize State of Israel. Behind the closed doors, specially during Musharaf Era, there has been talks between Israeli and Pakistani government officials, but kept in low key, where meetings had been held in neutral countries like Turkey. Such meetings were reported in Pakistani newspapers back in early and mid 2000’s. Current Government of Pakistan is too embroiled in domestic issues and JIT thing. Otherwise, this is the correct time to recognize State of Israel, many Arab countries have done it, and many more soon follow. We don’t want to be last in line. Plus, there is huge benefit, specially in Technological Cooperation in Advance Agriculture, Desalination Plants, Renewable Energy, and IT and even Defense fields in which Israel leads the way.Recommend

  • wb

    The rationale that Indian reads a Pakistani news website are below:

    Pakistan was created out of hatred for INDIAN who was not a MUSLIM, that resulted in 1 million deaths.

    Pakistan waged 4 wars against India and lost all of them.

    Pakistan sent terrorists for multiple attacks within India.

    Pakistan continues to support the Islamist terrorists of Kashmir.

    Are they enough? Or do you want me to start with Veena Maliks and Ramiz Rajas?Recommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    India needs to have oil independent economy for that. That would mean all electric vehicles and trains etc. Not possible at this time but may be in future. Till then, India needs oil, that too at cheap rate. For that to happen, it is important that we strike a balance. Any way, in coming months, there would be war between shias and Sunnis, a large scale one. The winner would have all oil.Recommend

  • Raj – USA

    Comment going on in social media in India:
    “Netanyahu and Modi got along well together because:
    Netanyahu is Jew and Modi is Gujjew”.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Killer of non-Muslims are not defined as freedom fighters. They are called JihadiRecommend

  • vinsin

    India should remove her commitment for two-state formula. Palestinians Muslims cannot demand third partition after getting Syria and Jordan. Even though I have lot of love for some of Palestinians Muslims but their demand is completely unjustified. Muslims should show a bigger heart and stop running for minorities blood. Be responsible majority.Recommend

  • Fruck Off

    Nice to see Indians discussing their country’s foreign policy as bloggers and micro-bloggers (in the comments section). The Tribune has clearly tapped a section of the Indian market that has expressed disgruntlement with their own free press. As India battles it’s own 4th pillar, Pakistani media can provide them the platform they need till the battle is over and there is no longer a diversity of views and freedom of speech in that country. It’ll take a couple of years because Indian civil society has always been, traditionally very strong but in due course all of that will change completely as it is already happening. At least Israelis have a free and independent judiciary and newspapers like Haaretz still exist. Only if the Indians learned that from them but oh, well.Recommend

  • Milind A

    The winner is going to be the West, no matter who (Sunnis or Shias) win. its always been the case.Recommend

  • wb

    For once, I agree with a Pakistani. Indian media is not free at all. Indian media like CNN, NDTV are all infested with Islamists and Islamist sympathizers.

    Believe it or not. Forget truth, even facts that I mention gets published by ET and NDTV blocks them all the time.

    Islamists are destroying India.Recommend

  • wb

    You rightly used the word baseless. Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Wow, so thats your “very long list” of Indian Terrorism that you boasted about!
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!Recommend