Indian PM Narendra Modi’s just concluded a three day visit to Israel is a major shift in Indian foreign policy. It is a historic event where a rising major power has publicly proclaimed its friendship and partnership with the Jewish state. The ties between Delhi and Tel Aviv are in the open. As the great enterprise between two ambitious and capable nations takes off, the world may see the advent of a new technological power axis.
At a time when calls to boycott Israel over the Palestine conflict still continue among some quarters in Europe, India offers an alternative political solution. Delhi is simply too big to be ignored. Already the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP, it may well one day supplant the US and China as the world’s biggest economic power. Under Modi’s visionary leadership India is discovering new diplomatic avenues for outreach, from advertising its’ historical Buddhist credentials in South East Asia to embracing a new role as security actor in the Asia Pacific. Israel dovetails perfectly in many ways as a modern beacon of stability and democracy in an otherwise turbulent region.
Needless to say, the two countries share a common strategic threat – the growth of Islamic fundamentalism – a challenge for the security services in India and Israel. This is underscored by the horrific Mumbai attacks of 2008 in which Israeli citizens were killed. The high profile given to Moshe, one of the survivors of the terrorist outrage, during Modi’s visit is an important strategic signal that the barbarity of the attacks have not been forgotten. Israel recently agreed a deal to sell India armed drones, which will greatly enhance India’s ability to strike at terrorists across the border with Pakistan, thus boosting India’s deterrence.
However what was special about this visit was the way Mr Modi and Mr Netanyahu strove to elevate the relationship from just defence and security ties to something much broader. Trade is still only $2bn as of 2016, so it can grow a great deal more. Tourism and investment flowing both ways will boost both nations. In a previous article I wrote about the potentially transformative effect of Israeli water technology. Water stressed India would substantially benefit from Israeli water technology and agricultural know-how. This can help pull more Indians out of poverty, creating a new consumer market that could well demand Israeli consumer goods in the future, such as cyber software and apps. That would be a virtuous cycle of economic progress for Delhi and Tel Aviv.
The importance of Narendra Modi coming to Israel is considerable; little wonder Mr Netanyahu looked delighted to stay at the Indian PM’s side for most of the visit, wearing the flags of both nations on his lapel pin. A frequent theme I have encountered in researching the history of Israeli diplomacy is that Israel has traditionally been hidden away, almost like the mistress and never the wife. Narendra Modi’s bear hugs with Netanyahu symbolise this dramatic shift. An increasingly powerful and influential India is proud to call Israel a friend and strategic partner. This will affect the mindset of those who seek to harm Israel, in addition to being a great psychological boost for Israelis. With the economic size of India and the technological prowess of Israel, the two powers can significantly change the world.