In a reversal from its traditional pro-Palestinian stance, India has publicly announced that it is endeavoring to create closer ties with Israel. However, Indian leaders have made it clear that they do not intend to abandon the Palestinians.
In a speech to the Egyptian Council for Foreign Relations last Tuesday, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said, “Our strong traditional support to the Palestinian cause remains unwavering even as we pursue good relations with Israel.” The speech came after one of India’s strongest warships docked in the port of Haifa.
The INS Trikand docked in Israel on August 19th. Its crew planned extensive engagements with the Israeli Navy during its four day visit. According to the Indian Ministry of Defense the purpose of the Trikand’s stay in Israel was to “bolster the robust ties between Israel and India.”
India has also made other overtures to strengthening ties in the past few months. These overtures include India’s recent abstention from two UN votes condemning Israel for human rights violations in Gaza. In the first vote on July 3rd, 41 nations voted to condemn the Jewish state at the UN Human Rights Council. The abstention of India, a country which traditionally votes pro-Palestinian, surprised many in Israel. “For the first time in a major anti-Israel vote, India didn’t vote with the Arabs,” said one astonished Israeli diplomat.
The seeming shift in India’s stance in the geopolitical sphere has come about in part due to the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India reaps many benefits from cooperation with Israel in the fields of medicine, agriculture, military technology, and intelligence. Yet until now, India has generally toed the anti-Israel line in on the political stage. Recently, Modi’s government has openly embraced building a closer working relationship with Israel.
In May, Modi announced his intention to pay a formal visit to Israel. This would be the first such visit by an Indian Prime Minister since Israel was founded, though Israeli ministers, including former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, have made official visits to India in the past.
India is home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population, comprising over 180 million Muslims. While the country’s leaders do not wish to upset their own population or their Muslim neighbors, they have not gained much from their pro-Islamist stance. Arab countries have failed to support India in its conflict with Pakistan over the Kashmir. Moreover, most major economic partnerships between India and the Arab world stem from mutually symbiotic relationships which are unaffected by India’s position on the Palestinian cause.
At the same time, major social changes are taking place inside India, represented by the rise to power of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Emphasis on Hindu ideology has reached an all-time high within the country, and with it has come a decrease on the importance placed upon Islamic ideology. Many BJP supporters see Israel as a democracy taking a serious stand against radical Islamization and terrorism.
There are many similarities between the two countries. India’s government, like Israel’s, is attempting to create a stronger and more authentic national identity. Both countries are battling Islamic terrorist groups which are motivated to violence, and both countries are continuously attacked for the very nature of what they represent.
While Islamic countries have little or nothing to offer India, as even oil is relatively cheap on the open market, Israel can provide India with technological and agricultural advancements and guidance on building up India’s budding high-tech culture, using Israel’s start-up nation mentality as a model.
By abstaining from the anti-Israel vote, Modi is acknowledging India’s strong economic alliance with Israel and adding a political element to strengthen the ties between the countries.
China and Japan have also made recent economic overtures towards Israel, with both countries heavily investing in the country and pushing to invest even more. As Asian ties with the West in both Europe and the United States are cooling under a wave of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protests and political undermining of Israel, Israeli ties with Asia are heating up. It seems that Israel’s hardline views against Arab terrorism have begun to win some friends in Asia.