A Love Story: Modi and Netanyahu

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Photographer: Avi Ohayon, GPO [15 January 2018]

Earlier this year the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs endorsed the rich and deep ancient history between India and Israel. However, what has been ignored is the diplomatic tensions in the past Indo-Israeli conduct. Once ideological foes, India refused to recognise Israel for two years after its independence under the suspicion that it was a religious ethno-state akin to Pakistan. The growing tensions of the Cold War cemented further political tensions and it was only in 1992 that both established diplomatic relations.

The Indo-Israeli diplomatic relationship begun in July 2017, following Narendra Modi’s state visit to Israel. This was the first ever visit to Israel by an Indian prime minister and was of significance to both countries. Later in December 2017, it was rumoured that the Modi’ government had scrapped plans for a $800 billion deal with Israeli defence contractor opting for India’s DRDO.

Not long after the deal, Netanyahu made a trip to India. Upon arrival, Modi broke Indian protocol and greeted Netanyahu at New Delhi airport and tweeted:

Welcome my friend to India, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close relationship between the two countries.

Glorifying the renewed Indo- Israeli bond, both leaders stated the importance of their bilateral ties. Interestingly enough, Netanyahu later announced that the deal was ‘back on track’.

Defence and oil exports are integral to the blossoming relationship and by the scale of India’s security and economic ties; Israel is India’s second largest arms supplier, not far behind Russia. Netanyahu and Modi are now pushing for partnerships in cybersecurity, energy and agricultural projects. Lest we forget, alliances between the Moditva nationalist party and the Israeli government both romance a ‘fight against Islamist extremism’. Netanyahu and Modi have honeymooned together at Chabad House in Mumbai—a target of Pakistani militants, confirming the threat of terrorism to both countries.

Yet, all is not all starry-eyed for the lovers; there have been many hurdles in this, now blossoming, relationship.

In November 1988, India was among the first countries to recognise the "state of Palestine," proclaimed by the PLO in Algiers. However, during recent state visits B. Bala Bhaskar, a joint secretary in the Indian foreign ministry stated:

We have de-hyphenated our relations with Palestine and Israel and now we see them both as mutually independent and exclusive and as part of this policy the Prime Minister is undertaking this visit

In acknowledging India’s political grounds Modi’s recent state visit to Israel was not followed by an official visit to the Palestine headquarters which is usually the case for most leaders. The “de -hyphenation process” between Israel -Palestine indicates an active effort in New Delhi’s pursuit of contemporary trade and defence relations. This signifies both a radical move away from its pre-1990 position and a detrimental normalisation of the peace process.

However, while India’s stance on Palestine has been modified to appease its new Israeli partnership, the same cannot be said for Indo-Iranian relations. While Netanyahu has expressed serious opposition to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has supported its diplomatic negotiations with Iran. It is a given, that at peak of the Iranian nuclear venture—Indian oil exports and defence collaboration with Iran have been a fundamental source of tension for Netanyahu. Here, Modi has been unable to please his new partner, as India’s dependence on Iranian oil sources is all too evident—Indian refiners plan to purchase over 600,000 bpd by 2019.

What is yet to be seen is how the Indo-Israeli love story is to play out. Especially considering India’s renewed commitment to Iran and its vow to ignore American renewed sanctions.

Yashvee Kalia

MSc. Candidate – SOAS University of London

This article represents the views of the author alone and does not reflect the position of MECS.

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