Convergence and Constraints
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. 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. This study examines those factors
which are bringing the two nations increasingly closer and the
constraints that might make it difficult for this relationship to
achieve its full potential.
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. This
study examines those factors which are bringing the two nations
increasingly closer and the constraints that might make it difficult
for this relationship to achieve its full potential. First, the
historical underpinnings of the Indo-Israeli relationship are
examined in brief. Subsequently, the convergence of Indo-Israeli
interests on some important issues is analyzed with special
reference to countering terrorism and the growing defense
relationship. Finally, the constraints within which this
relationship will have to operate in the near future are
India recognized the state of Israel in 1950, two
years after its establishment in 1948. However, diplomatic relations
were not established until 1992.
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
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.
There was some concern that the recent change of
government in India, from the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata
Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance to the Congress
Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), might be inimical to
Indo-Israeli ties. But so far they seem to have remained on track,
as the new government has shown its determination to continue on the
path of strengthening relations with Israel. The first foreign
ministry level consultations after the new government's assumption
of power took place in November 2004. In those meetings--which have
taken place annually since 1999--the two sides took stock of their
bilateral ties and discussed various regional and multilateral
issues. The Indo-Israeli joint working group (JWG) on
counter-terrorism met soon thereafter in New Delhi, at which time
the two sides agreed to step up cooperation in multilateral forums
and broaden the scope of their interaction. This JWG was set up in
2000 to strengthen cooperation between the two states in their fight
CONVERGENCE OF INTERESTS
When Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was
given a red carpet welcome during his visit to India in September
2003, the world was forced to take notice of how dramatically the
bilateral ties between India and Israel have grown since the early
1990s. It has been argued that among "India's potential (and indeed
current) antagonists are countries and organizations which may pose
a threat to Israel in time to come or are likely to ally themselves
with Israel's adversaries in some future conflict."
Though this relationship is multifaceted, it is particularly driven
by the menace of terrorism that afflicts both nations and by a
burgeoning defense relationship. The terror attacks of September 11,
2001, and their aftermath also made the two nations realize the
importance of cooperating on a larger scale to counter
Fighting terrorism is a major issue and challenge
for both India and Israel. Both are democratic, pluralistic states
with large domestic Muslim minorities, and both face the scourge of
Islamist terrorism, which is sponsored by their neighbors. This
shared dilemma has led to a better understanding of each other's
It was in this respect that the Indian national security advisor,
Brajesh Mishra, outlined a proposal in a speech to the American
Jewish Committee in Washington in May 2003 that India, Israel, and
the United States should unite to combat the common threat of
Islamic fundamentalism. He argued that democratic nations that face
the menace of international terrorism should form a "viable
alliance" and develop multilateral mechanisms to counter this
Israel also supported this and has even gone to the extent of saying
that an "unwritten and abstract" axis with India and the United
States has been created to combat international terrorism and make
the world a more secure place.
While there has been no attempt to form an
explicit alliance among the three states,
India and Israel have definitely started cooperating more closely on
the terror front. India has found it increasingly beneficial to
learn from Israel's experience in dealing with terrorism since
Israel has also long suffered from cross-border terrorism. And the
terrorism that both India and Israel face comes not only from
disaffected groups within their territories but it is also aided and
abetted by the neighboring states, mostly under non-democratic
regimes, increasingly capable of transferring weapons of mass
destruction to the terrorist organizations. States such as Pakistan
in South Asia, or Iran and Syria in Middle East, have long used
terror as an instrument of their foreign policies. There are, thus,
distinct structural similarities in the kind of threat that India
and Israel face from terrorism. It is also important to note that
when the extremist mullahs call upon their followers to take
up arms in support of an Islamic jihad, their topmost exhortations
have always been the "liberation" of all of mandatory Palestine,
Kashmir, and the annihilation of the United States.
This realization has drawn the two nations
closer, with India being the first close friend Israel has to its
east and Israel being the first close friend India has to its west.
Israel, which has faced relative isolation across the globe, views
India as its strategic anchor in Asia.
Israel also sees major benefits in coming closer to a country with a
big Muslim population, the second largest in the world, hoping that
it might help dilute the importance of the religious component in
the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both states are also islands of stability
in an otherwise largely chaotic region stretching from North Africa
to the Himalayas, which some have argued should be seen as a single
The search for strength in each other's inner reserves is natural
for India and Israel in their quest for security and the fight
As a result, a basic understanding has emerged
between India and Israel that despite the fact that circumstances
surrounding the nature of terrorism they face are different, there
can be no compromise with terror. The declaration signed during
Sharon's visit to India condemned states and individuals who aided
and abetted terrorism across borders, harbored and provided
sanctuary to terrorists besides giving financial support, training,
or patronage. India sees Israel as a source providing training for
its personnel and materiel in its fight against terrorism, and
Israel is more than willing to offer India both material and moral
support in this regard.
India and Israel not only exchange crucial
intelligence information on Islamist terrorist groups but Israel is
also helping India to fight terrorism in Kashmir by providing
important logistical support such as specialized surveillance
equipment, cooperation in intelligence gathering, joint exercises,
and cooperation to stop money laundering and terror funding. The
level of intelligence cooperation between India and Israel may be
even more extensive than between India and the United States. The
tactics used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the guerilla and
urban warfare it wages against Palestinian terror in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip can be fruitfully adopted by the Indian security
forces in countering insurgency. These tactics have even been found
useful by the U.S. forces in Iraq who had to learn IDF strategy of
urban warfare to tackle growing insurgency there.
Israel's long experience in training, equipping,
and operating elite undercover units deployed in Palestinian towns
and villages to gather intelligence, spot targets, and engage
Palestinian gunmen, is useful for the Indian security forces facing
similar situations in Kashmir and the Northeast. Other areas where
Israeli know-how can be incorporated by India include tactics aimed
at lowering the risk of ambush, use of infantry and commando units
seeking out and destroying arms caches and terrorist bomb-making
capabilities, and the use of dogs, robotics, and specially trained
sappers to detect hidden roadside mines.
Soon after Sharon's visit to India, India and
Israel decided to hold joint military exercises for their elite
special forces to further strengthen their defense collaboration.
The joint special forces exercise is a logical next step, as it will
allow each force to demonstrate the distinctive skills each has
acquired in the context of their own regional conflict dynamics,
thus serving to complement and strengthen the force capabilities of
the each country's force. Israel is expected to train Indian
soldiers for specialized anti-insurgence strikes, adding to their
training in desert, mountains, forests, and counter-hijacking and
hostage crisis situations. India primarily wants this training in
order to tackle cross-border infiltration of insurgents in Kashmir
from Pakistan, as well as protecting other Northeastern states of
India from similar infiltration from other neighboring states. India
has also bought Tavor assault rifles, Galil sniper rifles, and night
vision and laser range finding and targeting equipment in order to
improve the capabilities of its forces to tackle insurgency. India
has also shown interest in the counter-infiltration devices Israel
uses on Golan Heights and in the Negev Desert.
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
On the other hand,
for Israel, empowering the Indian military has meant becoming a
major exporter to that large, financially rewarding arms market.
More than the harm to the general Israeli economy caused by the
conflict with the Palestinians, Israel's defense industry has always
been dependent on exports to reach a point where it could produce
enough to remain financially solvent. In fact, in its vigorous
search for new markets for its defense products, Israel has emerged
in 2002 as the fifth-largest arms-exporter in the world.
In this context, Israel's growing defense relationship with India
goes a long way toward sustaining its own local defense industry,
and this in turn is also a significant boost to Israel's economy as
a whole. As a consequence, the Indo-Israel defense partnership has
reached a critical mass in recent years.
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.
systems to hi-tech radars, from sky drones to night-vision
equipment, Indo-Israeli defense cooperation has known no bounds in
A large part of the imported equipment to modernize the Indian Army
battalions as part of the Rs. 3, 290 crore (over $700 million)
investment is also likely to come from Israel. Israel is also to
figure in the Indian Army's plan to bolster its lethal firepower,
anti-IED (improvised explosive devise), and communication
capabilities. In the summer of 2004, Israel's defense industry was
bidding for the upgrade of the Indian Air Force's Mig-27 strike
aircraft, the avionics upgrade of the Indian Navy's Ka-25
anti-submarine helicopters and maritime patrol aircrafts. Israel's
Soltam 155mm Howitzers are one of three contenders for the Rs. 5000
crore (over $1 billion) deal to purchase about 1,000 Howitzer
guns--evaluations of which are currently being conducted by the
Indian Army. Israel and India are also involved in close cooperation
in upgrading Russian-supplied Mig-21 Bison aircraft and T-72 tanks,
particularly to make the tanks capable of conducting night
India has also shown
its interest in acquiring unmanned aerial vehicles, with
negotiations ongoing for the joint production of high altitude
Herons with Israel. The Indian Air Force is also looking to acquire
the Israeli Harpy missile, used for silencing enemy radars, which
would be a significant force multiplier. Some other acquisitions
from Israel in which the Indian Air Force has recently expressed a
keen interest include Delilah II bombs, crystal maze bombs, Pechora
III, surface-to-air missiles, and Popeye beyond-visual-range
air-to-air missiles. The U.S. finally gave its approval to Israel's
delivery of Phalcon Airborne Warning & Controlling Systems
(AWACS) to India after initial reluctance about how this sale might
impact the conventional weapons balance between India and Pakistan.
India's AWACS project involves the integration of the "Phalcon"
radar and communication system with the Russian Ilyushin-76 heavy
transport military aircraft.
The first of five AWACS is scheduled to be delivered by
India and Israel are
also currently negotiating the possible sale of the Arrow-II
anti-ballistic missile defense system to India, which wants to
strengthen its air defense capabilities. Though Israel is more than
willing to sell the system, it needs American approval since the
U.S. was a collaborator in the project. However, India has already
acquired the advanced "Green Pine" fire control radars from Israel.
This is a transportable phased-array radar which forms a crucial
component of the Arrow system and can detect and track incoming
missiles from up to 500km away.
It has also been
argued that Israel could be acquiring an element of strategic depth
(crucial for a geographically small state like Israel) by setting up
logistical bases in the Indian Ocean for its navy.
Cooperation with the Indian Navy is seen as vital for such a venture
and it is occurring in various ways. The Indian Navy
plans to acquire about ten more Israeli Barak anti-missile defense
systems, in addition to the seven already procured for its major
warships. This system would provide India with a close-in point
defense system against the Harpoon and Exocet missiles acquired by
Pakistan. India has also approved the purchase of a $97 million
Israeli electronic warfare system for ships. India has decided to
launch joint programs with Israel in the field of electronic
warfare. With Israel's strength being sensors and packaging, and
India's being fiber optic gyros and micro-electromechanical systems,
both Israel and India can neatly complement each other in this
India's attempts to
shore up its conventional defenses in order to counter its
nuclear-armed adversary, Pakistan, have been greatly supported by
Israeli weaponry. This includes surface-to-air missiles, avionics,
sophisticated sensors to monitor cross-border infiltration, remotely
piloted drones, and artillery. It is instructive to note that Israel
sent its laser guided missiles to India during the Indo-Pak Kargil
war of 1999, making it possible for the Indian Mirages to destroy
Pakistani bunkers in the mountains. Also, 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 after a visit by the Director-General of Israeli
During Sharon's visit
to India, Israel reportedly also took up the issue of developing an
anti-ballistic missile system with India. India is concerned about
the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, especially about its command and
control as Pakistan's military not only completely controls the
country's nuclear weapons, but it is also seen as sympathetic to the
Islamist extremists. Israel is also concerned about the
proliferation of missiles in its own neighborhood and about the
possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapon mutating into an "Islamic
One of the most
immediate effects of this close defense relationship between India
and Israel can be seen in Pakistan's worry that the strategic
balance in the subcontinent is fast tilting against it. It finds it
difficult to match the conventional military capability of
It is especially concerned about the sale of the Arrow anti-missile
system that would neutralize part of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal by
seriously affecting its ballistic missile capability. The Phalcon
early-warning system will give India the capability to look deep
into Pakistan's territory with the result that it would be difficult
for Pakistani warplanes to move without being detected. The Barak
anti-missile system will protect the Indian Navy ships from
Pakistan's missiles, giving the Indian Navy huge maneuver advantages
Perturbed by this
growing conventional asymmetry, Pakistan has been asking the U.S. to
supply it with AWACS and give its nod of approval for the purchase
of F-16 aircrafts from Belgium, though with little success so far.
Pakistan has also indicated that it is re-examining its policy of
non-recognition of Israel in order to counter growing Indo-Israeli
Not much progress has, however, been made on that front.
It would be
fallacious, however, to view the Indian defense spending as being
directed mainly towards Pakistan. India has larger aspirations of
becoming a global political and military power. Israel's
state-of-the-art weapon systems will help India in restructuring its
armed forces to meet the defense requirements of the twenty-first
between India and Israel has continued even after the recent change
of guard in India. The vice chief of the Indian Army, the Indian
Navy chief, and the chief of the Indian Air Force have all visited
Israel since the new government assumed office in May 2004. These
visits were followed by the visit of high-level Israeli defense
ministry officials and top executives from several major armament
manufacturers. Despite initial apprehension in some Israeli quarters
that defense cooperation might suffer under the new Indian
government, the new defense minister made it clear that there will
be no change in the existing defense ties between India and
Other Areas of Cooperation
Though cooperation in
the realm of defense and anti-terrorism has driven India and Israel
closer, the two states are also making concerted attempts to
diversify this relationship. The emergence of India and Israel as
industrialized and technologically-advanced states makes their
cooperation on a range of fields meaningful and mutually beneficial.
There has been a six-fold increase in India's trade with Israel in
the last decade with India becoming Israel's second-largest trading
partner in Asia in non-military goods and services. India's
non-military trade with Israel reached $1.27 billion in 2002 from
just $202 million in 1992, which is still not commensurate with the
Also, a single product, diamonds, accounts for nearly 65 percent of
During his visit to
India, Ariel Sharon was accompanied by a large delegation of about
30 influential businessmen, eager to forge new contracts and open
new markets in India. This bears witness to Israel's commitment to
intensify its economic and trade relations with India. On his part,
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met top leaders of the American
Jewish community when he visited the United States in September
2004, and praised their contributions to the Indo-American and
Indo-Israeli friendships. The Jewish organizations in the United
States share a very close relationship with the Indian-American
community and together they have been instrumental in shaping
New areas of
cooperation have also been identified by the two states, including
the agricultural sector, farm research, science, public health,
information technology, telecommunications, and cooperation in
space. India and Israel have decided to set up a joint economic
committee to identify new measures to stimulate trade and a joint
committee on agriculture to stimulate greater cooperation in that
sector. Israeli industry is keen to take advantage of synergies with
India in various areas like telecom, information technology, and
biotechnology. Also, an Indo-Israeli CEOs forum comprising senior
business heads from both countries has also been established to
deliberate on trade and economic matters.
Israel has offered to
help India with venture capital funding for communications and
information technology projects, advanced agricultural technologies,
and aerospace engineering. In the agricultural sector, cooperation
in areas like afforestation in arid areas, desertification,
pollution, water conservation, recycling of wastewater, low cost
technologies for pollution control, and environmental monitoring
methods have been envisaged by the two states. Indian companies are
also hoping to sell more chemical and pharmaceutical products in
Israel and invest in joint ventures there to gain better access to
markets in Europe and the United States, which have free trade
agreements with Israel.
An overview of the
range of the Indo-Israeli relationship is provided by the variety of
agreements signed during Sharon's visit to India. The six agreements
covered the fields of environment; health; combating illicit
trafficking of drugs; visa waivers for diplomatic, service, and
official passport holders; education; and an exchange program for
Given India's strong
scientific and technological base, Israel is keen on strengthening
scientific and technological ties with India.
Both nations are planning to double the investment under the ongoing
science and technology collaboration from $0.5 million in 2003 to
about $1 million by 2005. Israel has shown a particular interest in
collaborating with Indian scientists on human genome research and
with the Indian Space Research Organization on better management of
land and other resources using satellites. India has evinced an
interest in the field of nano-technology that is at an advanced
stage of development in Israel. Israel will also be installing a set
of three wide-field ultra-violet telescopes on India's GSAT-4
satellite that will be launched in 2005. India and Israel have
decided to set up a joint fund for research and development, with
the aim of promoting technology-based trade and collaboration that
will help them tap into the global market together.
In a relatively short
span of eleven years of formal diplomatic relations, India and
Israel have established a vibrant partnership. While India stands to
strengthen its defense and security apparatus as a result of this
partnership, Israel gets the platform of the biggest democracy in
the world, which offers a huge market and is regarded as a strategic
player in the region.
Despite a significant
convergence of interests between India and Israel on a host of
issues, there remain a number of constraints within which the two
states will have to chart out their bilateral relationship.
The Palestine Question
The most significant
of these constraints, perhaps, emerges from the Indian domestic
political milieu. India cannot ignore the sentiments of its
substantial Muslim populace of about 140 million that are
overwhelmingly against Israel's policy regarding the Palestinians.
Fear of alienating its Muslim population has been a major factor
that prevented India from normalizing its relations with Israel for
decades. India has also been a strong supporter of Palestinian
Though only few
left-wing parties and Muslim organizations expressed their vocal
disapproval of Ariel Sharon's visit to India, the Palestinian cause
remains popular in India.
The Indian government, while welcoming Sharon, also made it clear
that it would neither dilute its traditional support for the
Palestinian cause nor abandon Yasir Arafat as the leader of the
Palestinians. Until his death, India saw Arafat as a symbol of
Palestinian nationalism and as such central to any peace process in
the Middle East, a view in complete contrast to that of the Sharon
government, which was in favor of expelling Arafat and allowing for
the emergence of an alternative Palestinian leadership.
With Arafat's death, the issue of Palestinian leadership will
probably no longer remain a point of contention between India and
over Arafat's role is not to say that a subtle re-evaluation of
India's Middle East policy is not underway. Before 1992, India had
made the normalization of relations with Israel contingent upon the
resolution of the Palestinian issue. In 1992, India decided to
delink the two, making it clear that it was not prepared to make an
independent Palestinian state a precondition for improving its
relations with Israel. This was in tune with the policy much of the
world was already following.
Over the years, the
Indian government has also toned down its reactions to Israel's
treatment of the Palestinians. Sharon's policy towards the
Palestinians has evoked little more than mild disapproval from the
Indian government in recent years. India has also begun denouncing
Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in Israel,
something that was seen earlier as rather justified in light of the
harsh policies of Israel against the Palestinians. A token visit by
the Palestinian foreign minister to India before the Sharon visit
was the only concession India made to indicate that it remains
concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. India is no longer
initiating anti-Israel resolutions at the UN and has made serious
attempts to moderate NAM's anti-Israel resolutions.
There is also
realization in India that India's largely pro-Arab stance in the
Middle East has not been adequately rewarded by the Arab world.
India has received no worthwhile backing from the Arab countries in
the resolution of problems it faces in its neighborhood, 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. On the contrary, the Arab world has firmly stood by
Pakistan, using the Organization of Islamic Conference to build
support for Islamabad and the Jihadi groups in Kashmir.
There is a growing perception in India that if Arab nations, such as
Jordan, have been able to keep their traditional ties with the
Palestinians intact while building a new relationship with Israel,
there is no reason for India not to take a similar route. This might
give India more room for diplomatic maneuvering.
Despite India's tilt
towards Israel in the 1990s, however, it will be forced to operate
its bilateral relationship with Israel within the constraints
imposed by its domestic politics and its interests in the Middle
East. It will have to be careful not to let its relationship with
Israel be projected as a Jewish-Hindu axis against Islam. Israel's
handling of the Palestine issue will also be a major factor as it
would be difficult for India to justify its continuing support for
Israel in case Israel's policies become blatantly harsh. Also,
despite India's disillusionment with the Arab world, about three
million Indians work in the Persian Gulf and are valuable foreign
exchange earners. India also gets about one-fourth of its oil
supplies from the Middle East. In sum, India will have to balance
its growing relationship with Israel without sacrificing its core
interests in the rest of the region. India needs Israel as a
political and military partner but without being pushed into any new
confrontation with the Islamic world.
While Israel has long faced enmity from much of the Islamic
world, India's national interests and large Muslim population makes
it especially careful to avoid such a fate.
It was in this
context that concerns were raised about the orientation of the new
Indian government, led by the Congress Party and supported by
left-wing parties, towards Israel. When in opposition, the current
Indian Foreign Minister, K. Natwar Singh, was critical of the
previous government's efforts to promote Indo-Israeli ties at the
expense of the Palestinians. The left-wing parties have also been
very vocal in their support for the Palestinian cause. However, so
far there is little indication that Indo-Israeli ties are suffering
because of the new government's supposed dispensation. The new
government has argued that it's ties with Israel would not affect
its support for the Palestinian cause.
In effect, this is the same position held by the former BJP-led
The new government
did make a symbolic move of sending its Minister of State for
External Affairs to the Palestinian Authority, thereby demonstrating
its strong support for Palestinian independence. It also called for
measures to lift the siege imposed by Israel around the headquarters
of Yasir Arafat.
Apart from these symbolic gestures, however, nothing dramatic has
happened that might lead one to conclude that India's ties with
Israel are under reconsideration.
India's Relations with Iran
Another constraint on
India's enhanced engagement with Israel is India's flourishing
relations with Iran. In fact, the RAND Corporation of the United
States has termed this relationship as "the Tehran-New Delhi axis"
and in its opinion, it is one of the ten international security
developments that are not getting appropriate attention.
And this is primarily because of the impact that closer ties between
India and Iran might have on the Middle Eastern political dynamic,
and which might not necessarily help U.S. interests in the
While an India-Iran
axis seems far-fetched, relations between India and Iran have
definitely been on an upswing in the last decade. This was reflected
in India's invitation to Iran's Prime Minister to be the guest of
honor at the Republic Day celebrations in January 2003. There are a
number of factors, such as the unipolar nature of the current
international system, India's need to counter Pakistan's influence
in the Islamic world, the increasing geopolitical importance of
Central Asia, and the need to strengthen economic and commercial
ties, which have been responsible for the growing convergence in
Indo-Iran interests in the post-Cold War period.
On the other hand,
Israel has a deeply antagonistic relationship with Iran. Israel sees
Iran as the main supporter of the anti-Israeli Hizballah group in
Lebanon. It also blames Iran for actively supporting extremist
Palestinian groups that use terrorism against the Israeli civilians.
Iran's policy towards the Palestine issue can become a major
stumbling block in Indo-Israel relations as Iran not only supports
the Palestinian cause and the right of its people to reclaim
occupied lands as their homeland, but also follows a policy of
non-recognition towards Israel, openly calling for the elimination
of the Israeli state.
Israel, along with
the United States, has also been putting pressure on Iran to stop
its suspected nuclear weapons program, with some reports even
suggesting that Israel could consider taking military action against
the Iranian nuclear facilities. With Iran openly calling for its
elimination, Israel clearly sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an
existential threat. While the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein
may have removed one of Israel's enemies, it also seems to have
created new opportunities for Iran to increase its influence in
Israel's immediate neighborhood.
In this respect,
Israel is concerned about India's growing ties with Iran.
It is especially worried about India sharing with Iran some of the
military technology that it is receiving from Israel. Israel raised
its concern over Iran's nuclear weapons program and its impact on
regional stability at the meeting of the Indo-Israeli JWG on
counterterrorism in November 2004. Israel would like India to
acknowledge the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran and would like
India to make efforts to help in the stabilization of the volatile
security situation in Southwest Asia.
While India and
Israel need not make their bilateral relationship a function of each
other's relationship with any third country, both will have to
manage it carefully in light of India's relations with other
countries in Middle East, and with Iran in particular. Israel will
remain concerned about the direction of Indian foreign policy in the
Middle East even though India might try its best to keep its
relationship with Israel insulated from its bilateral dealings with
other countries of the Middle East.
Ambivalent Role of the United States
India's ties with
Israel will also be constrained by how far the U.S. wants this
engagement to go. Though the U.S. has welcomed the growing ties
between India and Israel, it has a significant veto over Israel's
defense exports. In 2000, the U.S. vetoed an intended $2 billion
Phalcon sale to China, ostensibly because of U.S. fears of an
increased threat to Taiwan and to U.S. pilots in the event of war
with China. Though the U.S. has generally approved hi-tech military
exports from Israel to India, it has been reluctant to give its nod
to systems involving American technology or financial input. The
U.S. has expressed its disapproval of the possible sale of Israel's
Arrow anti-missile system to India, leading to the suspension of
talks between India and Israel on this issue.
This is not to deny,
however, that the growing security relationship between India and
Israel has, to a large extent, been nurtured with the help of the
US. Many also see a larger design behind the U.S. desire to make the
two states work closely with each other and the US, mainly to
counter-balance a rising China, which may become America's main
competitor in the coming years.
Also, since to a
large extent defense cooperation is driving the Indo-Israeli
relationship, there is a real danger that any decline in such
cooperation may seriously undermine the bilateral relationship. It
is a distinct possibility that once the U.S. arms market becomes
more fully open to India, the Israeli market would lose its relative
attraction. India and the United States have already signed an
agreement that would lift U.S. restrictions on high-technology trade
with India. This agreement covers cutting-edge technology pertaining
to civilian nuclear energy, space, missile defense, and hi-tech
Perceptual Differences on Terrorism
There are differences
of perception between India and Israel on the issue of terrorism.
While for India, Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism, Israel
reserves that status for Iran. Israel might be sympathetic to Indian
concerns regarding Pakistan but it is not ready to make new enemies.
Israel would not like to undermine the possibility of Pakistan
normalizing its relations with Israel at some future date.
Another issue has to do with the way in which
terrorism is handled. While India can learn much from Israel's
tackling of terrorism within its borders and sponsored by regional
adversaries, there are limits to how far India sees Israel's
strategy as a viable one. It views Israel's tough policy toward
contentious neighbors and the Palestinians as an approach which has
not brought peace and security, but has rather served to entrench
hatred in the Arab world. As such, many Indians believe the strategy
is not a model for their own situation.
Israel's Relationship with China and
India would also be
concerned about Israel forging a close defense relationship with
China or even with Pakistan in the future, which would have adverse
strategic consequences for India. Israel is apparently keen on
reviving its bilateral relations with China after they suffered a
major setback when Israel cancelled the Phalcon spy plane deal with
China under U.S. pressure. Counter-terror cooperation and defense
trade seem to be driving Sino-Israel relations just as in the case
of Indo-Israel relations.
Israel sees China not only as another huge market for its defense
products, but also as a significant global player that can play a
constructive role in favor of Israel in multilateral forums like the
UN. Though Israel's relations with China will indubitably be
conducted under the watchful eyes of the United States, India will
have to be concerned about the ramifications of close defense
cooperation between Israel and China, especially in light of China's
close defense ties with Pakistan.
between India and Israel have strengthened significantly in recent
years with both nations experiencing a convergence of interests on a
range of issues. At its heart, however, this relationship still
remains driven by close defense ties and recognition of a common foe
in Islamist terrorism. Though attempts are being made by both sides
to broaden the base of their relationship, significant constraints
remain, preventing this relationship from achieving its full
potential. Both sides will have to navigate their relationship
carefully through these constraints.
international environment, however, is particularly favorable to a
deepening of Indo-Israeli ties. How far the two sides are willing to
make use of this opportunity depends ultimately on the political
will in the two states. The people of India and Israel have a long
history of civilizational contact and it is only natural for the two
states to cooperate more closely with each other on issues ranging
from defense cooperation and counterterrorism to trade and cultural
exchanges. There are significant mutual benefits that the two states
can gain from a vibrant partnership with each
A detailed examination of the Indo-Israeli relations in a historical
context can be found in P.R. Kumaraswamy, "India and Israel:
Emerging Partnership," Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 25,
No. 4 (December 2002), pp. 193-200.
 "Indian Jews and their
Heritage," The Hindu, September 7, 2003.
Martin Sherman and M.L. Sondhi, "Indo-Israeli Cooperation as a US
National Interest," Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR)
Policy Papers, No. 89 (Shaarei Tikva: Ariel Center for Policy
Research, 1999), p. 9.
For a discussion of overlapping Indian and Israeli interests in the
area of counterterrorism, see Ilan Berman, "Israel, India and
Turkey: Triple Entente?" Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 4
(Fall 2002), pp. 37-38.
"Unwritten, Abstract US-India-Israeli Axis to Fight Terror,"
Indian Express, September 11, 2003.
In fact, the U.S. was quick to deny any attempt at forging an
"Indo-US-Israel Axis." See V. Sudarshan, "No Indo-US-Israel Axis,"
Outlook, September 22, 2003.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, "Why ties with India important to Israel,"
Hindustan Times, September 6, 2003.
See, for example, Jim Hoagland, "A Test of True Allies,"
Washington Post, November 8, 2001; and Samuel
Huntington, "Clash of Civilizations," Foreign Affairs, Vol.
72, No. 3 (Summer 1993).
Saurabh Shukla, "India, Israel tie up to combat terrorism,"
Hindustan Times, September 11, 2003.
Margot Dudkevitch, "US Forces in Iraq Adopt IDF Strategy,"
Jerusalem Post, December 8, 2003.
T.C. Malhotra, "Following Sharon visit, Israel, India prepare for
special-forces exercise," JTA News, September 26,
Abraham Rabinovich, "With Asian Sales, Arms Hit Record,"
Washington Times, May 23, 2003. See also, Sharon
Sadeh, "Israel's Beleaguered Defense Industry," MERIA
Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1 (March 2001).
Paul Watson, "Arms at the Heart of India-Israel Embrace," Los
Angeles Times, September 9, 2003.
Saikat Datta, "Indo-Israeli defense deals get a big push," Indian
Express, September 11, 2003.
Guy Chazan and Jay Solomon, "Israel to Sell Radar to India," Wall
Street Journal, September 5, 2003.
Martin Sherman, "From Conflict to Convergence: India and Israel
Forge a Solid Strategic Alliance," Jerusalem Post, February
"India To Tie Up With Israel, US for E-Warfare Systems," Indian
Express, September 2, 2004.
Shishir Gupta, "Next Navy Chief goes to Israel to signal smooth
bilateral sailing," Indian Express, July 11, 2004.
Haroon Habib, "Defense Deal aimed at upsetting balance of power:
Kasuri," The Hindu, September 11, 2003. Also see, B.
Murlidhar Reddy, "Pak concern over 'Indo-Israeli nexus,'" The
Hindu, September 9, 2003.
Chidanand Rajghatta, "US backs strong ties between India, Israel,"
Times of India, September 9, 2003.
Reddy, "Pak concern over 'Indo-Israeli nexus.'"
Gupta, "Next Navy Chief goes to Israel to signal smooth bilateral
"We need more Business: Sharon," Times of India, September
11, 2003; Also see, "India, Israel aim to increase Bilateral Trade,"
Associated Press, September 9, 2003.
On the close relationship between American-Jewish and
American-Indian groups, see Indrani Bagchi, "Canny Friends,"
India Today, April 10, 2004.
See the bilateral statement on friendship and cooperation signed
between India and Israel during Ariel Sharon's visit to India in
September 2003, http://meaindia.nic.in/.
P. Sunderarajan, "Israel plans thrust on science and technology
collaboration," The Hindu, December 25, 2003.
"Imam leads Muslims in Protest against Sharon's visit," Times of
India, September 9, 2003.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, "It's time to look beyond Arafat: Israel to
India," Hindustan Times, September 8, 2003. Also see Pranay
Sharma, "Terror & Truce mix for Sharon," The Telegraph,
September 9, 2003.
For a trenchant critique of the Arab world's policies towards India,
see Abdullah Al Madani, "Indo-Israeli ties: Arabs have None but
Themselves to Blame," Gulf News, September 14,
Atul Aneja, "West Asia watching Sharon's visit," The Hindu,
September 8, 2003.
"Israel ties won't affect Palestine ties: Natwar," Indian
Express, July 12, 2004.
Atul Aneja, "India urges removal of siege on Arafat," The
Hindu, September 18, 2004.
A brief analysis of this "India-Iran Axis" by a RAND Corporation's
analyst can be found in "Headlines Over the Horizon," The
Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 292, No. 1 (July-August 2003), p.
For a detailed explication of Indo-Iran convergence in recent times,
see Harsh V. Pant, "India and Iran: An Axis in the Making?" Asian
Survey, Vol. 44, No. 3 (May-June 2004), pp. 372-377.
"Tel Aviv worried about New Delhi's ties with Iran," Times of
India, September 11, 2003.
Atul Aneja, "US objects to sale of Arrow missiles to India," The
Hindu, September 8, 2003.
Peter Slevin, "US to Send India Nuclear, Space Technology,"
Washington Post, January 13, 2004.
Barbara Opall-Rome, "Israel, China to Revive Ties," Defense
News, December 15, 2003.
Harsh V. Pant is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department
of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana
(United States). His research interests include international
security issues and South Asian security.
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry
Assistant Editors: Cameron
Brown, Elisheva Brown, Joy Pincus, Jeremy Sharon
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