Consolidating Indo Israel ties
Vol 11 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2018
The process of consolidating the bilateral relationship
Saturday, January 27, 2018
The recent visit of PM Netanyahu of Israel, to India, has given a fillip to further consolidation of the already cordial relations between the two nations. On the very first day of PM Netanyahu’s visit, to India, the Teen Murti Chowk was renamed Teen Murti Haifa Chowk – a befitting tribute to the great valour of the Indian soldiers who fought on Israeli soil a century ago.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to India was the final step in the process of consolidating the bilateral relationship completely. This visit follows that of Ariel Sharon in 2003. In the intervening years, the India-Israel relationship has expanded remarkably. With Mr. Netanyahu’s recent visit, the focus is now on the future, as the joint statement drew a 25-year timeline in which to realise the potential of the strategic partnership. Modi has taken calibrated steps to mark the burgeoning relationship by first meeting Netanyahu twice on the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and then visiting Israel in July 2017, the first Indian Prime Minister to do so. With Netanyahu visit at India’s invitation we are now fully normalising our relations with Israel, without being held back by the Arab/Palestine factor. This does not imply turning our back or ignoring our vital interests in the Arab world. The challenge is to manage the two relationships and this is being done with more confidence than ever before. The close personal equation between the two leaders was evident throughout the visit, with Mr. Modi hosting Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu in Delhi and Gujarat, where they attended bilateral meets and social events, flew kites and took part in a roadshow in Ahmedabad. Netanyahus also made the traditional trip to the Taj Mahal, and a symbolic journey to Mumbai’s Chabad House, site of the 26/11 terror attacks where Israeli citizens were among those killed. On the business front, Mr. Modi welcomed Israel’s partnership in Indian manufacturing, pointing to the winning combination of an India that has “size and scale” and an Israel that has “sharpness and edge”.
Mr. Netanyahu’s case, made at a speech inaugurating the Foreign Ministry’s annual Raisina Dialogue, was that the two countries have a “natural partnership and friendship” that also caters to their need for combining soft and hard power. Delivering the inaugural address, Mr Netanyahu also spoke of military power, economic power, democracy and traditional values (in that order) as the basic pillars of strength of a nation.
With a relationship that is more open, India has also decided to have a more honest conversation with Israel on the peace process in West Asia. The joint statement issued in New Delhi “reaffirmed their support for an early resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians”. This indicates that the two Prime Ministers had a deeper discussion on the issue, including India’s vote at the UN against the decision of the United States to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr. Modi is expected to visit Ramallah as well and meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who as the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem is leading peace efforts in the Arab world, and is due in New Delhi shortly. This would move forward India’s commitment to assisting in finding a just solution for the conflict. It will require using the leverage India has built over the years among Israelis and Palestinians in order to join global and regional powers in persuading them back to the negotiating table.
The defence relationship has not been given prominence in the joint statement, even though Mr Netanyahu spoke optimistically about a couple of specific defence related cases. The para on terrorism was surprisingly weak, with no mention of LeT or JeM, much less cross-border terrorism. Israel remains reluctant to make any allusion to Pakistan directed terrorism towards India, and this notwithstanding the change in the US position. Overall the visit was warm in gestures and words and consolidates the momentum in India-Israel ties.