India-Israel Relations
India-Israel Relations

The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, has drawn international attention and concern. The conflict started after Hamas fired 5000+ rockets at Israel on the day of Simchat Torah during a music festival, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides and widespread destruction and displacement.

While many countries have called for an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, some have also expressed their solidarity and support for Israel or Hamas. Among them, India has been one of the most vocal supporters of Israel, condemning the Hamas attacks and reaffirming its friendship and partnership with the Jewish state.

But why must India support Israel during this conflict? What are the historical, strategic, and economic reasons behind India’s pro-Israel stance? And what are the implications of this stance for India’s relations with other countries in the region and beyond?

The Historical Background

India’s relations with Israel have not always been friendly and cordial. In fact, for most of its history, India was more sympathetic and supportive of the Palestinian cause than the Israeli one.

India was one of the last non-Muslim states to recognize Israel in 1950, after two Muslim-majority countries, Turkey and Iran, did so. However, India did not establish full diplomatic ties with Israel until 1992, after the end of the Cold War. Until then, India maintained a low-level consulate in Mumbai, while Israel had no diplomatic presence in New Delhi.

India’s political attitude towards Israel was influenced by several factors, such as:

  • India’s opposition to the partition of Palestine on religious grounds, as it was seen as similar to the partition of India on communal lines.
  • India’s solidarity with the Arab world and the Non-Aligned Movement, which supported the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and statehood.
  • India’s dependence on Arab countries for oil supplies and remittances from its large diaspora in the Gulf region.
  • India’s fear of antagonizing its Muslim minority at home and its Muslim neighbors such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

However, India’s relations with Israel began to change in the 1990s, when several developments altered the regional and global scenario, such as:

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union reduced India’s reliance on its traditional ally. It opened up new opportunities for cooperation with other countries.
  • The emergence of new security threats and challenges for India, such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and regional instability.
  • The rise of economic liberalization and globalization, which increased India’s need for trade, investment, and technology.

These developments prompted India to re-evaluate its foreign policy and seek new partners that could help it achieve its strategic and economic interests. One of these partners was Israel.

The Strategic Partnership

India established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 due to common strategic interests and security threats. Since then, both countries have developed a comprehensive partnership that covers various domains such as defense, intelligence, counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, space, and agriculture.

One of the main pillars of this partnership is defense cooperation. India is Israel’s largest client for military equipment sales, and Israel is India’s second-largest supplier of military equipment after Russia; approximately 42.1% of all Israeli arms exports are received by India. From 1999 to 2009, military business between the two countries was worth around US$9 billion.

Their strategic ties extend to joint military training as well as intelligence-sharing on the activity of various terrorist groups.

Israel has also helped India during times of crisis and war. For instance,

  • In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Israel provided humanitarian assistance to thousands of Indian workers stranded in Kuwait.
  • In 1999, during the Kargil War, Israel supplied India with target bombs that helped it win the war against Pakistan.
  • In 1962, during the Indo-China war, and in 1965, during the Indo-Pak war, Israel helped India with arms and ammunition.

The Economic Ties

Another pillar of the partnership between India and Israel is economic cooperation. Bilateral trade between the two countries grew from $200 million in 1992 to $7.5 billion in 2022.

Today, India is Israel’s tenth-largest trade partner and import source and seventh-largest export destination.

The main trade sectors between the two countries are diamonds, chemicals, machinery, textiles, and agricultural products. Diamonds alone account for more than half of the bilateral trade. India is the largest buyer of Israeli diamonds, and Israel is the largest buyer of Indian diamonds.

Apart from trade, both countries cooperate in information technology, biotechnology, and agriculture. Indian software companies have a growing presence in Israel. Both countries signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement for the agriculture sector in 2006. Israel has also helped India with its drip irrigation, water management, and desert agriculture expertise.

As of 2019, both countries are negotiating an extensive bilateral free-trade agreement focusing on services, investments, and innovation.

The Implications and Challenges India’s support for Israel during the conflict with Hamas has several implications and challenges for its foreign policy and regional role.

On the positive side,

  • India’s support for Israel demonstrates its commitment to its strategic partner and shared values of democracy, pluralism, and human rights.
  • India’s support for Israel enhances its image as a responsible and reliable actor in the international arena, especially among the Western countries and the US, also allies of Israel.
  • India’s support for Israel boosts its economic and technological cooperation with Israel, which can benefit its development and growth.

On the negative side,

  • India’s support for Israel may alienate some of its traditional friends and partners in the Arab world and the Muslim world, which are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and critical of Israel’s actions.
  • India’s support for Israel may undermine its credibility and influence as a mediator and a peacemaker in the region, especially as it holds the presidency of the UN Security Council for August 2023.
  • India’s support for Israel may provoke a backlash from some of its domestic constituencies, such as the Muslim minority, the Left parties, and the civil society groups, which may accuse it of compromising its principles and values.

Therefore, India must balance its support for Israel with its other regional interests and relationships and beyond. It must also continue to advocate for a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict based on the two-state formula, which respects the legitimate rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.

India’s support for Israel is not without its domestic and international critics. Some argue that India is compromising its values and principles by supporting a country accused of human rights abuses against the Palestinians. Others argue India’s support for Israel alienates its traditional friends and partners in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

It is also worth noting that India’s support for Israel is not absolute. India has also been critical of Israel’s actions at times, and it has called for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution.


Read More: Israel-Palestine: A History of Conflict and a Quest for Peace


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