Since the late 1940s when India became independent, it has recorded diplomatic relations with over 200 states around the globe.
Israel is one country that India has strived to maintain relations with to date. Although both countries have many similarities, it took many years to make their relationship official. In 1992, both countries agreed to formalize their diplomatic ties creating room for political and business alliances. Prior to that time, the relationship between both countries was based on popular consensus.
One major obstacle that prevented the establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries was the existence of a Muslim minority in India. This group made up a significant part of the Indian population. Since Israel is a Jewish state, India feared that diplomatic ties with the former will displease its Muslim population. Another hindrance to the bilateral ties between both countries is India’s alliance with the Soviet Union. Israel, on the other hand, took sides with the US. India also had to preserve its relationship with Arab nations for oil and remittance.
In 1991, however, the Soviet Union collapsed and Israel had peace negotiations with Palestine at the Madrid conference. Both events significantly influenced India’s decision to make their diplomatic relations with Israel official.
The establishment of bilateral ties between India and Israel has since led to cooperation in different important areas. Foremost among them is the political cooperation between both nations.
India-Israel Political Relationship
Long before 1992, Israel established an immigration office in Bombay, an agency that was recognized in India. After some time, the Jewish agency became a Trade Office and later, a Consulate. The existence of diplomatic ties between both nations had Israel establish an embassy situated in New Delhi. It also has consulates in Bangalore and Mumbai. Like Israel, India has an embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel.
True, both nations delayed in formalizing their relationship, they often gave support to each other when necessary. Both countries have deliberately made efforts to improve the military and intelligence cooperation between them. Most times, they offer their support to each other by way of a favorable vote, human resources, information, and lots more.
For example, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Israel supported India, providing valuable information during those times. Again, when India tested nuclear weapons in 1998, Israel was among the very few nations that supported India’s action. Another occasion when Israel showed support to India was during the Mumbai attack in 2008. The former sent a team of 40 special-operations forces and offered to help with the investigation of the terrorist attack. Professional health workers were also sent from Israel to help care for victims of the attack.
India and Israel have long been in the struggle of fighting terrorism. This common aspiration prompted both nations to sign three significant agreements in 2014. The three agreements are Cooperation in Homeland Security, Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, and Protection of Classified Material.
Since the official establishment of bilateral relations between India and Israel, there has been a number of diplomatic visits that are worthy of note.
Visits of Indian Delegations to Israel
L.K Advani paid a high-level official visit to Israel in June 2000. He was the first Indian minister in history to visit Israel.
After the visit of Advani in June, foreign minister, Jaswant Singh visited Israel in July of the same year. A joint anti-terror commission was formed thereafter.
Indian ministers, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, and Sharad Pawar went on an official visit to Israel in 2006. Later that year, Narendra Modi who at the time was Gujarat’s Chief Minister, visited Israel. That year alone, Israel recorded 2 notable visits by four top Indian government delegates.
Another notable visit to Israel was in 2012 when Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna visited the country. The two-day visit was described by the Israeli Prime Minister as a move that would further strengthen the ties that both countries share.
Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister visited Israel in November 2014, six months after Narendra Modi became India’s elected prime minister. The high-level Indian delegation was there to observe the border security arrangements in the country.
From October 13 to 15, 2015, Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee was in Israel and had the opportunity to address the Knesset. Mukherjee was the first Indian President to visit Israel.
In January 2016, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Israel. She had meetings with Israel’s Prime minister, the President, and members of the cabinet. Swaraj toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial located in Jerusalem. She also visited the Indian Jewish communities in Israel.
Later in 2016, Radha Mohan Singh, the Minister of Agriculture in India visited Israel. The visit was meant to boost the agricultural ties of both countries. Singh and the Israeli Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel met to discuss the opportunities for collaboration that would benefit both countries.
2017 saw India’s Narendra Modi visit Israel as the first Indian Prime Minister to do so. It was during the historic visit that India and Israel signed seven MoUs and upgraded their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. A new type of Chrysanthemum flower was also named after Prime Minister Modi during the visit.
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, was invited to Israel by Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister, Yair Lapid. The visit which lasted from October 17 – 21 had Jaishankar meeting with the Foreign Minister of Israel, the Prime Minister, the President, and the Knesset Speaker.
Visits of Israeli Delegations to India
The first Israeli president to visit India was Ezer Weizman. He visited in 1997, five years after the establishment of diplomatic relations with India.
In September 2003, Ariel Sharon visited India and he became the first prime minister in Israel to do so. The prime minister of India at that time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed his excitement over the Israeli minister’s visit. Vajpayee said that the visit will further strengthen the ties between both nations. Not everyone in India, however, welcomed Sharon’s visit. Some protested and others openly expressed their displeasure. They demanded that India cut ties with Israel. But Vajpayee was confident that the Indian-Israeli diplomatic relations would continue to grow strong. At the end of Sharon’s visit, he said that he was happy with how his meetings with Indian leaders turned out. He also said that his country sees India as one of the most important nations in the world.
In November 2014, Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel visited India to launch a trilateral dialogue on water and food security. The three countries involved in the dialogue were India, Israel, and Australia.
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s defense minister was in India in February 2015. He met with his Indian counterpart and was present at the Aero India of that year.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spent a week in India visiting places like Mumbai, New Delhi, Agra, Karnal, and Chandigarh. He met with the Indian Jewish community and paid homage to the victims of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu visited India in January 2018 to mark the 25th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. The Prime minister was accompanied by a 130-member delegation and 9 MoUs were signed by both countries.