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][2]

India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defense supplier to India after Russia.[3] From 1999 to 2009, the military business between the two nations was worth around $9 billion.[4] Military and strategic ties between the two nations extend to intelligence sharing on terrorist groups and joint military training.[5]

As of 2013, India is the third-largest Asian trade partner of Israel, and tenth-largest trade partner overall.[6] In 2013, bilateral trade, excluding military sales, stood at $4.39 billion.[6] As of 2015, the two nations are negotiating an extensive bilateral free trade agreement, focusing on areas such as information technology, biotechnology, and agriculture.[7][8]

History[edit]

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

India's position on the establishment of the State of Israel was affected by many factors, including India's own partition on religious lines, and India's relationship with other nations.[9] Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi believed the Jews had a good case and a prior claim for Israel,[10][11][12] but opposed the creation of Israel on religious[10][13] or mandated terms.[10][13][14] India did not vote for the Partitioning of Palestine plan of 1947[15] and voted against Israel's admission to the United Nations in 1949.[16] On September 17, 1950, India officially recognized the State of Israel.[9] Following India's recognition of Israel, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stated, "we would have [recognized Israel] long ago, because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries."[9]

Various Hindu nationalism organizations, led by the Sangh Parivar, supported the creation of Israel.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19] Hindutva groups have also lent support to the idea of a tripartite alliance involving United States in addition to India and Israel.

India established official relations with Israel in 1991, although informal ties had long existed previously, involving such figures as Moshe Dayan.[20] Israel provided India with crucial information during its multiple wars.[21]

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 Organization 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.[22][23][24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27][28]

In 2003, Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. He was welcomed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance coalition government of India.[29] 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.[30] Sharon's visit was condemned in leftist[31] and Muslim circles.[32] Hundreds of supporters of India's various pro-Islamic and communist parties rallied in New Delhi. Nearly 100 Muslims were arrested.[32] Students of Aligarh Muslim University demanded that India sever ties with Israel and increase ties with Palestine.[33] 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.[34][35] 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.[36] Sharon invited Vajpayee to visit Israel.[37] 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.[32]

In early 2006 Indian government ministers Sharad Pawar, Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath visited Israel.[38] Former Gujarat Chief Minister and the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has also visited Israel.[39]

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.[40][41]

In May 2014 after victory of Narendra Modi in 2014 general election Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu personally congratulated Modi.[42] Also Narendra Modi met his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on the side line of UN General assembly during his US visit in 2014.[43] On the occasion of Hanukkah festival Indian PM Modi greeted his Israeli counterpart in Hebrew Language on Twitter[44][45][46] and then Israeli PM replied in Hindi Language. Later in 2014 Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel to over view the Border security arrangement of Israel.[47][48][49] During his tour he also met Israeli PM Netnyahu. In the same year former Israeli President Shimon Peres visited India.[50] A high level Israeli delegation with Agriculture Minister of Israel Yair Shamir also participated in Vibrant Gujarat summit in 2015.[51][52][53] In December 2014 a news published in The Hindu that India may end support to Palestine.[54]

In February 2015 Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon came to India. During his visit he participated in Aero India 2015. He also met his Indian counterpart as well as Indian PM.[55][56]

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.[57] India recently launched a military satellite for Israel through its Indian Space Research Organisation.[58]

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.[59] 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.[59] 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.[60]

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.[57]

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.[59] 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.[61]

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.[62]

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.[62]

India purchased 50 Israeli drones for $220 million in 2005.[63] India was considering buying the newer Harop drone.[64] India is also in the process of obtaining missile-firing Hermes 450s.[citation needed]

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.[65]

On 10 November 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.[66]

In December 2009, Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, made a visit to India to cement the defence ties between the two countries. He pledged every help to India in fighting terrorism.[67][68][69][70]

In March 2011, it was reported that India would buy 8356 Israeli Spike anti-tank missiles, 321 launchers, 15 training simulators and peripheral equipment, for $1 billion, from Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The deal was finalized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after coming into office.[71][72] ' In 2015 a delegation from Israel's Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs visited India, led by former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold. Shared strategic interests were discussed, including combatting radical Islam, the handling of territorial disputes, and the security situation in the Middle East and South Asia.[73]

Trade agreements[edit]

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

Bilateral trade between India and Israel grew from $200 million in 1992 to $4.39 billion in 2013.[6][74] As of 2013, India is Israel's tenth-largest trade partner and import source, and seventh-largest export source.[6] India's major exports to Israel include precious stones and metals, base metals and machinery, minerals, plastics, chemical products, textile products, and agricultural products.[6] Israel's major exports to India include precious stones and metals, base metals and machinery, minerals, transport equipment, and chemical products.[6]

In 2007, Israel proposed starting negotiations on a free trade agreement with India, and in 2010, then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accepted that proposal.[75][76] The agreement is set to focus on many key economic sectors, including information technology, biotechnology, water management, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture.[8] In 2013, then Israeli Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett projected a doubling of trade from $5 to $10 billion between the two countries, if a free trade agreement was successfully negotiated.[76] As of 2015, negotiations on a free trade agreement continue, with both countries considering negotiating a more narrow free trade agreement on goods, followed by separate agreements on trade in investment and services.[8]

Science and technology collaboration[edit]

India is building closer ties with Israel in the areas of nanotechnology, information technology, water technology and biotechnology.[77] 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.[78] Another Indo-Israel status seminar on human Genome Research was organised in India on December 2000.[79] In 1999-2000, Israel and India were involved in 22 joint research projects.[80] Scientists from both countries visited the laboratories of their collaborators and short term exchange visits were organised.[78][81] 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.[78]

In 2003, both countries discussed doubling their investment in their ongoing science and technology collaboration to $1 million each, starting in October 2004.[81]

In 2005, India and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a fund to encourage bilateral investment into industrial research and development and specific projects. Under the agreement, at least one Indian and one Israeli company must be collaborating on a project for that project to qualify for the fund. From 2006 to 2014, the fund, named i4RD, has been used in seven projects.[82][6][83][84]

In 2008, Israel and India finalized an agricultural plan introducing crops native to the Middle East and Mediterranean to India, with a particular focus on olives.[85] Subsequently, around 112,000 olive trees were planted in the desert of Rajasthan.[86][87] In 2014, more than 100 tonnes of olives were produced in Rajasthan.[88]

In 2012, the two countries signed a five-year $50 million academic research agreement for promoting collaborative research across a wide range of disciplines, including medical and information technology, social and life sciences, humanities, and the arts.[89][90]

In 2012, Israel stated its intent to increase technological and economic cooperation with the Indian state of Bihar, in the fields of agriculture, water management, solar energy, and medical insurance.[91] In 2014, Israel made plans to open two agricultural centers of excellence in Bihar, focusing on increasing productivity of vegetable and mango crops.[92]

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.[81] A Memorandum of Understanding, signed by ISRO and Israel's space agency, provides for cooperation in multiple areas of space science and technology[93]

Israel's TecSAR radar satellite was launched by India on 22 January 2008.[94][95] The Indian PSLV launch-vehicle was chosen instead of its own home grown Shavit rocket.[96] This was due to both the cheap cost of the PSLV ($15 million compared to the Shavit at $20 million) and satellite orbital & payload parameters.[97] Tecsar is an Israeli spy satellite, primarily meant to monitor Iran's military activities.[98]

In March 2009, India launched the RISAT-2 satellite which is based on the technology employed in Israel's TecSAR. A spokesman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said that RISAT-2 is an Indian satellite built with assistance from Israel.[99] The decision to purchase the satellite was taken in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.[100] The 300 kilogram RISAT-2 was successfully launched by India's PSLV rocket in April 2009.[101]

Centers of excellence[edit]

In 2008, Israel and India signed the Agriculture Cooperation Agreement, which established the Indo-Israel Agricultural Cooperation Project.[102][103] The project's central aim is to utilize Israeli technology to increase crop productivity and diversity in various regions in India.[104] The implementation of the project occurs through establishment of agricultural centers of excellence in India that focus on growing horticulture crops, producing seeds and cut-flowers, and also on beekeeping and dairy farming.[104][105] As of 2015, 15 centers of excellence are fully operational, spanning 10 Indian states.[102]

Cultural ties & Cross-country perceptions[edit]

In 2011, cultural artists and performers from India arrived in Israel to participate in a three-week festival commemorating 20 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. According to India's then Ambassador to Israel Navtej Sarna, the purpose of the festival was to improve the bilateral relationship between the two countries by facilitating a greater understanding of each other's culture.[106]

According to a 2009 international study commissioned by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the greatest level of sympathy towards Israel can be found in India, with 58% of Indian respondents showing sympathy towards Israel.[107]

According to the 2014 BBC Country Ratings Poll, 9% of Israelis have a mainly positive view of India's influence, 34% have a mainly negative view, and 57% are neutral or gave another response.[108] According to the same poll, 22% of Indians have a mainly positive view of Israel's influence, 34% have a mainly negative view, and 44% are neutral or gave another response.

Tourism[edit]

Around 40,000 Israelis, many of whom have just finished military service, visit India annually.[106] There are dozens of Chabad-operated community centers in India, where many Israelis celebrate holidays and observe religious traditions.[109] Popular destinations for Israelis include Goa,[110] the Himalayas, Old Manali, Vashisht, Naggar, Kasol, and the villages surrounding Dharamsala.[111] In many of these areas, Hebrew signs on businesses and public transportation are widely noticeable.[111]

The number of tourists from India visiting Israel touched 15,900 in the year 2000.[112] By 2010, the number of tourists had increased to 43439.[113] In 2014, the number of tourists from India visiting Israel was 34,900.[114] A popular destination for Indian tourists traveling to Israel is Jerusalem.[115] In part of 2010, Indian tourists were the biggest spenders in Israel, spending an average of $1,364 per tourist; the average tourist expenditure in Israel during this time was $1,091.[116]

In 2011, representatives from both countries met in Delhi, and planned to enhance tourism through collaboration in the spheres of destination management and promotion, as well as in manpower development. Plans for tour-operators and travel agents in both countries to coordinate were also discussed.[113] In 2015, 600 travel agents from India arrived in Israel for the annual Travel Agents Federation of India conference, and ways to decrease barriers to tourism were discussed.[114]

Interfaith relations[edit]

In February 2007, the first Jewish-Hindu interfaith leadership summit was held in New Delhi.[117] The summit included the then Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger, the American Jewish Committee's International Director of Interreligious Affairs David Rosen, a delegation of chief rabbis from around the world, and Hindu leaders from India.[117][118][119] During the summit, Rabbi Metzger stated:

“Jews have lived in India for over 2,000 years and have never been discriminated against. This is something unparalleled in human history."[117]

In August 2007, amidst protests,[119] a delegation of Indian Muslim leaders and journalists traveled to Israel.[120][121] The visit was touted as a dialogue of democracies,[121] and was organized by the American Jewish Committee's India office.[120] During this trip, Maulana Jameel Ahmed Ilyasi, the then secretary-general of the All-India Association of Imams and Mosques, praised the mutual respect Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews have for each other, and encouraged resolving problems by dialogue rather than violence.[120] Muslim leaders met with then president Shimon Peres, where Peres highlighted the coexistence of religions in Jerusalem and India's struggle with terror and separatism.[120]

In 2008, a second Hindu-Jewish summit took place in Jerusalem.[122][123] Included in the summit was a meeting between Hindu groups and then Israeli President Shimon Peres, where the importance of a strong Israeli-Indian relationship was discussed.[123] The Hindu delegation also met with Israeli politicians Isaac Herzog and Majalli Whbee.[123] Hindu groups visited and said their prayers at the Western Wall, and also paid their respects to Holocaust victims.[123]

In 2009, a smaller Hindu-Jewish interfaith meeting organized by the Hindu American Foundation and the American Jewish Committee was held in New York and Washington.[122] Hindu and Jewish representatives gave presentations, and participants wore lapel pins combining the Israeli, Indian, and American flags.[122]

Bnei Menashe[edit]

The Bnei Menashe are a group of around 10,000 people from India's remote North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram who claim descent from the Tribe of Manasseh, one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.[124][125] The Bnei Menashe believe that the Assyrian Empire exiled the tribe of Manassah from Israel over 2700 years ago.[124][125]

Zaithanchhungi, a Mizo anthropologist, developed the lost-tribe claims of the Bnei Menashe in 1981 and presented his research in Israel.[125] According to Zaithanchhungi, the historical similarities of the clothing and folk songs of the Bnei Menashe to Jewish culture are too strong a link to be just a coincidence.[126]

The genetic test results of the Bnei Menashe have been described as inconclusive.[127] DNA studies on the Bnei Menashe at the Central Forensic Institute in Calcutta showed the masculine side of the tribe had no link to Israel, while the feminine side indicated a possible genetic connection to Middle Eastern people that could have resulted through inter-marriage.[125]

Some Israeli groups have dismissed the claim of the Bnei Menashe as "historically untenable"[125] while other groups, like Shavei Israel, have supported the claims.[124][125] In 2005, Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, then one of Israel's two chief rabbis, recognized the Bnei Menashe as the lost descendents of ancient Israelites.[125][128] His decision was significant because it removed barriers for the Bnei Menashe to enter Israel under Israel's Law of Return.[125] As of 2015, over 3000 of the Bnei Menashe have migrated to Israel, through Shavei Israel.[124]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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