Date : 10/10/2023
Relevance: GS Paper 2- International Relations - Bilateral Relations
Keywords: Operation ‘Al-Aqsa Storm, Operation Iron Sword, Two-Nation Solution, dehyphenation Policy, NAM
Recently, Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, mounted one of the most audacious attacks on Israel known as “Operation ‘Al-Aqsa Storm”.
In retaliation, Israel has formally declared war on Hamas under “Operation Iron Sword”.
The Indian PM expressed outrage, referring to the event as a terrorist attack, and voiced solidarity with Israel.
India's Position on the Israel-Palestine Conflict
- India's Initial Rejection of the Two-Nation Solution and Support for the Palestinian Cause: In the wake of India's independence in 1947, its early political stance on Israel was rooted in the rejection of the two-nation solution and unwavering support for the Palestinian cause. This perspective was notably championed by India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi. Despite their sympathy for the Jewish population, they strongly believed that any state founded on religious exclusivity could not be sustained on moral and political grounds. This viewpoint paralleled their opposition to the partition of India.
- India's Votes Against Israel at the United Nations: India's position regarding Palestine was also shaped by the broader consensus in the Arab world, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the United Nations. When the United Nations voted on the partition plan for Palestine, India cast its vote against it, aligning itself with the Arab countries. Similarly, when Israel applied for admission to the United Nations, India once again voted against its inclusion.
- Recognition of Israel as a Nation: Despite its early stance against Israel, India eventually recognized Israel as a sovereign nation on September 17, 1950, following the footsteps of two Muslim-majority countries, Turkey and Iran. However, it's worth noting that while Israel was allowed to establish a consulate in Mumbai in 1953, no diplomatic presence was granted in New Delhi during that period.
- Engagement with Palestinian Leadership Under Yasser Arafat: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) emerged as the principal representative of the Palestinian people, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. During this period, India actively engaged with the largest political faction within the PLO, Al Fatah.
- Recognition of PLO as the Legitimate Representation of Palestinian People: On January 10, 1975, India took a significant diplomatic step by officially recognizing the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. This recognition culminated in India permitting the PLO to establish an independent office in New Delhi. Remarkably, India, despite being one of the last non-Muslim states to recognize Israel, became the first non-Arab state to formally acknowledge the legitimacy of the PLO.
- Strong Solidarity for Palestine Struggle at NAM Summit in Delhi: The relationship between India and Palestine further strengthened when the NAM summit took place in India (1983), with a strong statement of solidarity for Palestine.
Ground Shift in India-Israel Relations
Criticism of India's Palestine Policy Within India: As India's foreign policy towards the Middle East evolved, criticism arose within the country regarding its unwavering support for the Palestinian cause and the Arab world. Some key points of criticism included:
- Arab Neutrality During India-China War: Critics pointed out that during the 1962 India-China war, Arab countries maintained a neutral stance. This non-involvement was seen as a contrast to India's expectations of support from its Arab allies.
- Arab Support for Pakistan: Arab countries' support for Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars was met with discontent within India. This support for India's arch-rival was viewed as inconsistent with India's unwavering support for the Arab cause.
- India-Israel Military Cooperation: In contrast to the Arab stance, Israel had provided India with military aid, including arms and ammunition, during the 1962 and 1965 wars. This cooperation with Israel was seen positively by some in India.
Changing Geopolitics in West Asia
Several significant geopolitical developments in the Middle East and globally led to a shift in India's foreign policy:
- Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait: The 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq had significant repercussions in the Middle East. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) lost political leverage due to its support for Saddam Hussein during the crisis.
- Soviet Union's Disintegration: The disintegration of the Soviet Union changed global dynamics, including India's foreign policy considerations.
Establishment of Full Diplomatic Relations with Israel
In light of these changing circumstances and to adapt to evolving geopolitical realities, India made substantial alterations to its Middle East policy:
- Full Diplomatic Relations with Israel: In January 1992, India officially established full diplomatic relations with Israel. This move was significant, given India's historical stance of not recognizing Israel.
- End of Cold War and NAM: The end of the Cold War reduced ideological hostilities towards Israel and weakened the influence of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), making it easier for India to pivot towards a more balanced approach in the Middle East.
- Rise of BJP in Indian Politics: The emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a powerful political force in the early 1990s played a role in India's shifting foreign policy. The BJP's influence contributed to the removal of some hesitations about establishing relations with Israel.
- In 2000, L.K. Advani became the first Indian minister to visit Israel, marking a significant step in bilateral relations.
- A joint anti-terror commission was established in 2000, and in 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India.
A Complete Dehyphenation of India-Israel-Palestine Ties
- India hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May 2017. In all public pronouncements, foreign ministry officials maintained India’s position on its support towards the Palestinian cause.
- During Modi’s visit to Israel in 2017 — the first Prime Ministerial visit — he skipped the customary stop at Palestine, which was the norm with previous ministerial visits.
- The PM later visited Palestine in February 2018 but did not visit Israel and it achieved a complete dehyphenation of the ties
Present India- Israel Relations
Economic and Commercial Relations
- Bilateral merchandise trade surged from USD 200 million in 1992 to USD 6.35 billion (excluding defense) by 2022.
- India emerged as Israel's third-largest trade partner in Asia and seventh globally, with trade diversifying into pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT, telecom, and homeland security.
- Israeli companies have facilitated technology transfer to India, particularly in renewable energy, telecom, and water technologies.
- India imports crucial defense technologies from Israel, with regular exchanges between armed forces.
- Security cooperation includes a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism.
- India uses Israeli defense systems such as Phalcon AWACS, Heron drones, and Barak anti-missile defense systems.
- A three-year joint work program was signed in 2021 to enhance agricultural cooperation, focusing on Centers of Excellence, value chains, and private investment.
- Israel's expertise and technologies have benefitted India in horticulture, irrigation, and dairy farming.
Science & Technology
- The Joint Committee on Science and Technology, established in 1993, fosters collaboration in research and development.
- The India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) supports joint industrial projects in specific sectors.
- Energy cooperation includes India's interest in exploring gas fields off Israel's coast.
Significance of India's Role
Siding with Israel: India's Prime Minister expressed "solidarity with Israel" following recent hostilities, signaling support for Israel in the conflict.
Engagement in West Asia
- India's relations with Israel have deepened in security, defense, and connectivity, while also engaging with other West Asian nations, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and Iran.
- India's strategic approach in West Asia is driven by the significant Indian diaspora, energy imports, and regional connectivity.
Challenges for India's Exports
- Trade experts suggest that the conflict may impact the profits of Indian exporters but not trade volumes unless the situation escalates.
- India can play an "enhanced" role in facilitating a peaceful, two-state solution through diplomatic support, development aid, and institution-building in Palestine.
- India should proactively strengthen its partnerships in West Asia.
- A series of horrifying surprise attacks on Israel over the weekend puts India in a diplomatic tight spot.
- This is because the current hostility tests the Abraham Accords and the efforts toward rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which held the promise of reshaping age-old fault lines in the Middle East.
- India's evolving stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, coupled with its growing relations with both Israel and Palestine, demonstrates its commitment to contributing to a peaceful resolution. As a nation with ties to multiple stakeholders in the region, India has a crucial role to play in promoting stability and cooperation in the Middle East.
Source - The Indian Express