Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, India-Israel partnership is growing in various fields. Prospect of India-Israel relations depends upon the dynamics of not only structural factors related to systemic, sub-systemic and national level but also prevailing ideational factors involving real politic or moral-ideal politic orientation of the ruling party. Looking at the present scenario, all these factors more or less present a favourable prospect of growing India-Israel partnership in a constructive direction. PM Narendra Modi’s stand-alone visit to Israel in July 2017 shall give a dynamic push to the upward trajectory of India-Israel partnership.
Conglomeration of systemic, national and individual factors suggests a positive development of India-Israel partnership. These include India’s thrust for its national development, military modernisation and Israel’s willingness to participate in ‘Make in India’ at the national level, reported positive chemistry between the current leadership of both the countries at the individual level and positive US perception of emerging India-Israel ties at the structural level.
Looking from the national level, Israel is an important partner in fulfilling India’s strategic needs regarding national security, economic development and technological innovation and it will remain so in the future. Mutuality of interest has emerged between both the countries regarding counter-terrorism and national security related issues. India-Israel partnership has prospered in many areas but full potential remained unrealised. Moreover, there is no direct conflict of national interests between India and Israel. That is why, since the establishment of diplomatic ties at ambassadorial level in 1992, India-Israel partnership has intensified in a positive direction in various fields. This suggests that there exists a lot of potential towards forward movement in India-Israel relations in military and developmental sectors.
Bilateral trade is already growing between the two states. Promotion of bilateral trade is also important in this regard. Conclusion of India-Israel free trade agreement (FTA) could prove a game changer in enhancing the bilateral trade. It is expected that bilateral trade volume will boom unexpectedly because FTA will change the composition of the trade.
Cooperation in the field of agriculture is blooming in the form of already operating 15 Centres of Excellence established by Israel in India but there is a need to tap the potential in full manner and new joint venture in this area could be established. Israeli agricultural expertise and know-how can give a boost to Indian farmers and raise their income. India could also benefit from Israeli expertise in water management, post-harvest management, cold storage technology, packaging and dairy products. A joint action plan in the field of agriculture is expected to be signed during PM Modi’s visit to Israel.
India-Israel cooperation in the defence sector has a lot of potential. India’s endeavour towards military modernisation and its need for procuring relevant military platforms and high end military technology has converged with search of Israeli military-industrial complex for new markets in Asia. India has already signed many deals with Israel to procure military platforms. India’s offset obligation rules provide opportunity for Israeli defence companies to invest in defence sectors in India. Israel could also play an important role in enhancing India’s military capability and military modernisation. Israel’s active participation in ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector would be a step forward in developing indigenous military-industrial base in India. Joint development and joint production in military field could pave the way forward for the export of various military platforms to third countries for mutual benefit. Commenting on the impact of India-Israel defence ties, distinguished scientist at DRDO, W. Selvamurthy stated that “India could use Israel as a spring board as it looks to produce indigenous defence products that can be sold in the global market.”
National security is another important area where India-Israel can further work together. Both the countries are struggling to counter terror attacks and low intensity warfare. Counter terrorism cooperation could be enhanced to a further level. Israel could become an important partner in dealing with issues related to intelligence-sharing, border security, homeland security, cyber security and aviation security.
Future of India-Israel partnership lies in the areas of high-end technology where ‘sky is the limit’. There is a need to further increase the technological collaboration between India and Israel in military, non-military and developmental arena. Israel has ‘state of the art’ and ‘cutting edge technology’. In this regard innovative Israeli technological expertise in various fields could play a vital role in cementing India-Israel ties. Israel is a trusted source of technology and it can offer its technological solutions to India in many areas and can play an instrumental role in the success of PM Modi’s dream projects likes Make in India, Digital India, Clean India and Skill India. Israel has already emerged as a big and reliable source of military and non-military technology for India.
Water management and dairy development could be the thrust areas in this regard. Centres of Excellence in the dairy sector could be opened in India on a priority basis with the help of Israeli technology. In the field of clean energy, an agreement for conducting Research and Development together could be finalised. India-Israel cooperation in the areas of nanotechnology, information technology, water technology, border management, cyber security, aviation security and biotechnology could be expanded.
Looking from the structural factor at system level, India-Israel bilateral relations have a trilateral dimension that could be termed as USA-Israel-India triangle. Israel is very close to the US. The US factor, particularly the nature of India-US relations, has its bearings on the further development of India-Israeli military and strategic ties. Positive development of India-US relations after the implementation of nuclear deal in January 2015 and forward movement regarding logistics support agreement in April 2016 shall further strengthen the military aspect of India-Israeli relations. Israel-China defence relationship has been negatively influenced by US objections to Israeli sale of military platform to China. United States views India-Israel partnership in a positive manner. On the other hand deepening India-Israel partnership has its bearing on the positive development of India-US relations. “New Delhi’s links with Jerusalem have the potential to smooth over some of the difficulties in dealing with the United States” said Efraim Inbar, founding director of Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Current situation in Middle East at sub-system level also suggests favourable development of India-Israel partnership. Middle East is passing through a political turmoil, particularly since the Arab Spring has turned in to the ‘Cold Spring’. Syria and Iraq are facing existential threat from the forces of IS or Dayesh. Libya has turned into a laboratory of Jihadists forces. Tunisia is still struggling in its efforts for the establishment of stable democratic institutions in the country. Conflict ridden Yemen has become play ground for proxy war between regional powers. In Post-Mursi phase, Egypt looks politically stable but is facing serious terror threat in the Sinai Peninsula. Spill over of Syrian conflict could be sensed in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Upsurge of radical elements and terrorism in this region have raised security concerns both in Jerusalem and New Delhi. Saudi-Iran rivalry and recent Saudi-Qatar differences have polarised the Middle Eastern region in a significant way. In this polarising scenario importance of Arab-Israel conflict has declined and renewed efforts are being made to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinian issue is no more a priority for the Middle Eastern states. An upsurge in terror wave in this region has provided an opportunity to the Middle Eastern state to cooperate with Israel in countering terrorism. In this geo-political scenario, growing India-Israel ties is not a ‘big issue’ for India’s Middle Eastern partners.
At the individual level, PM Narendra Modi’s perception of Israel and India’s national interest suggests multilateral dynamism in India’s Israel policy. PM Modi does not view India-Israel relations in either-or format and considers Israel as a potential partner in India’s rise. NDA II regime under PM Modi categorically advocated strengthening of India-Israel ties. Within three years of its tenure, Modi government has formulated a visible, vibrant, dynamic and energetic Israel policy. A good chemistry has been reported between PM Narendra Modi and PM Binyamin Netanyahu. This would further play an important role in shaping bilateral ties in a positive direction.
However there are some apprehensions regarding the development of bilateral relations between India and Israel at the sub-system level and national level. This suggests that there are also certain limitations to the bourgeoning partnership between the two countries.
Looking at the national level, Israel has to face tough competition with foreign vendors in the lucrative Indian defence market. United States, France, Russia and other defence companies of foreign origin are also looking desperately to enter the Indian defence market. In her quest for maintaining strategic autonomy in defence procurement and defence acquisition, India would prefer to maintain diversification of defence equipment and technology sources. Defence experts have also expressed their concerns regarding India’s recent growing ‘over dependence’ on Israel for defence related high end technologies. Transparency related issues could be another factor in India-Israel defence ties. Earlier in 2012 India had black listed Israel Military Industries (IMI) and barred it from bidding for defence contracts in the country for ten years in connection with a 2009 bribery scandal. Issues related to delays or lack of progress in India-Israel joint ventures and reported lack of transfer of technology by Israeli companies has also raised eyebrows of many in strategic community. India’s concerns over the huge delay and exorbitant costs regarding the production of medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) systems called Barak-8 have also been reported.
The nature of national politics in India is an important variable in India-Israel relations. Anti-Israel radical groups and political parties, especially left parties in Indian domestic politics, have pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rhetoric. Though these groups or parties are not decisive in determining the course of deepening India-Israel partnership, they will not leave any opportunity in condemning Israel and India-Israel defence relations. In case of possible formation of coalition government in India which is dependent on the support of left parties, this could have some kind of impact on the India-Israel partnership. In this situation, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian elements in politico-academic space and strategic community could be more vocal.
Given the multi-polar nature of West Asian geo-political and geo-strategic configuration, India has adopted an approach of strategic multi-alignment in the region. Maintaining its strategic autonomy, India has developed very close relations not only with Israel but also with UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iran and Palestinian Authority. Iran and Arab states are important source of India’s growing need for energy and foreign capital. Indian economy has immensely benefitted from remittances earned by Indian working in the Gulf countries. That is why India cannot put its all eggs in one basket. This reflects the compartmentalisation of India’s relations in the Middle East. Following its strategy of multi-engagement, India also avoided to take sides in the emerging geo-political equations in the region whether it is Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Iran-Saudi rivalry or Saudi-Qatar spat.
At the sub-system level, any Israeli defence engagement with Pakistan and China and India’s deep strategic engagement with Iran could have its bearing on the positive development of India-Israel defence relationship. India’s bourgeoning relations with Iran could have its bearings on India-Israel relations particularly in the event of further deterioration in Iran-Israel relations. Israel considers Iran as the epicentre of terrorism while India considers Iran not only as a source of energy supply but also its outreach to Afghanistan through Chabahar port. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin raised Iran issue with PM Modi during his visit to India in November 2016. In this regard Haaretz reported that “PM Modi voices support for Israeli policy towards Tehran and speak against boycott threats to Israel”.
In March 2016 Israeli daily Haaretz reported Chinese General Zhao Keshi as saying that that military ties between Israel and China are ‘developing smoothly’. Earlier Israel had cancelled military deal with China regarding sale of Phalcon AWACS and Harpy-drone due to US pressure. Strategic community in India raised concern regarding China-Israel military relations. Israel’s possible diplomatic engagement with Pakistan and reported transfer of arms by Israel to Pakistan might create apprehension in the minds of Indian foreign policy establishment. Pakistan is interested in building relations with Israel because it viewed India-Israel defence relations as a threat to its national security. However, Israel has strongly denied selling any military equipment to Pakistan. Assuring mutual concerns at regional level regarding Iran or Pakistan, India-Israel relations are progressing substantially.
Despite these apprehensions, India-Israel partnership is growing swiftly in a positive direction and is expected to remain so. India-Israel cooperation in various fields is likely to gain further momentum in the coming days. Not only India has displayed its keenness in Israeli military platform and high end technology in different fields but Israeli companies are also looking forward for Indian private and public partners for joint venture in research and development in various sectors. However, there is a robust need to channelize the full potential that exists in the field of high end technology, where ‘sky is the limit’.
To conclude, India-Israel relations have been institutionalised during the years. Any upheaval in regional dynamics in West Asia and domestic politics in India is not going to bring an abrupt end or reverse the forward direction of the India-Israel partnership. All the political streams with the exception of radical groups or left parties in India now realise the benefits of growing India-Israel partnership. Even if there are any deep pulls and pressures at domestic and regional level, the change in India’s stand towards Israel would be rhetorical and idiomatic rather than a substantive one.