Ask many Israelis who have actually met Narendra Modi how they would describe him, their words almost entirely glow with admiration “very tachles, very direct, very Israeli” was one of the most telling descriptions early in his premiership at the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv when he first became Indian PM.
Only Narendra Modi’s India is one that is truly committed to deepen and develop economic ties with the state of Israel and the signs have already been abundantly clear since 2014 that now is the time of a great leap forward in Indian-Israeli relations—and with it, bringing billions of allies and new customers and a resolute fight against hard-line Islamic terrorism.
However, getting to this point of bilateral respect has been hitherto nervous, bashful and unfairly quiet. Much happened behind the scenes but little in public view, until now. Though India voted to recognize Israel in 1950, later Indian governments in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s avoided public ties with Jerusalem, mostly to please the Muslim vote and to please the Muslim viewpoint in Arab states. India didn’t establish official relations with Israel until 1992, which was long overdue as it was the only non-Muslim, non-Arab country not to have done so at that point.
India has since vigorously embraced trade with Israel and through its commercial ties (via technology sharing, space exploration, and military cooperation) relations have launched into the billions, and this doesn’t even account for weapons sales which add a considerably longer number of zeroes to the ledgers.
Modi embraced this early on when Chief Minister in Gujarat, which was particularly reticent towards Israeli business. But he changed that by actively pursuing it and listening to Israeli bidders.
Israeli agriculture, pharmaceutical, alternative energy, and information technology companies have flourished there. Success for Modi in Gujarat was inextricably linked with tying up economic need with Israeli ambition and the two worked effectively together. Now he has taken those lessons on the national stage.
Modi has always been appealing to Israel, not least for the fact that he is a vehement opponent of Muslim extremism and recognises all too well that India and Israel have a common enemy in this respect. As far back as 2006, Modi went to Israel for an agricultural technology conference and this led to growing partnership with Israeli ministries he passed these lessons on to his governance apparatus as well as his constituents, advising both to study the leaps and bounds Israel had made with water-management systems and agriculture.
Modi’s BJP has often been supportive of Israel and it’s only been during the last BJP coalition government, between 1999 and 2004, that the relationship has gone from strength to strength.
It’s not just Modi who is embracing closer alliances with Israel, but his Indian public is too. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has found, through countless surveys, that Indian support for Israel is actually higher than in any other country polled, even more than the US.
It’s a two way form of respect as a growing, urbanised India respects Israel as a beacon of entrepreneurship and innovation, an agricultural superpower. Modi likes Israeli Chutzpah and Israel knows that the lesson in Gujarat can be replicated throughout India as a whole, with Israel becoming one of the biggest beneficiaries of bilateral success.