India-Israel relations: A mutually beneficial relationship

As Israel and India celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations, the relationship between continues to develop and grow.

Ariel Sharon places a wreath for Mahatma Gandhi 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Ariel Sharon places a wreath for Mahatma Gandhi 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
As Israel and India celebrate 20 years of diplomatic relations, the relationship between the two countries continues to develop and grow.
Since 1992, Israel has emerged as an important partner for India on many fronts. Science and technology cooperation is a major growth area, and the India-Israel Initiative for Industrial R&D focuses on nanotechnology, biotechnology, space, water management and non-conventional energy sources.
India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) has launched Israeli satellites, and there are important opportunities for Israeli companies in India’s growing water management sector.
The Agriculture Work Plan program, launched in 2006, is also expanding. It helps bring Israeli agricultural technologies to Indian farmers. Subsequently, an Action Plan 2012-2015 was adopted to implement concrete projects including setting up of centers of excellence in several Indian states. The fourth meeting of India-Israel Forum, an annual event organized by Tel Aviv and Confederation of Indian Industry, was held in Tel Aviv in August 2011.
Overall, India is currently Israel’s sixth-largest trading partner, and nearly 40,000 Israeli tourists visited India in 2010.
Although the bilateral relationship is dominated by defense cooperation, new sectors of cooperation are also emerging.
Indo-Israel trade was approximately $4.8 billion in 2010, and Israeli companies and entrepreneurs benefit from India’s huge market of 1.2 billion people, as well as the growing middle class of 300 million. The two countries are now negotiating a bilateral Free Trade Agreement.
On the defense front, Israel’s timely help with defense equipment during the Kargil war with Pakistan is appreciated in India, and Israel has emerged as India’s second largest supplier of defense equipment. In recent years India has bought sophisticated defense equipment from Israel including the Phalcon AWACS, Barak missiles and anti-missile air defense systems fighter & helicopter upgrades etc. India and Israel also have cooperated in fighting terrorism.
WITH THE world’s second largest Muslim population, India has understandably been a traditional supporter of the Palestinian cause. That is still India’s position, and Israel is well aware of India’s principled stand on the Palestinian issue.
But India is a diverse country, and while some sectors of Indian society feel our relations with Israel come at the expense of traditional support for the Palestinians, the government has adopted a balanced and pragmatic approach by continuing and deepening engagement with Israel.
Nor has that stance harmed our relations with the Gulf counties. India-GCC trade in 2010-11 stood at $119 billion, and nearly 6 million Indian nationals work in the Gulf and send home remittances worth $30 billion annually. Nearly two-thirds of India’s energy imports are from the Gulf countries, including Iran. India cannot afford to neglect these ties.
Importantly, our disagreement over this issue has not prevented the multifaceted growth of bilateral ties with Israel, and the strategic significance of good relations with India has not been lost on Israel.
The same can be said for our relations with Iran, our next-door neighborhood and an important trade partner. India sources nearly 11 percent of its global energy imports from Iran, and we are of the opinion that isolating Tehran will not help matters.
India favors a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue through dialogue, and our government has urged Iran to abide by its commitments under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. It voted against Iran at the IAEA on several occasions in the past, and the Indian navy plays a constructive role in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
Defense diplomacy has emerged as an important component of Indian diplomacy.
We are hopeful that by maintaining good relations with Tehran, we will be able to play a constructive role in the resolution of outstanding issues in the region.
Over the past 20 years, India has emerged as one of the world’s leading economies. Our economy opened up in 1991. Since then India’s foreign policy has diversified. We became a nuclear power in 1998 and upgraded relations with the United States with the 2005 Indo-US defense cooperation agreement and the 2006 Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation deal. Other strategic partnerships have been signed with Japan, South Korea, Russia and the European Union. India is now regarded as a strong candidate for the permanent membership of the reformed UN Security Council.
To mark the landmark occasion of 20 years of India-Israel diplomatic relations, Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Israel today and tomorrow will highlight the future direction of the relationship against the backdrop of a changing global and regional scenario. The visit will impart the requisite political content to a relationship which has been otherwise flourishing in the past few years, and should serve to assure the Israelis of the confirmed high importance given by India to its relations with Israel.
The writer is head of India’s Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defense and security.