Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Apr 18, 2019, 10.17 AM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is all sent to form the next government in the Knesset — the Israeli Parliament, with the Right-wing coalition led by the Likud party having won 65 out of a total of 120 seats.
In turn, Netanyahu would not only become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel, but the election result has also underscored Israeli people’s approval of his domestic and foreign policy, despite him facing corruption charges.
In fact, since Netanyahu assumed the charge of Prime Minister in 2009, Israel’s gross domestic product has increased by 70 per cent. At the same time, the Netanyahu government has also initiated efforts to reinvent ties with the rest of the world. In particular, Israel has succeeded in getting the US to shift its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights among other things.
Improved ties between India and Israel have also been a major foreign policy priority of the Netanyahu government. In the last five years, he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have made calibrated efforts to strengthen this relationship. This can be appreciated from the fact that during this period, several high profile political visits between the two countries have taken place.
While the then President Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President to visit Israel in 2015, Prime Minister Netanyahu, after meeting Modi at the UN, said that “sky is the limit” as far as India-Israel relations are concerned.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally visited Israel in July 2017, marking the end of India’s policy to look at ties with Israel through the prism of Arab-Israeli conflict.
Subsequently, Prime Minister Netanyahu paid a return visit to India in January 2018, with the two sides having reviewed their bilateral ties and discussed the means through which the relationship could be further strengthened.
Of course, the ardent desire of Modi and Netanyahu to elevate the engagement has not evolved in a vacuum. There are a number of motivations for the Modi government to seek close diplomatic ties with Israel.
First, India sees Israel play a crucial role in its endeavour to modernise its military and replace aged Russian defence hardware, given its expertise in the field of defence manufacturing.
Second, New Delhi now strongly feels that Tel Aviv’s active participation through the ‘Make in India’ programme will certainly help in boosting India’s economic growth and provide jobs to millions of people in the country.
True to expectations, Netanyahu has shown an interest in cooperating with the Modi government in its economic and developmental initiatives.
Thirdly, the China factor. Over the last several years, Israel is said to be China’s major defence supplier. This, in turn, has increased India’s security concerns, especially in view of Beijing long-time claims on some parts of Indian territory. There is also an apprehension in Indian strategic circles that Israeli military hardware and weapons sold to China could find their way to Pakistan, given the close nexus between Islamabad and Beijing.
Fourth, recent Russian overtures of forging defence cooperation with Pakistan has emerged as a security concern.
Fifth, political and security turmoil in the Middle East have helped India in expanding ties with Israel without attracting much criticism from the Arab States.
Lastly, despite India’s pro-Arab tilt in its Middle East policy, they have never made any effort to address India’s concerns on Kashmir. Instead, in the past, these countries have used the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as a tool to support Pakistan on Kashmir.
For its part, Israel can look forward to defence ties with this country in view of the fact that New Delhi is supposed to spend $150 billion to modernise its military by 2027. It also needs India’s support on the Palestine issue.
Deepening ties with Tel Aviv does not mean that the Modi government is unaware of the importance of the Arab States or there is a shift in India’s stand on Palestine. The presence of Sushma Swaraj at the OIC was a clear reflection of the balanced policy that the Modi government has pursued towards the Arab world and Israel.
Author is Research Fellow, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata
Israel can look forward to defence ties with India in view of the fact that New Delhi is supposed to spend $150 billion to modernise its military by 2027. It also needs India’s support on the Palestine issue.