Defining diplomatic contours
Modi’s proposed visit to Israel sends distinct political message.
The proposed visit of Narendra Modi to Israel middle of this year, the first by an Indian Prime Minister since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1992, signifies the importance India attaches to its relationship with the Jewish state. It also sends out a political message.
Most political visits from India to Israel also included Palestine. However, the Prime Minister is likely to skip Palestine. This indicates that he wants to make India's ties with Israel more open and transparent, unlike his predecessors who avoided such relationship fearing any adverse reaction from Muslims in India and the Arab world. This standalone visit signifies the importance India attaches to its relations with Israel.
Also, possibly not to antagonise the Arab world by going to Israel and to dispel the notion of a shift in India's policy concerning Palestine and Israel, the Prime Minister has paid very successful visits to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Despite the warming of ties with Israel, India continues to support the Palestinian cause.
Modi and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had met in September 2014 in New York, where both leaders were attending the United Nations General Assembly. This was the first meeting between an Israeli Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of India in over a decade.
Modi holds pro-Israeli views, which he does not hesitate to express publicly. He even visited Israel in 2006.
Netanyahu sees Modi as a leader who is likely to have an impact on the nature of relations between the two countries.
At the start of their meeting, Netanyahu had told Modi: "This is an opportunity for Israel and India to expand our relationship even further….We're very excited by the prospects of greater and greater ties with India, we think the sky is the limit."
Although, both the countries won their Independence from the United Kingdom within months of each they never had warm ties for a long time as they headed in different directions—India as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement that maintained close relations with the Arab world and the then Soviet Union and, Israel worked closely with the United States and Western Europe. India, however, extended de jure recognition to Israel in 1950 and allowed Israel to have a consulate in Mumbai (then Bombay) to facilitate the voluntary immigration of thousands of Indian Jews to Israel.
Since the establishment of the diplomatic ties, both the countries have benefitted immensely. There has been cooperation between the two countries in many areas like defence, intelligence, agriculture, water technology, and space. India-Israel trade has also seen a significant increase. The key to the growing ties is in the realm of security and defence. India has purchased radar and surveillance systems as well as electronic components for military aircraft. Israel has also helped India defend itself through training in counterterrorism.
In November 2011, India's elite Cobra Commando unit bought more than 1,000 units of the Israeli X-95 assault rifles for counter-insurgency operation. The same year India placed orders for four advanced Israeli Phalcon AWACS planes, which are capable of detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles, and other incoming aerial threats.
India-Israel cooperation increased in defence and other sectors since the NDA government came to power in 2014. That year too, Israel exported USD 662 million worth of Israeli weapons and defence items to India. This export number is greater than the total exports to India during the previous three years combined, according to jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) began collaborating on a jointly developed surface-to-air missile system for the Indian army in 2015. While strengthening its ties with Israel, India needs to bear in mind the Jewish state's strong ties with China. Defence ties between Israel and China are older than the one with India. Israel is China's second-largest supplier of arms after Russia. China is also Israel's third largest global trading partner, and over a thousand Israeli companies have their establishments in China.
(M Shakeel Ahmed is former Editor, PTI. He has also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. Views expressed are strictly personal.)
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