The recent Israel-Hamas crisis has ignited a momentous juncture in India’s evolving foreign policy, signaling a rapid transformation in its international stance. To comprehend the significance of this shift, one must delve into the historical backdrop and how far India’s relationship with Israel has come. Notably, until the year 1992, India had refrained from establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, a stance rooted in its principled commitment to anti-colonialism. India’s iconic leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, were initially hesitant to recognize the state of Israel. Their hesitation was driven by the complex history of the Middle East and their strong support for the Palestinian cause, which they considered a direct consequence of British imperialism. Consequently, India’s recognition of Israel as a state in 1950 did not lead to formal diplomatic relations.
It was only in 1992 that formal diplomatic ties between India and Israel were established, marking the beginning of a new era in their relationship. This phase saw the rapid development of defense and trade relations between the two nations, positioning Israel as India’s second-largest defense partner. However, despite these advances, a genuinely close relationship was yet to be forged. The public reception of Ariel Sharon, the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in 2003, was marked by substantial protests, indicating persisting reservations within Indian society. Furthermore, India’s voting pattern in the United Nations General Assembly regarding Israel remained unchanged.
The transformation of India’s approach began to take shape following the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014. Under Modi’s leadership, the India-Israel relationship witnessed a shift towards greater amicability. Significant instances include India’s abstention from a United Nations vote in 2015 concerning whether Israel should face scrutiny from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes during the 2014 Gaza crisis. In 2017, Modi achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. This marks a significant departure from India’s previous approach, symbolizing a more balanced engagement with the Middle East.
Today, the India-Israel relationship spans a wide spectrum, encompassing various aspects such as tourism, agriculture, and defense collaboration. Some analysts have even highlighted ideological commonalities between Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu nationalism and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, suggesting shared ethnonationalism and anti-Muslim ideologies that have drawn the two nations closer. The recent Israel-Hamas crisis demonstrated the newfound importance of India’s relationship with Israel. Prime Minister Modi’s rapid response and unequivocal support for Israel’s stance on the crisis underlined the significant role Israel now plays in India’s foreign policy. This development is remarkable given India’s strong relations with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, and its continued public support for the Palestinian cause. This duality is a testament to India’s diplomatic pragmatism, where its strategic interests align with both Israel and its Middle Eastern partners.
The geopolitical significance of India’s evolving relationship with Israel is profound. It reflects not only a recalibration of India’s foreign policy but also the changing dynamics in the Middle East and the broader international arena. India’s shift from historical reluctance to embracing Israel as a crucial strategic partner mirrors a global realignment of alliances, emphasizing the growing convergence of interests among democracies. In a world grappling with complex challenges such as the rise of regional powers, the resurgence of authoritarianism, and the persistent threat of terrorism, the India-Israel partnership offers several advantages. It enhances the security and stability of the Middle East, a region of paramount importance for India, given its robust relations with Arab nations and the substantial Indian diaspora residing there.
Furthermore, India, with its first-hand experience of jihadist terrorism and a commitment to fighting this menace, shares an understanding of Israel’s security concerns. This alignment of interests underscores the strategic depth of the India-Israel relationship and positions it as a pillar of stability in a volatile region. As the global geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, the India-Israel partnership symbolizes the potential for collaboration amid shifting dynamics. This diplomatic synergy is a testament to the enduring bonds that can be forged, even in the face of historical narratives and differences. It reminds us that diplomacy and cooperation can transcend past constraints and lead to a more secure, peaceful, and prosperous world.
In an era marked by uncertainty and multifaceted challenges, the evolving India-Israel relationship represents a beacon of cooperation, offering a model for nations to navigate the complex currents of global politics and build a safer and more prosperous future together. This strategic partnership is a testament to the power of diplomacy and collaboration in a rapidly changing world.