With Netanyahu’s visit, India pivots to Israel

By Long Xingchun and Li Tian Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/18 20:38:40

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's six-day visit to India that began on Sunday is the first prime ministerial visit by a leader of the country since Ariel Sharon's trip in 2003. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke protocol to welcome him at the airport. Modi's visit to Israel in July last year made him the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel since the official establishment of ties. The exchange of visits within half year marks a boost in bilateral ties.

India attained freedom from Britain in 1947, a year before the creation of the state of Israel. Bilateral ties progressed tardily because of India's stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Due to its diplomatic principles and a large Muslim population, India took a clear stance against Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and supported the creation of a state of Palestine. Therefore, the two countries did not officially establish diplomatic relations until the peace process between Israel and Palestine made remarkable progress in 1992.

India-Israel relations improved rapidly after ties were established. First, Israel became the main supplier of weapons to India, with military equipment export averaging $1 billion per year. Second, two-way trade has seen an increase from $200 million to $4.16 billion during the past 25 years. Besides, bilateral cooperation has been established in traditional areas like technological innovations, agriculture and water resource management, etc. In Israel's efforts to facilitate the signing of a civil nuclear agreement between the US and India, the US India Political Action Committee received strong support and assistance from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

For Israel, strengthening ties with India is not only about foreign trade and weapons sale. It also helps contain Pakistan. As an Islamic state, Pakistan firmly supports Arab countries and Palestine, but opposes Israel. Pakistan's atomic bomb is called "the asset of Islam," which is alleged to have posed a threat to the national security of Israel.

Moreover, India is a major country of significant influence in the Third World. Therefore, its sympathy and understanding can help reduce international pressure on Israel.

Yet India would not support Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians. Though New Delhi is developing pragmatic relations with Tel Aviv, it sticks to its stance on Israeli-Palestinian relations - in support of peace between the two countries, as well as Palestinians' attempt to make East Jerusalem the capital of a state they seek to establish.

Despite India sticking to its principled stand on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, bilateral relations between Israel and India have been continuously improving in recent years since Modi took office.

First, Modi considers Israel as the main supplier of weapons and an important economic partner. He hopes that apart from arms trade, the two countries can also cooperate in technology transfer and joint development and production of weapons, which can not only enhance India's capability to produce advanced weapons, but also help promote economic growth under the "Make in India" slogan. That's why India canceled an order of $500 million Spike anti-tank guided missile order from Rafael, an Israeli state-owned weapons and defense equipment maker.

Second, after frequent terrorist attacks in India, Modi pays great attention to international anti-terror cooperation, in which Israel is quite experienced.

Improved relations with Israel have aroused suspicion in India that Modi is getting too close to Israel. Traditionally, India has shown a preference for Arab countries over Israel, while Modi is now working to strike a balance.

As a Hindu nationalist, Modi is emotionally closer to Israel, yet he must also take into account the significance of India's relations with Gulf countries as well as Iran.

While working to strengthen cooperation with Israel, the Modi government also attaches importance to relations with Arab countries, and will stick to its stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps India can play a major role in the Middle East peace process.

Long Xingchun is a senior research fellow at the Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University. Li Tian is a research assistant at the Charhar Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


blog comments powered by Disqus