At first glance, Hindumajority India, with approximately 1.2 billion people and
a subcontinent, would seem to have little in common with Jewish-majority Israel,
which has only about eight million people living on territory roughly 15 times
the size of India’s capital city. While full diplomatic relations were
established between Jerusalem and New Delhi only in 1992, the two countries
actually have much in common.
Both countries are homelands for ancient
peoples who gained their independence from the British in the 1940s.
states have gone on to create vibrant, multicultural democracies that have
experienced dynamic, technologydriven economic growth. India and Israel each
also have a large Muslim minority population, and each faces an ongoing
terrorism threat from foreign and domestic Islamic extremists; indeed, both
Israelis and Indians were targeted and killed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Even more serious, India and Israel each face ballistic missile threats from at
least one close, hostile Muslim state.
India already faces the nuclear
threat posed by Pakistan, and Israel may soon confront the same threat from
There is also a blossoming military and commercial relationship
between India and Israel. Israel is India’s second largest arms supplier after
Russia, and Israeli-Indian military cooperation extends to technology upgrades,
joint research, intelligence cooperation and even space (in 2008, India launched
a 300-kilogram Israeli satellite into orbit). Israel has upgraded India’s
Soviet-era armor and aircraft and provided India with sea-to-sea missiles, radar
and other surveillance systems, border monitoring equipment, night vision
devices, and other military support.
Bilateral trade reached $6 billion
last year and negotiations began this year for a free trade
Israel-India cooperation in agriculture and water technology
is growing both through government-sponsored initiatives and private business
Last year, Israeli and Indian government institutions jointly
launched an online network that provides real-time communications between Indian
farmers and Israeli agricultural technology experts, and Israel is in the
process of setting up 28 agricultural training centers throughout
Israeli Professor Yoram Oren has been studying the potential use
of nano-filtration to filter out harmful textile dyes from India’s polluted
Last June, a delegation of 16 high-ranking Indian officials
from the water authorities of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa and Haryana traveled to
Israel to visit wastewater treatment plants and meet with some of Israel’s
leading environmentalists and agronomists to learn about the desert country’s
newest green technologies.
Tata Industries, the multi-billion- dollar
Indian company, recently invested $5 million to kick-start the Technology
Innovation Momentum Fund at Tel Aviv University’s Ramot technology transfer
company. Tata Industries hopes to capitalize on future Israeli innovation, like
the algorithm for error correction in flash memory (which is one of the patents
filed by Ramot and now inside billions of dollars’ worth of SanDisk
These are but a few examples of the remarkable cooperation
between India and Israel. Such a synergistic relationship is unsurprising, given
the historically harmonious relations between the peoples of Israel and
Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to come to India:
the Cochin Jews arrived about 2,500 years ago and settled in the city of Kerala,
where they flourished as traders. In addition to the few thousand Jews who live
in major Indian cities like Mumbai, there are also some larger Indian
communities, like the 8,000 “Bnai Menashe” (from the northeastern Indian states
of Mizoram and Manipur) who claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
While Jews have always been a minuscule religious minority in India, they have
historically encountered very little anti-Semitism.
In Israel, about 1%
of the Jewish population has Indian ancestry.
In addition to the many
historic and economic reasons for India and Israel to strengthen their ties,
there are also strong geopolitical motivators. Israel’s tiny land mass (about
21,000 square kilometers) makes the Jewish state particularly vulnerable and
compels it to make strategic use of seaborne offensive and defensive military
capabilities. A vital component of those capabilities is Israel’s submarine
force, which requires friendly waters in which to deploy and maintain such a
force – something that the Indian Navy can provide with its dominance of South
With the ongoing security threats posed by India’s
nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan, the Kashmir conflict (which recently claimed the
lives of five Indian soldiers), and potential conflict with the other Asian
heavyweight, China, India needs the kind of military edge that Israel can help
it to obtain. Insofar as India provides an Asian counterweight to Chinese
dominance, a powerful India bolstered by Israeli technological expertise is also
in the interest of smaller Asian countries and the United States.
area where India could deepen its alliance with both Israel and the US is on the
issue of Iran. India, the second largest importer of Iranian crude oil after
China, won its third 180-day waiver from US sanctions last June after reducing
its oil purchases from Iran.
But in 2012, Iran and India agreed to trade
in rupees for shipments of oil, rice, sugar and soybeans, to circumvent US
financial sanctions on Iranian oil shipments. And Mangalore Refinery and
Petrochemicals is now reportedly receiving a cargo of Iranian crude, after a
four-month hiatus, with Hindostan Petroleum also restarting imports soon. Iran
may also become the top buyer of soybean meal from India for a second straight
year, as Iran turns to Asia’s biggest exporter to replace imports disrupted by
While India has its own commercial interests, India
also has a strong interest in a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear
issue. India’s economic and diplomatic clout can help to pressure Iran into a
compromise that prevents a catastrophic Middle East war. Such a regional
conflagration could spread beyond the Middle East and, in any case, would send
India’s energy costs skyrocketing, disrupt global trade, and dangerously
destabilize India’s geopolitical backyard.
India’s history of religious
tolerance stands in stark contrast to that of Iran. Since Iran’s Islamic
Revolution of 1979, Iran has been regarded as one of the world’s worst offenders
against freedom of religion.
Iran’s vicious human rights abuses and
undemocratic political system are also well known. Would India want such a
country to have nuclear weapons? Isn’t Pakistan enough? As a responsible member
of the nuclear club, a fellow democracy and one of the greatest rising world
powers, India should approach the Iranian nuclear issue as an opportunity to
demonstrate how growing Indian clout can promote global security and curb
extremist, undemocratic regimes like the Islamic Republic.
India’s ties with other innovative and economically advanced democracies like
the United States and Israel, India can better secure its own interests and
position itself for continued growth and leadership in a more stable
world.The author is the author of The Last Israelis, a war novel about
Iranian nukes and an Israeli submarine with an Indian Jew on board.
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