India and Israel – Brothers in Arms

Flags - India and Israel

Flags – India and Israel

Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi visits Israel from July 4-6 at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, making him the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Jewish homeland. This historic moment is part of India’s modernisation, both in terms of the economy and foreign policy.

Indian Soldiers and the Battle of Haifa

During the Battle of Haifa, 23 September 1918, Indian soldiers attacked the rearguard forces of the Ottoman Empire that resulted in the capture of the towns of Haifa and Acre.

Three Indian naval ships, destroyer INS Mumbai, frigate INS Trishul and tanker INS Aditya, made a goodwill visit at the Haifa port in May 2017 to mark 25 years of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Great Indian politics

The formation of India happened on secular lines, and so does our constitution say, but vote bank politics based on caste and religion were part of Indian political system right from the day we achieved independence. As such, Indian politics always favoured the minority community – although they did nothing for them.

In 1947 Albert Einstein wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, asking him to support the creation of Israel. Nehru declined, saying “Palestine is essentially an Arab country, and must remain so.”

This was done because of the risk of angering the Indian Muslims, who live in a secular country like India but have a Muslim-centric view of the world.

The Conflict Within

India voted against the Partitioning of Palestine plan of 1947 and voted against Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1949. But Hindu Mahasabha leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar supported the creation of Israel on both moral and political grounds, and condemned India’s vote at the UN against Israel. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar admired Jewish nationalism and believed Palestine was the natural territory of the Jewish people, essential to their aspiration for nationhood.

On 17 September 1950, India officially recognised the State of Israel.  In 1953, Israel was permitted to open a consulate in Bombay (now Mumbai). However, the Nehru government did not want to pursue full diplomatic relations with Israel as it supported the Palestinian cause, and believed that permitting Israel to open an embassy in New Delhi would damage relations with the Arab world.

Till early 1990s, the relationship remained informal in nature. India’s opposition to official diplomatic relations with Israel stemmed from both domestic and foreign considerations. Domestically, politicians in India feared losing the Muslim vote if relations were normalised with Israel. Additionally, India did not want to jeopardise the large amount of its citizens working in Arab States of the Persian Gulf, who were helping India maintain its foreign-exchange reserves. India’s domestic need for energy was another reason for the lack of normalisation of ties with Israel, in terms of safeguarding the flow of oil from Arab nations.

India’s tilt towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and India’s desire to counter Pakistan’s influence over the Arab states was another reason why we maintained distance from Israel.

Change of 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. The formation of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which allegedly neglected the sentiments of Indian Muslims, and the blocking of India by Pakistan from joining the OIC is the major cause for this diplomatic shift.

Help, Partnership and Beyond

  • War with Pakistan

Israel offered unconditional help to India during the 1971 and 1999 Kargil war.

  • Missile Technology

In September 2016, tests were conducted of the jointly developed Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile with a range of 70 km, intended to equip three guided-missile destroyers of the Indian Navy.

India successfully tested the Israeli-made SPYDER quick-reaction surface-to-air missile in May 2017. The Indian Air Force is planning to deploy this system on its western border.

  • Agriculture

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

An Indo-Israel agriculture action plan for 2015-18 is operational, and 15 of the proposed 26 centres of excellence in agriculture are being developed in India with Israel’s help to showcase the latest technology to Indian farmers.

  • Water Management

On June 28, 2017, the union cabinet approved a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Israel on the National Campaign for Water Conservation in India.

Technologically-adept Israel has developed water-management technologies, located as it is in a semi-arid region with limited sources of fresh drinking water.

  • Trade

As of 2014, India is the third-largest Asian trade partner of Israel, and tenth-largest trade partner overall. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to India.

  • Space

In 2002, India and Israel signed a cooperative agreement promoting space collaboration between both nations.

In 2003, the Israel Space Agency, ISA, expressed interest in collaborating with ISRO, in using satellites for improved management of land and other resources.

In 2005, Israel decided to launch TecSAR, its first synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite, on India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV

In 2009, India successfully launched RISAT-2, a synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite. RISAT-2 was manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, or IAI, in conjunction with ISRO. The launch of the RISAT-2 satellite aimed to provide India with greater earth observation power, which would improve disaster management, and increase surveillance and defence capabilities. The acquisition and subsequent launch of the RISAT-2 satellite was accelerated after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, to boost India’s future surveillance capabilities.

  • Tourism

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

  • Judaism in India

The history of the Jewish people in India dates back to ancient times. Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to arrive in India in recorded history

An estimated 85,000 Jews of Indian-origin live in Israel, the majority being from Maharashtra (Bene Israelis), with some from Kerala (Cochini Jews) and Kolkata (Baghdadi Jews).

  • Moshe Holtzberg

Moshe Holtzberg had survived the 26/11 carnage at the age of two, having lost his parents to the terror attack on the Nariman House. Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who was five months pregnant, were killed during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani Islamic terrorists. Their two-year-old son Moshe survived the attack after being rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel.

India and Israel are ‘brothers in arms’, we are both surrounded by hostile neighbours and have been at the receiving end of radical Islamic terror. We both face an existential threat from forces within and outside our community. Sharing information and technology will not only bring peace and prosperity in our respective countries but in the world at-large, and this is what makes us natural partners. The visit of Indian Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi to Israel is historic and has the potential to take Indo-Israeli ties to a new high. Shalom.