Shalom Namaste! India’s pivot to Israel

Photo Credit: PTI

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-awaited historic tour to Israel finally became a reality when he landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on the evening of 04th July 2017. Prime Minister Modi was received by Israeli PM Netanyahu along with his whole cabinet and Chief Rabbis in attendance to this historic visit a first ever by an Indian Prime Minister in 70 years. This kind of rare honour has only been accorded earlier to President of United States and Pope. The symbolism of 04th July; the date of this historic visit wasn’t lost as PM Modi recounted this as 41st Anniversary of the famous Entebbe Operation conducted by Israeli Defence Forces to rescue the Israeli hostages from Uganda in which the elder brother of Israeli PM, Yoni Netanyahu gave valiant sacrifice to save his countrymen. PM Netanyahu welcomed PM Modi with the quote in Hindi, “Israel Mein Aapka Swagat Hai Mere Dost”. The bonhomie between the two leaders reflected all throughout the three-day visit ending with the Olga beach visit near the Haifa coast on the Mediterranean on 06th July 2017.

To understand the importance of this historical visit by the Indian PM Modi, it is necessary to reflect on the historical context of India’s complicated relationship with Israel till date. Ben Gurion the first Israeli PM and the global Jewish leadership hoped for positive support from India for the case of a Jewish Homeland at end of World War 2, given the peaceful co-existence of Jewish people in India for nearly 2000 years while facing no discrimination or anti-Semitic rhetoric of any kind. In a bid to persuade PM Nehru, the Israeli leadership through Albert Einstein, an eminent scientist and part of global Jewry wrote a letter to PM Nehru on 13th June 1947 making his case for the creation of Jewish Homeland in the State of Israel. PM Nehru however in his reply rebuffed Einstein’s appeal and viewed the partition of Palestine for a creation of a Jewish state as unfair. India consequently voted against Israel for UN Partition Plan being part of the minority bloc; while later on, it recognised the State of Israel as on 17th September 1950 with one counsellor access in Mumbai. The prime reason cited by Pandit Nehru in opposing the Jewish state was that he didn’t want to offend the sentiments of the Arab world.

It is indeed ironical that on this historical visit PM Modi visited the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement who championed the creation of the Jewish State of Israel. In effect, Indian PM rolled back the policy of Pandit Nehru and his successors who not only opposed the creation of Jewish State but also aggressively championed the Palestinian cause at various forums including NAM (Non-Aligned Movement). Though India has consistently maintained that it supports the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution to the oldest dispute in the Middle East. Yet PM Modi chose to de-hyphenate India’s support to Palestine vis-a-vis its growing strategic partnership with Israel focusing solely on its core national interests. PM Modi’s visit to Israel was indeed path-breaking as it broke the decades-old stranglehold on Indian foreign policy when it came to relations with Israel. Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy outreach towards Israel has been perfectly executed by first touring Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar & Turkey and Iran and perfectly balancing it with a standalone visit to Israel clearly highlighting the new foreign policy of Multi-Alignment based on core values of national interests. The policy of Multi-Alignment has been the hallmark of Modi Administration which has been a clear departure from the Non-Alignment of Nehruvian Era as we have explained in our book “The New Global Order”.

After the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, India’s relationship with Israel has consistently grown with Israel specifically in defence and arms sector. It is worth pointing out from the time of cold war up to Kargil War in 1999, it was Israel who didn’t hesitate to help India in a time of conflicts when rest of the western world was cold to its pleas and demands. Israel also refused to condemn India’s Nuclear Tests in 1998. The resultant bonhomie between India & Israel has shown a tremendous boost in Defence sector where India has collaborated with Israel in anti-missile systems to hi-tech radars, from sky drones to night-vision equipment, Indo-Israeli defence cooperation has known no bounds in recent time. Israel has commenced delivery of Phalcon Airborne Warning & Controlling Systems (AWACS). India’s AWACS project involves the integration of the “Phalcon” radar and communication system with the Russian Ilyushin-76 heavy transport military aircraft. India has also developed Barak 8 SAM system with Israel whose naval variant will be soon deployed in Indian Navy warships. On PM Modi’s historical visit to Israel, Indian and Israeli companies signed 12 Defence agreements worth $4.3 Billion. India is also in the midst of negotiating Heron Drone deals with Israel.

Apart from Defence the other sectors where India & Israel have collaborated are Space & Cybersecurity. India & Israel signed an agreement on Space in the year 2002. In the year 2008, India successfully launched TecSAR satellite into orbit on PSLV, TecSAR’s primary function is to monitor the military activity of Iran. After the Mumbai Attacks of 26/11, the Indo-Israel space cooperation further expanded with the launch of RISAT 2 by ISRO-IAI joint collaboration aimed at providing greater earth observation in helping disaster management, surveillance and defence capabilities. The space cooperation between two countries has further been augmented during PM Modi’s historic visit to Israel where two countries signed agreements between ISRO and Israeli Space Agency on Atomic Clock, GEO-LEO optical link and electric propulsion in small satellites. Likewise in Cyberspace, Israel offers India huge opportunities in tapping the field of World Wide Web and Cybersecurity especially in wake of globalisation of terror in many ways like Dark Web, Social Media etc. Israel has already set up National Cyber Defence Authority and has a booming sector of Startups in Security and Defence areas where technological innovation is providing a new solution to track crime and criminals of Cyberspace. India has on this historic visit affirmed cooperation between Cyber Security authorities of two countries including setting up Indo-Israeli Joint Research Cooperation which will explore joint cooperation in Cyber Security especially in the field of Big Data Analytics.

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In the field of Intelligence Sharing and Counter Terrorism, India has actively been working with Israel over the past few decades. Indian Intelligence agency R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) has close liasoning with Israeli intelligence agency Mossad renowned for its counter-terror and covert operations across the world. It has been revealed that Israeli intelligence worked in sync R&AW aiming to disable and destroy the Pakistani Nuclear Reactor being built at Kathua but then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the last moment refused to give a go ahead to the secret operation to disable Pakistani Nuclear programme. After 9/11 and more so after 26/11 attacks in Mumbai when Chabad house was attacked, Israel stepped up Intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism efforts with India by forming a Working Group between the two countries on the same. In February 2014, India and Israel signed an agreement on Cooperation in Public and Homeland Security which also include intelligence sharing for Security of civilians. Both countries reaffirmed in a joint statement their commitment to combat terror in all its manifestations and forms and going after terror funding and its sanctuaries. India & Israel also agreed to work for the early adoption of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at United Nations.

Israeli companies have invested over $3 Billion in India, in sectors ranging from dairy farming to real estate to hospitals. Both countries have already signed five significant trade and economic agreements from 1993 to 1996, while bilateral trade grew from $80 Million in 1991 to $4 Billion in 2008. In the field of Agriculture, Israeli technology has revolutionised Indian farming techniques by including new scientific techniques like Vertical farming, drip irrigation and soil solarization which has helped Indian farmers multiply their crop yields. Israeli company Netafim which has pioneered irrigation solutions for agriculture and landscaping has put more than 14,800 acres of land in Andhra Pradesh, known as the ‘Rice Bowl of India’, under sprinkler and drip irrigation. With the help of Israeli Technology, there has been a massive Olive plantation in Rajasthan yielding nearly100 tonnes of Olive production in the desert state of India in the year 2014. Israel has been a pioneer in Water Conservation and purification technology offering India huge scope of collaboration. Several Israeli startups like Aqwise has set up water treatment plants in cities like Agra providing unique water filtration technology, while another Israeli company IDE has provided desalination plants in India to deal with shortage and purification techniques. Prime Minister Modi’s biggest impetus during the visit to Israel has been on Agriculture and Water management especially on concern for Indian farming sector aiming to double their income and outputs by 2022. Keeping in view the same India & Israel concluded 3 agreements on enhancing cooperation in the fields of Agriculture & Water Management.

Photo Credit: PM Narendra Modi’s Twitter Feed

As we have seen above & read extensively, Israel is the hub of technology and innovation and when it combines its Synergies with size and scale of India the result can be a boundless prospect for innovation, growth and prosperity. Apart from the above sectors the two countries during the historic visit of Prime Minister Modi also concluded setting up of India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) with a corpus of $40 million which will allow Indian and Israeli companies to innovate new technologies and commercially apply the same. India will also set up a cultural centre in Israel and enhance Civil Aviation links to promote people to people contacts between two countries. Apart from Technology and Innovation, India can seek to cooperate with Israel in sectors like Homeland Security and Oil/Gas sector especially after Israel has discovered huge gas reserves off the Israeli coast in the Mediterranean. India could also look to collaborate with Israel in futuristic fields like Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics especially in the military and other fields. India should look to further enhance collaboration with Israel in world diamonds trade, as India and Israel are two of the world’ s largest diamond exporters especially to the United States. The Partnership between Ramat Gan in Tel Aviv and Surat in India could be further cemented making these countries world leaders in export & import of such precious stones.

We have seen above how diverse India’s relationship with Israel has been despite the fact that no Indian PM had till date visited Israel in 70 years. Prime Minister Modi’s historic visit to Israel indeed provides the huge scope of growth of ties between two countries in various sectors. The prime minister’s trip to Israel which has been a huge success is bound to have ramifications on the Geo-Political situation in the region and the world. Already countries like Iran have twice in last few days raised the Kashmir issue supporting Jihadi cause therein despite India’s extensive outreach to Iran and development of Chabahar Port on the Persian Gulf. Similarly, PM Modi’s visit to Israel provides a good opportunity for India to counterbalance the growing bonhomie between Israel & China where IAI has already invested in Aeronautical and other sectors. The recent exemptions of the US Congress on the supply of critical defence technologies to India could further expand the scope of co-operation between India & Israel on defence and other critical technologies. From South Asia to the Middle East to Africa, India with its vast scale and size could synergize its efforts with Israel’s technology and innovation opening up new frontiers in vast untapped lands across the world. Israeli PM was indeed spot on when he claimed recently on PM Modi’s visit that “India-Israeli ties are a marriage made in heaven”. The relationship between these two democracies amid a vast arid land of Arabia is indeed an Oasis for the world.

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