India – Israel relationship emerges from the closet

By ROBERT SWIFT/ THE MEDIA LINE
October 29, 2015 22:58

Leaders’ visit represents most visible sign of change.

4 minute read.



India

Indian soldiers march past the historic Red Fort during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Long believed to hold the potential to become natural allies and trading partners, the predicted mutually-beneficial relationship between Israel and India is seen as maturing with lucrative benefits to both nations.

While there was a time the developing bonds between the two nations were stalled by India’s ties to Israel’s enemies, India now seems ready to reap the rewards of its ties to the Jewish state in the form of Israeli technology, weapons and military equipment, diamonds and agriculture. Israel, meantime, is developing close links with an emerging super-power at a time when its traditional allies are becoming a touch frosty and concern about isolation from the international community is growing.

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The recent visit to Israel by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee underscores the interest in ratcheting-up the level of Indian-Israeli cooperation despite India’s traditional support for the Palestinian campaign for statehood. Indeed, it was the first non-Arab nation to recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and maintains a full Palestinian embassy in its capital, New Delhi. This policy is seen as a reaction to India’s own history of colonial rule and its ready support for calls for self-determination. And, of course, the influence of some 120 million Muslims living within its borders -- the largest Muslim population of any non-Islamic country. Only recently has India’s voting pattern at the United Nations become anything other than automatic in opposition to Israeli positions.

Yet, Israel and India also shares similarities such as their respective legal systems inherited from the British Empire. Israel fell under the British Mandate until it became a state in 1948 – only one year after India declared independence from Britain.
The connections run even deeper than this, according to Stanley Bergman, CEO of Henry Schein and a captain of industry involved in developing trade ties between Israel and India.

“(There are) very similar values – Indians and Jews and Israelis view family as the center,” Bergman told The Media Line. “There’s a culture of business and education (which) the two nations have in common,” he explained. Ties between the two nations have grown slowly from the 1990s when diplomatic relations were established.

Pragmatism on the part of India was responsible for the establishment of the relationship, Jamshyd N. Godrej, an industrialist and co-chair of the Indian-Israel Forum, told The Media Line. He explained that Russian military hardware lacked the technological sophistication the Indian government desired for equipping its armed forces while at the same time the United States was an impractical source of military equipment due to its close ties to Pakistan, India’s regional rival with whom they have fought four wars. The solution, Godrej said, was to turn to the Jewish state.

“Israel was the only one who was relatively independent and not connected with the big blocks and recognized that India would be an investment for the future,” the industrialist said.

This arrangement led to a situation where 40% of Israel’s military exports are sold to India, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, foreign correspondent for the Hindustan Times newspaper, told The Media Line.

At the start of the relationship, India was cautious about the visibility of its relationship with Israel for fear of offending its Arab and Muslim allies. However, according to Chaudhuri, the Indian government need not have worried. “The Arabs have actually taken us more seriously now that we have relations with Israel,” the journalist said. 

In fact, the relationship between the two states is now anything but “under the radar.” India’s head of state made his highly visible visit to Israel and in return, President Reuven Rivlin has announced his intention to travel to India in the near future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to deserve much of the credit for New Delhi’s change in policy vis-à-vis Israel. “I think with the change in government in India there is much more visibility and less shyness about the relationship,” Stanley Bergman agreed.

The shift also comes following opinion polls in India which depicts the population as being favorable toward Israel – with approval ratings of 70% and above, according to Chaudhuri.

But the relationship is likely to warm only so far. India, which has historically preferred to maintain a balance in its diplomacy has not put aside its traditional support for the Palestinians and will, in the future, seek to weigh this against its new growing sense of connection with Israel, Jamshyd N. Godrej predicted.

“Because of its long history of not being connected to any [diplomatic] bloc, I don’t see India taking sides between the Israelis and Palestinians in that sense. They have become much more balanced in their approach now,” he said.

For more stories from The Media Line visit http://www.themedialine.org/


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