Why ‘Modi’ Shy to Visit Israel?

Back to back visit by Indian President and then external affairs minister in last 4 months, somehow, indicates the blossoming relations between World’s biggest democracy – India and Middle East’s only democracy – Israel.

Indian Prime Minister (right) meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) in New York City on September 28, 2014. © timesofisrael
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) in New York City on September 28, 2014. © timesofisrael

Notably, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj was on visit to Israel on 17th and 18th January while President Pranab Mukherjee visited the country on 15th October last year.

These are the clear symptoms of India’s willingness to forward the relations to new heights. But, at the same time, India does not want to build up a pro-Israel or Anti-Arab image. Significantly, Israel due to its frequent conflicts with neighboringcountries like Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordon any others, and anti-Muslim policy, has no relations with Arab countries. Hence, as India, imports most of its crude oil from Arab countries and many Indians work there, India is bound to have healthy relations with Muslim world. Due to which Indian did not expose its relations with Israel so far.

However, It was witnessed that visit by President and external affairs minister to Israel were followed by Palestine, which may be seen as a balancing act.

Nevertheless, the question still looms on maiden visit by any Indian Prime Minister to Jewish land. Both times, before President’s and external affairs minister’s visit, Prime Minister was expected to visit Israel, but each time Indian foreign policy did not allow him to do so.

However, President Pranab Mukherjee’s and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit has paved a way to Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s first visit to India. Although it is officially due to announce visit, but according to Indian foreign ministry, Netanyahu is set to visit India this year, which Sushma Swaraj had come to finalize recently.

It is relevant to mention here that, since ruling party BJP swept to power in 2014 May, which is known as a pro-Israel party, the relations between both countries have increasingly become visible. It was during government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee that first Indian foreign minister (Jaswant Singh) visited Israel in 2000. That was followed by Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to India for first time in 2003.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been an admirer of Israel since he was chief minister of Gujarat, which has maximum Israeli investment, is still reluctant to visit Israel.

Instead, this year, Modi is set to visit Saudi Arabia what may be seen as a balancing act of growing relations with Israel.

Meanwhile, so far, India and Israel have maintained time-tested covert relationship, due to Indian international political and socio-economic reasons. But if Modi comes out to be first Indian prime minster visiting Israel, what effect could bring on India’s relations with other gulf and Muslim majority countries, and what turbulent it may bring inside country, is something worth considering.

Since, Modi came into power, he has kept sharp eye on Indian foreign policy with visiting countries almost 27 countries, during his tenure 20 months. Even he paid visit to nations like Magnolia and others where no Indian premier visited ever.

As such his visit to Israel becomes expected by both sides which is due since 2003 when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India, coincidentally that was also at the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Government (NDA).

In order to not sensitize its relations with Arab and Muslim world, and due to opposition within country, India is reluctant to show its Israel love, and which is why Indian premier has been hesitant visiting Israel.

However, regardless of diplomatic visits, the bilateral ties between two countries are rapidly surging in various fields like defense, science and technology, healthcare, cyber security, education etc. extensively.

After Russia, Israel is the second largest exporter of weapons which is world around $ 9 billion, while excluding military exports bilateral trade is around 4.52 billion, which makes India as Israel’s tenth largest trade partner overall.

Israel, which is pioneer in agriculture sector, has been engaged in many agricultural projects in India, providing advanced agricultural technology in arid and semi-arid areas. We can learn from Israel that how they converted all desert into cultivable land with the help of technology. Indian could cooperate with Israel in technologyand security sector, as Israel has strong hand in this sector.

But at the same time, being a non-aligned nation, it will be a challenge for India to maintain its status for healthy international cooperation.

About the Author
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, I am a journalist, writer and blogger, worked for leading newspapers and news channels including DD News, Ministry of Information Technology in India for many years.
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