May 26, 2019

Israel and India in throes of a new romance

This article firsta ppeared on The Media Line.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian head of state to visit Israel, in the latest demonstration of the growing romance between Israel and India. Arms sales are on the increase, and India even recently abstained from a vote condemning Israel at the Human Rights Council.

India is the largest buyer of Israeli defense equipment, especially drones. Of the total of eight billion dollars of Israeli arms exports abroad, $2.5- $3 billion dollars is sent to India.

“All top three Israeli defense providers – Israeli Aerospace Industries, Elbit and Rafael all have large offices and a large presence in India,” David Keinan, vice chairman of the Indo-Israel Chamber of Commerce told The Media Line. “India is the largest customer for different equipment from Israel and Israel is the second-largest total provider of equipment into Israel after Russia.”

Earlier this year, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited India and attended the Aero India Defense Trade Exhibition in Bangalore. The two countries are cooperating on producing the Barak 8 Air and Missile Defense System that will be used by both the Israeli navy and Indian army.

In addition, Israel and India have a total volume of bilateral trade of almost $4.4 billion and the two countries are negotiating an extensive bilateral trade agreement. There are also extensive agricultural exchanges.

“We have set up 28 centers of excellence in nine states in India,” Ohad Horsandi, the spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in New Dehli told The Media Line. “We bring Israeli technology and adapt it to local conditions in India. Yields of fruits and vegetables have increased by at least five times as much in these areas.”

There are at least 600,000 farmers among India’s population of 1.25 billion people. Horsandi says they are reaching only a “drop in the sea, but it’s a significant drop.”

Agricultural products are also high on the list of goods traded between India and Israel. Israel imports cashews and mangoes and exports fertilizer and other chemicals to India. The total trade reaches hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Politically, India has a mixed record as far as Israel is concerned. India has long supported a Palestinian state, and hosts a Palestinian embassy. About 20 percent of India’s population is Muslim, who live alongside the majority Hindus.

Israeli officials were pleasantly surprised when India abstained from this month’s vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Israel’s conduct during last summer’s war with the Islamist Hamas movement. Israel’s Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon quickly tweeted that “we appreciate votes by members of the UNHRC including India who did not support yet another anti-Israel bashing resolution. We thank them.”

Not surprisingly the Palestinian Ambassador to India was furious. Speaking to The Hindu newspaper he called the decision “shocking” and said the unwelcome policy shift has been “affected by the burgeoning military relationship with Israel.”

The ties are being strengthened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has a strong relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The two men met earlier this year at the UN, and speak frequently by phone, according to Israeli Embassy spokesman Horsandi.

When Netanyahu won re-election in March, after a closely-fought election, Modi tweeted his congratulations in English and Hebrew, referring to the Prime Minister by his nickname “Bibi.” Modi visited Israel in 2006, as part of a delegation of officials working in agriculture and started ties with Israeli companies that brought technology like drip irrigation to India.

“Modi is a foreign relations phenomenon. He has a relationship with whoever he meets,” Keinan said, adding that there are rumors that Modi and Netanyahu have actually met several times previously, not just once.

There have been tensions in the relationship as well. During last summer’s war there were protests in India over Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza. In 2008, six people were killed at the Chabad house in Mumbai, part of series of coordinated terrorist attacks.

Israel’s pivot eastwards comes amid tensions with US President Barack Obama, as well as with European countries over Israel’s policies to expand Jewish communities on land Israel acquired in 1967, as well as the lack of any negotiations with the Palestinians. Israel would like diplomatic back-up and is turning to China and India for that support.