By Geoffrey Cook*
The friendly ties between India and Israel are only about twenty years old whereas rapprochement started haltingly five years earlier in 1992. They have become most friendly with the rise of the Narendra Modi and his Islamophobic BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) during 2014.
Today their ties are military, strategic, political and economic.
During the period of the Non-Aligned Movement, India was a champion of the rights of the Palestinians, but with the raise of the chauvinistic Hindu Nationalism, the State of Israel and the Republic of India have drifted closer together. This has much to do with Pakistan. The Indo-Pak rivalry is well-known.
What is not so well known is Israel’s fear of the “Islamic” bomb which Pakistan possesses. This makes the two “natural” allies. Although trade is important, the relationship is dominated by military concerns, for as long as India is pre-occupied with India, Pakistan cannot become engaged in the battle for Al Quds, but there are Pakistani troops in the Middle East and with resolution of the Indo-Pakistani rift, Islamabad could very easily show more of an interest in the Levant.
Thus, Israel is trying to buy friendly relations with India to encourage the Indo-Pak rift stays at status quo.
Let us begin with a few facts: India and Israel are both non-Muslim countries surrounded by real or potential Muslim majority nations’ political/military threats. This alone makes them “natural” allies.
Since 1992 trade has increased to over seven billon US dollars. A free trade agreement is being negotiated, also. Seven rounds have so far taken place. Other trade treaties are being negotiated, now besides.
The non-military exports from India to Israel are largely in diamonds and metals, chemical products and textiles plus metals, chemicals (especially potash), machinery and parts transportation vehicles. Although 75% of the overall their total trade is in services.
Mineral fuels and oils was India’s largest export at approximately 1.01 billion. While Israel mainly sold pearls and precious stones at 1.11 billion. By this description most of the non-military trade is rather bland, and besides these figures there is a resale flow of goods through third parties – Europe Japan, etc.
There is, further,an agreement for agricultural exchanges of technologies and personnel. Related is agreement on co-operation on techniques of water management.
More of concern is the trade and co-operation in military matters. Each are buying the others weaponry. In this way India is benefiting from the technological transfer to Israel from
the United States, also. Something which Israel is infamous through its armament industry.
India is currently the biggest buyer of Israeli weaponry, spending an average of a US billion annually on military equipment in recent years. The amount will increase between the two will increase to two billion.
Israel is increasing isolated internationally so there is motivation to find other defense options.
Netanyahu has said, “We are strengthening ties between Israel and this [India] important global power. This serves our security, economic, trade and tourism interests, as well as many other areas. This is a great blessing for the State of Israel.”
New Delhi and Tel Aviv are actively promoting scientific and technological exchanges on many levels together — most including military and intelligence gathering.
India has become part of the Israeli logistical framework – both in the military and the political.
To this end their intelligence sharing is substantial – particularly on terrorism. For India, this helps them to achieve the goal of isolating Pakistan; For Israel, to counter groups that come from Pakistan. They have, also co-ordinated military exercises between the two.
A most important area that the military relationship is missile technology which India is ahead of the Middle Eastern nation.
The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), who currently rule India, are marked by sectarianism, racism, and casteism as are elements of the Likud – especially sectarianism. Of course, caste is peculiar to India. What we are seeing is parallel world views between the two governments. What else is common is a fierce hatred of Islam.
The current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Israel are complimentary personalities to each other and are reflective of their governments.
But not everyone in India is behind this burgeoning relationship. India’s traditional support for Palestine is still held by most of the Indian people, Brinda Karat from an Indian left leaning party damns Netanyahu’s “expansionist policies and sabotaging any possibility of an independent state of Palestine;” further, “We are…against…military and security ties with Israel…”.
The future of thecurrent India-Israeli relationship would be in doubt with a Congress (Party) government. The whole situation would be drastically changed.
An Indian political analyst Manoj Joshi said: “India-Israel [relations] is more a marriage of convenience. Israel welcomes the support of a large, non-aligned country, while the present government of India is run by a party that admires Israel for a variety of reasons.”
*American historian and researcher who specializes in South Asia affairs