India–Israel relations

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Indian-Israeli relations
Map indicating locations of India and Israel

India

Israel

India–Israel relations refers to the bilateral ties between the Republic of India and the State of Israel. The two countries enjoy an extensive economic, military and strategic relationship.[1]

India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest military partner of India after Russia. As of 2009, the military business between the two nations is worth around US$9 billion.[2] Military and strategic ties between the two nations extend to joint military training[3] and space technology.[4] India is Israel's largest defence market, accounting for almost fifty percent of Israeli sales.[5]

India is also the second-largest Asian economic partner of Israel.[6] In 2010, bilateral trade, excluding military sales, stood at US $4.7 billion.[7] In August 2012, India and Israel signed a $50 million academic research agreement.[8] Currently, the two nations are negotiating an extensive bilateral free trade pact, focusing on areas such as information technology, biotechnology and agriculture.[9]

History[edit]

Bene Israel, a group of Jews from India who started migrating to Israel after 1948.

India's position on the creation of the State of Israel was affected by its own partition on religious lines. Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi opposed the creation of Israel as he was against the creation of countries based on religion.[10] Although India did not subscribe to the Partitioning of Palestine plan of 1947 and voted against Israel's admission in the United Nations in 1949, it did recognise Israel as a nation in 1950. In a statement in 1954, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said he would not "be a party to a resolution which stated that the creation of Israel was a violation of international law". He also wrote a letter to Frances Gunther expressing his support for the general Jewish behaviour in Palestine.[11]

Various Hindu nationalism organisations, led by the Sangh Parivar, supported the creation of Israel.[12] Hindu nationalist politician Vinayak Damodar Savarkar supported Israel when it was created and viewed its creation as "joyous" and condemned India's vote at the UN against Israel.[13] According to Subhash Kapila, the opposition to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel during the 1960s and 1970s arose from the Congress Party's desire to appease the Muslims[citation needed] in India as well as to continue the foreign policies of the Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi era. Sushma Swaraj (Bharatiya Janata Party member, and Leader of the Opposition of the 15th Lok Sabha) said that Israel is a reliable partner, and that the current government acknowledged it.[14]

India established official relations with Israel in 1991, although informal ties had long existed previously, involving such figures as Moshe Dayan.[15] Israel provided India with crucial information during its multiple wars.[16]

After decades of non-aligned and pro-Arab policy, India formally established relations with Israel in January 1992 and ties between the two nations have flourished since, primarily due to common strategic interests and security threats. Formation of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) allegedly neglected the sentiments of Indian Muslims and blocking of India by Pakistan from joining OIC is considered to be the cause of diplomatic shift.[17][18][19] According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry report, India is the most pro-Israel nation, ahead even of the United States.[20] On a diplomatic level, both the countries have managed to maintain healthy relations despite India's repeated strong condemnations of Israeli military actions in Palestinian territories, which are believed by analysts to be motivated by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's desire for Muslim votes in India.[21]

Diplomatic visits[edit]

Israeli and Indian flags in New Delhi during Ariel Sharon's visit, September 2003

In 2000, Jaswant Singh became the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Israel.[22] Following the visit, the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission. The foreign ministers of the two countries said intensified co-operation would range from counter-terrorism to information technology.[23][24]

In 2003, Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. He was welcomed by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance coalition government of India.[25] Several newspapers expressed positive views on his visit, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee voiced confidence that Sharon's visit would pave the way for further consolidating bilateral ties.[26] Sharon's visit was condemned in leftist[27] and Muslim circles.[28] Hundreds of supporters of India's various pro-Islamic and communist parties rallied in New Delhi. Nearly 100 Muslims were arrested.[28] Students of Aligarh Muslim University demanded that India sever ties with Israel and increase ties with Palestine.[29] The Hindi-language daily Navbharat Times called Sharon "an important friend of India." The Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) condemned the protest against Sharon.[30][31] RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav said: The entire world acknowledges that Israel has effectively and ruthlessly countered terror in the Middle East. Since India and Israel are both fighting a war against terrorism, therefore, we should learn a lesson or two from them. We need to have close co-operation with them in this field. He further alleged the role of Islamic Universities in India in increasing the Muslim terrorism and praised Israel for successfully combating against Islamic extremist militants and urged Indian government to deal with Islamic terrorism in the same manner.[30][31] The RSS newspaper Panchjanya described the visit as an opportunity to get closer to Israel and fight terrorism jointly.[30][31] Sharon expressed satisfaction over his talks with Indian leaders. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the visit would increase ties between India and Israel.[32] Sharon invited Vajpayee to visit Israel.[33] Sharon said that Israelis "regard India to be one of the most important countries in the world," and Vajpayee was sure that Sharon's visit would bring the two states closer together.[28]

In early 2006 Indian government ministers Sharad Pawar, Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath visited Israel.[34] Former Gujarat Chief Minister and the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has also visited Israel.[35]

Despite "India's unwavering support for the Palestinian cause", Foreign Minister SM Krishna visited Israel, Israel PM called this visit by Indian Foreign Minister a historical step forward in developing the relations between the two nations.[36][37]

Military and strategic ties[edit]

India and Israel have increased co-operation in military and intelligence ventures since the establishment of diplomatic relations. The rise of Islamic extremist terrorism in both nations has generated a strong strategic alliance between the two.[38] India recently launched a military satellite for Israel through its Indian Space Research Organisation.[39]

In 1997, Israel's President Ezer Weizman became the first head of the Jewish state to visit India. He met with Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma, Vice President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. Weizman negotiated the first weapons deal between the two nations, involving the purchase of Barak 1 vertically-launched surface-to-air (SAM) missiles from Israel. The Barak-1 has the ability to intercept anti-ship missiles such as the Harpoon.[40] The purchase of the Barak-1 missiles from Israel by India was a tactical necessity since Pakistan had purchased Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and 27 Harpoon sea-skimming anti-ship missiles from the United States.[40] Israel was one of the selected few nations, a group that also included France and Russia, that did not condemn India's 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests.[41]

In naval terms, Israel sees great strategic value in an alliance with the Indian Navy, given India's dominance of South Asian waters. Due to the great importance of maritime trade to the Israeli economy it thus sees the potential of establishing a logistical infrastructure in the Indian Ocean with the help of the Indian Navy. In 2000, Israeli submarines reportedly conducted test launches of cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the waters of the Indian Ocean, off the Sri Lankan coast.[38]

In 1996, India purchased 32 IAI Searcher unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Electronic Support Measure sensors and an Air Combat Manoeuvering Instrumentation simulator system from Israel.[40] Since then Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has serviced several large contracts with the Indian Air Force including the upgrading of the IAF's Russian-made MiG-21 ground attack aircraft and there have been further sales of unmanned aerial vehicles as well as laser-guided bombs.[42]

A Rediff story in 2003 revealed that the Indian external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had clandestine links with the Mossad, Israel's external intelligence agency. When RAW was founded in 1968 by Rameshwar Nath Kao, he was advised by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to cultivate links with Mossad. This was suggested as a countermeasure to military links between that of Pakistan and China, as well as with North Korea. Israel was also concerned that Pakistani army officers were training Libyans and Iranians in handling Chinese and North Korean military equipment.[43]

Pakistan believed intelligence relations between India and Israel threatened Pakistani security. When young Israeli tourists began visiting the Kashmir valley in the early nineties, Pakistan suspected they were disguised Israeli army officers there to help Indian security forces with anti-terrorism operations. Israeli tourists were attacked, with one slain and another kidnapped. Pressure from the Kashmiri Muslim diaspora in the United States led to his release.[43]

Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd signed a US$2.5 billion deal with India in 2007 to develop an anti-aircraft system and missiles for the country, in the biggest defence contract in the history of Israel at the time. IAI CEO Yitzhak Nissan visited India to finalise the agreement with heads of the defence establishment and the country's president. IAI is developing the Barak 8 missile for the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force which is capable of protecting sea vessels and ground facilities from aircraft and cruise missiles. The missile has a range of over 70 kilometres. The missile will replace the current obsolete Russian system used by India.[44]

On November 10, 2008, Indian military officials visited Israel to discuss joint weapons development projects, additional sales of Israeli equipment to the Indian military, and anti-terrorism strategies. The new round of talks was seen as a significant expansion in the Indian-Israeli strategic partnership.[45]

In 2008, Israel surpassed Russia as the largest arms supplier to India.[46]

In December 2009, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, made a historic state visit to India to cement the defence ties between the two countries. He pledged every help to India in fighting terrorism.[47][48][49][50]

In March 2011, defence news reported that India is about to buy 8356 Israeli Spike anti-tank missiles, 321 launchers, 15 training simulators and peripheral equipment, for a $1 billion deal, with Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems[51][52]

Trade agreements[edit]

The Israeli headquarters of the State Bank of India, located in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv District.

Bilateral trade, which was at $200 million in 2001, grew to $4.1 billion by 2009, excluding defence trade. This includes manufacturing, satellite launch, agriculture and diamond industries. In 2008, PBEL, a joint venture of two Israeli real estate firms and an Indian developer, announced an investment of $1 billion in real estate projects in India. The plan is to build 10,000,000 square feet (930,000 m2) of world-class residential and business space in three cities.[53] A formal free trade agreement was on progress as of 2010 for a two way agreement that would give Indian industries access to the Israeli high technology sector, and Israel access to Indian domestic market.[54] This is a step ahead of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) that a Joint Study Group (JSG) set up by the two countries had recommended to improve trade ties. It is estimated that bilateral trade would exceed $12 billion in 5 years with this trade agreement. The current areas that are to be given focus are software, communication, homeland security, science and medicine, bio and agro-technologies, water.[55][56] India's commerce minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, visited Israel in February 2010 to discuss a free-trade agreement. He met with Israeli president Shimon Peres; Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and representatives of Israel's water technology and high-tech industries. During the visit, Peres offered New Delhi his country’s complete cooperation in the fight against terror saying, “India’s security is as important to Israel as its own”[57][58]

Science and technology collaboration[edit]

India is building closer ties with Israel in the areas of nanotechnology, information technology, water technology and biotechnology.[59] In 1998, the Indo-Israel Joint Symposium on Human Genome was held in Jerusalem. Subsequently, as a follow up to the symposium, a call for joint research proposals on Human Genome was issued in July 1999 for which 11 proposals were received. Out of these, 6 research projects have been recommended for implementation.[60] Another Indo-Israel status seminar on human Genome Research was organised in India on December 2000.[61] In 1999-2000, Israel and India were involved in 22 joint research projects.[62] Scientists from both countries visited the laboratories of their collaborators and short term exchange visits were organised.[60][63] The Indo-Israel Joint Committee of scientists was constituted with the DST (Department of Science and Technology)and India as Co-chairmen with representatives from various research organisations in India and the Ministry of Information Technology as members. The 4th Meeting of the joint committee was held in the first week of November 1999 in Jerusalem, attended by a 3 member Indian delegation.[60]

In 2003, Israel's Minister for Science and Technology said that Israel was interested in strengthening science and technology ties with India considering that the latter had a rich base of scientists and technologists and the two countries could benefit by synergising their activities.[63] In 2003, the two countries proposed to double the investment under the ongoing science and technology collaboration to $1 million with $0.5 million from each country in the next biennial period starting October 2004.[63]

In 2004, the Ministry of Science and Technology in India signed an MoU with Israel for jointly funding industrial R&D projects.[64]

In an agreement signed on May 30, 2005, India and Israel pledged to set up a fund to encourage investment and joint industrial ventures. According to the Press Trust of India, there are five priority areas for enhanced collaboration: nanotechnology, biotechnology, water management, alternative energy, and space and aeronautics. India and Israel will each start by contributing US$1 million to provide risk-free grants to entrepreneurs in the two countries.[65] India purchased 50 Israeli drones for $220 million in 2005.[66] India was considering buying the newer Harop drone.[67] India is also in the process of obtaining missile-firing Hermes 450s.

In 2008, Israel and India finalised a three-year plan to introduce crops such as olives, dates and grapes to be introduced and cultivated in the states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, to create an agricultural market that meets Western demand for products like olive oil. In addition to the hope that this plan would boost yield and stave off famine, officials presented the project as symbolic.[68]

In August 2012, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding for launching a programme for promoting collaborative research across a wide range of disciplines from medical and information technology to social sciences, humanities and arts. The programme will run for five years.[69]

Space collaboration[edit]

Israel's Minister for Science and Technology has expressed interest in collaborating with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) towards utilising satellites for better management of land and other resources. Israel has also expressed interest in participating in ISRO's Chandrayaan mission of sending an unmanned craft to the moon.[63] A Memorandum of Understanding, signed by ISRO and Israel's space agency, provides for cooperation in multiple areas of space science and technology[70]

Israel's TecSAR radar satellite was launched by India on 22 January 2008.[71][72] The Indian PSLV launch-vehicle was chosen instead of its own home grown Shavit rocket.[73] This was due to the cost of the PSLV, $15 million compared to the Shavit at $20 million.[74] Tecsar is an Israeli spy satellite, primarily meant to monitor Iran's military activities.[75]

In March 2009, India launched the RISAT-2 satellite which is based on the technology employed in Israel's TecSAR. The satellite has the capability to take high resolution images at night and can carry out reconnaissance operations even through a dense cloud cover. Most Indian satellites currently in operation lack these capabilities. The decision to purchase the satellite was taken in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.[76] The 300 kilogram RISAT-2 was successfully launched by India's PSLV rocket in April 2009.[77]

A spokesman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said that RISAT-2 is an Indian satellite built with assistance from Israel.[4] India is also developing its own, indigenous version of RISAT-2, capable of taking images through clouds and at night.[78] It was launched in late 2009.[79]

Bihar development bid[edit]

Israel's ambassador to India Alon Ushpiz said in August 2012, following a meeting with Bihar (Indian state) chief minister Nitish Kumar, that he looks forward to increasing cooperation with the Indian state Bihar in the fields of agriculture, solar energy, water harnessing, and health insurance. In addition, cooperation in the energy sector between Bihar and Israel would be increased, especially in regards to solar energy. Uhspiz said:

"We have certain technologies which we can use here to increase productivity... Bihar is an integral part of our plans in agriculture and we will try to go the extra bit for the state... Your country is huge and has very fertile land, while we are very small and do not have much water or land. So, we use technology. We employ techniques for water management, improving water quality, including purification of water etc. We have the lowest percentage of water leakage in the world - about 12% - and we use 75% of our sewerage water.[80]

Israel centers of excellence[edit]

The center of Excellence for vegetables An Indo Israel project, Gharunda Karnal (Haryana) is the Ist project running successfully. Now this project will become the cluster Head for nine other states including Gujarat. This COE was inaugurated on Jan 17th 2011.

In September 2012, Israel's consul-general Orna Sagiv attended the four-day Agritech-Asia business summit, and noted that 3/28 Israel centers of excellence (COE) which will be set up across India will be hosted in Gujarat. Sagiv said that two COEs in Gujarat will be dedicated for growing mangoes in [Gir], while the third COE will raise awareness regarding post-harvest treatment of date palms and bananas. Sagiv said that "the COE is a complete government-to-government engagement with no-profit motive.. Drip irrigation using recycled water is what we practice in Israel, while water from desalination plant is supplied to houses. It is this philosophy that we want to share with Gujarat."[81]

Cultural ties[edit]

In April–May 2011, renowned Indian artists from India flew to Israel to participate in a three-week-long cultural festival commemorating 20 years of Indo-Israel diplomatic relations. According to India's ambassador to Israel, Navtej Sarna, "the idea is to bring the entirety of India, showcasing the multi-layered nature of the country, and to mainstream it into the Israeli society...It will lead to greater understanding of each others culture, mindset and impact on all aspects of bilateral relationship.".[82] According to a multi-national study conducted by an international market research company, India was found to be the most pro-Israeli nation.[83]

Tourism[edit]

More than 40,000 Israelis, mostly youth, after finishing their military service, visit India annually.[82] Many Israelis visit the Himalayas, Old Manali, Vashisht, Naggar, Kasol and the villages surrounding Dharamsala.[84] Even shops and public transport vehicles in the Kullu Valley, sport Hebrew signs.[84] The number of tourists from India visiting Israel touched 20,000 in the year 2007.[85] By 2010, India replaced Korea as the top source market for Israel from Asia with 41,000 tourist arrivals.[86] Indian tourists were also the biggest spenders in Israel with an average of $1,364, outranking the average tourist expenditure in Israel of $1,091.[87][88]

In September 2011, Stas Misezhnikov, Tourism Minister of Israel and Union Tourism Minister, Shri Subodh Kant Sahai, met in Delhi and decided to collaborate in the sphere of destination management and promotion, as well as manpower development. Also discussed were an exchange program for teachers and students, and the exchange of information on teaching modules.[89] 40,000 Indians visited Israel in 2011, double the number of visitors in 2009.[90]

Interfaith relations[edit]

The world's first Jewish-Hindu interfaith leadership summit, spearheaded by Hindu organisations in India and Jewish organisations in Israel, as well as the American Jewish Committee, was held in New Delhi on February 2007. The chief Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, was actively involved in the dialogue, together with Swami Dayanand Saraswati. They stated that "The Jewish and Hindu communities are committed to the ancient traditions of Judaism and Hindu dharma respectively, and have both, in their own ways, gone through the painful experiences of persecution, oppression and destruction."[91] Mertzger quoted:

"For thousands of years we have marched on parallel causes and have now built bridges of cooperation between the two religions. Jews have lived in India for over 2000 years and have never been discriminated against. This is something unparalleled in human history".[92]

A second Hindu-Jewish summit took place in Jerusalem in February 2008. There, the Jewish delegation accepted that true Hindus accept One Supreme Being and do not think that the representations used in worship are idols.[93] Despite snowy weather in Jerusalem, the Hindu delegation visited and said their prayers at the Kotel, also known as the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites for Jews.[94]

In June 2009, another Hindu-Jewish interfaith meet was held in New York and Washington. The International Hindu-Jewish Leadership Dialogue was hosted by the American Jewish Committee, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha and was sponsored by the World Council of Religious Leaders. It began with a lunch and presentations amid saffron-robed swamis, dark-suited rabbis, and Hindu lay leaders wearing lapel pins combining the Israeli, Indian, and American flags.[93]

In August 2007, a delegation of the All India Organisation of Imams and Mosques led by Maulana Jamil Ilyas visited Israel. The Israel visit followed a trip by Jewish rabbis to Delhi for an inter-faith meeting.[95]

Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, president of the All India Organisation of Imams and Mosques, stated "I was pleasantly surprised to know that the Sharia (Islamic law) is being supported by the Israeli government; whereas, in India, only local Muslims implement it. That is unique." Ilyasi was apparently referring to the existence of government-sanctioned Islamic courts in the Israeli justice system, which handle marriage, divorce and conversion issues for Muslim Israelis. Similar religious courts exist for Jews and Christians.[96] The visit was organised by the American Jewish Council. The visit was touted as a dialogue of democracies.[97]

Bnei Menashe[edit]

The Bnei Menashe ("Children of Menasseh", Hebrew בני מנשה) are a group of more than 8,000 people from India's remote North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram who claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. It is believed that the Assyrian Empire exiled the tribe of Manassah almost 3,000 years ago. Although they settled in Northeast India, tribe members kept their Jewish roots for more than 2,000 years.[98] On March 31, 2005 Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, accepted the Bnei Menashe's claim because of their exemplary devotion to Judaism. His decision was significant because it paved the way for all of the Bnei Menashe to enter Israel under Israel's Law of Return. In the past two decades, some 1,300 Bnei Menashe have moved to Israel. Indian Jews including the Bnei Menashe have never suffered anti-Semitism in India, but they regard Israel as their homeland and decided to emigrate "on Zionist considerations."[99]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]