(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIT DAVE)
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits India, it has become increasingly apparent that Indian-Israeli relations are on the upswing.
The $800 million missile deal with India that was canceled is now back on the table, trade between the two countries is flourishing and as Caroline Glick demonstrated in her recent column in The Jerusalem Post, many people in India now regret voting against the US and Israel in the UN General Assembly’s vote on Trump’s Jerusalem declaration after the PLO’s envoy to Pakistan took a selfie with the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks, which claimed the lives of 164 people. All of these developments open up many new possibilities for Israel building stronger relations with India, the world’s largest democracy who has a considerable amount of influence in Asia.
The new reality representing the glory of the present Indian-Israeli relationship is on full display during this visit, just as it was when Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. From the onset of the visit, Modi broke with Indian protocol in order to meet Netanyahu at the airport. India has only bestowed this honor upon two other world leaders, which implies that the Netanyahu visit is of utmost importance to Modi personally and India as a country. As Modi himself stated on his Twitter page, “Welcome my friend to India, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close relationship between the two countries.”
While it is apparent that the new blossoming of Indian-Israeli relations could lead to changes in how India votes in the UN, numerous business and military deals worth millions if not billions of dollars and maybe even a Bollywood movie that is filmed at least partially in Israel, the question remains, with the burgeoning of Indian-Israeli relations, can other countries in Asia follow in India’s footsteps? As we speak, India and China are competing for influence over Asia. In many Asian countries, India is the preferred Asian superpower to China.
For example, Japan is quite weary of Chinese activity in the South Asian Sea and the rate that the Chinese economy is growing while India is concerned about China’s alliance with Pakistan and the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. Given these shared concerns, it should not be surprising that India presently enjoys very positive diplomatic relations with Japan. And unlike South Korea, who also has issues with China yet has historical baggage with Japan due to how the Japanese sexually enslaved their women during World War II, India does not possess any negative history with Japan which hinders cooperation on issues of strategic importance. The two countries have signed a Free Trade Agreement and a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. In addition, Modi enjoys an excellent personal relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who leads the second largest democracy in Asia.
Since 2015, Israel has also witnessed improved diplomatic relations with Japan following the decline in oil prices. Before 2015, Japan placed more emphasis on its relationship with Arab League member states and other Muslim countries than Israel due to the existence of the oil market. For decades, the Japanese feared warming up to Israel due to the belief that it could sabotage their access to oil. Given recent developments in the world, Japan has shifted their position more in Israel’s favor but the Jewish state has still not succeeded to tap into the world’s third largest economy to the level that it potentially could. However, with the assistance of Modi, perhaps Israel will be able to witness a flourishing of Japanese-Israeli relations. Given the great rapport between Modi and Abe, Israel’s positive relationship with India can be a game changer for Japanese-Israeli relations as well.
In fact, Indian influence is very strong across Asia and not only in Japan. In addition to Japan, India presently has free trade agreements with Nepal, South Korea, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Aside from that, the political influence of India in Asia is widespread to a level that according to local sources, some countries like Nepal do not even make any significant political decision without consulting India.
Furthermore, throughout the Indian subcontinent, the cultural influence of India is immense. Bollywood films are very popular and any country in Asia with a significant Hindu population is influenced by Indian culture. These factors alongside the sheer size of India make the country a force to be reckoned with who has a fighting chance of competing with China as a superpower.
By Israel strengthening ties with India, Israel also potentially opens up the door to even establish relations with nations that presently do not enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Bangladesh, whose annual trade with India is worth billions of dollars.
Although the Sheikh Hasina government is presently very hostile to Israel, the Hindu Struggle Committee emphasized that the Hindu minority in Bangladesh and even many Muslims within the country would like to see this hostility come to an end. Israel was the first country from the Middle East and the 4th in the world to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country.
Israel also has modern technology, agriculture, etc. that is of pivotal importance to a poor country like Bangladesh. With the assistance of Modi, whose government presently has enormous influence within Bangladesh and enjoys excellent relations with Dhaka, perhaps one day the will of the Bangladeshi people will override the present position of the ruling Bangladeshi government. Thus, Netanyahu’s historic visit to India is a game changer which can enable Israel to strengthen its position both in Asia and globally.
The author is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.