Expanding and deepening ties between Israel and India: analysis

Another week, another visit from a senior Indian official.

This time it was India’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane, who arrived on Sunday for his first visit to Israel, his country’s largest arms supplier after Russia, since taking office in 2019.

Naravane’s arrival followed a visit two weeks ago by the Director General of the Indian Defense Ministry, Ajay Kuma, to participate in the 15th meeting of the Joint India-Israel Working Group on Bilateral Defense Cooperation. Kumar’s visit was followed by just over a week by the visit of Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishanka.

And in the midst of all that, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on November 2 with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

“Our goal is to continue the path that they opened with my predecessor and to ensure that our two nations work together on innovation, technology, space, security, agriculture, food technologies and, of course, climate-related technologies,” said Bennett.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow (Credit: CHAIM TZACH / GPO)

Judging by the pace of visits from New Delhi, Modi is very much on board.

The Indian prime minister, who won a second term in 2019 and is expected to run for a third term in 2024, revolutionized ties between Israel and India within months of taking office in 2014 by pulling the Indian-Israeli relationship from the closest and instituting a policy called de-separation of words.

What the separation of words meant was simple: India’s relationship with Israel would be independent, unrelated or dependent on India’s relationship with the Palestinians, or progress on the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track. This would no longer be a relationship between India and Israel-Palestine, but between India and Israel, and India and the Palestinians.

This separation was most evident in July 2017 when Modi arrived in Israel, but did not go to the Palestinian Authority (he went there for a day in 2018, shortly after hosting then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for six days in India). This was a clear sign that India would no longer hold its relationship with Israel as a hostage due to the lack of movement through diplomatic channels.

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP), intended, unlike his rival Congress Party, to advance the relationship with Israel at full speed and in full view of the world. In Netanyahu, who was in the midst of a furious push to expand Israel’s relations around the world, he found an enthusiastic and more than willing partner.

To understand the extent to which Modi has succeeded in decoupling India’s relationship with Israel from that of the Palestinians, all that was needed was to read any number of reports in the Indian media over the last month about visits here from high-ranking people. Indian officials.

While past stories about India-Israel ties or such visits inevitably discussed India’s efforts to balance its ties to Israel with ties to the Palestinians, and how this was a sensitive issue for India due to its large Muslim population, this narrative has increasingly fallen from the reports.

Instead, new concepts are emerging, such as “minilateralism” and a Middle Eastern “Quad”.

Minilateralism is an idea whereby a limited number of countries come together to pursue common goals; the Middle East “Quad” in this context refers to a possibly brewing minilateral alliance: Israel, India, the United Arab Emirates and the US.

This idea received a major boost on October 19, during Jaishankar’s visit to Jerusalem, when he and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid joined US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister. from the UA, for a quadrilateral zoom conference.

This sparked comparisons in India with a quadrilateral alliance that has emerged in the Pacific (Australia, India, Japan, and the US) designed to counter India’s main threat: China.

The ring of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, India and the United States, according to some versions of the Indian press, was a counterweight to China in the Middle East.

Whether this is true or not, neither Israel nor the UAE have the same concerns about China as the US and India, the development of this alliance was a main focus of the visit for parts of the Indian press. , rather than what India’s ties with Israel will do. do with his relations with the Arab world, something that shows the degree to which Modi has decoupled India’s ties to Israel from India’s ties to the Palestinians.

In seven years, the conversation within India has shifted from whether India should get closer to Israel and how close it should be, to how these ties with other countries can be harnessed to counter China.

As Indira Bagchil, diplomatic editor of the Times of India wrote last month, “Israel is arguably India’s most trusted partner in the world, sometimes even closer than the United States.”

Jaishankar himself expressed a similar sentiment during his visit, telling business leaders and government officials that Israel is, in some ways, “India’s most trusted and innovative association.”

The large number of high-profile Indian visits today, and the agreements that are being discussed and drafted during them, attest to this. This surge of activity between Israel and India shows that while the relationship Netanyahu developed with Modi was an important catalyst for advancing ties between Israel and India, the relationship was in no way dependent on Netanyahu.

When Netanyahu visited India in 2018, Israeli officials spoke of a sense of urgency to speed things up quickly, not knowing whether Modi would survive the 2019 elections (he did, comfortably) and wanting to use his time in power to cement the relationship. as deeply and quickly as possible.

Modi still remains in power, although Netanyahu does not, and visits in recent weeks are laying the institutional framework for the relationship, including negotiations for a free trade agreement and a 10-year cooperation plan under discussion to identify new areas. in defense cooperation between the two countries, which will last longer than Modi.

This is critical, because even if Modi is succeeded by someone without his pro-Israel sentiment, once these frameworks are in place, it will be much more difficult to unravel what Modi put in place. The goal is simple: deepen and broaden ties across the board so that when there is a change of government in India, the relationship with Israel is so widely accepted and beneficial in India that no leader would want to turn back the clock.


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