The challenge of balancing relations with both Iran and Israel has been a growing concern for New Delhi. Due to India’s rapid economic growth and increasing energy and defense needs, its ties with both Iran and Israel are essential. This article provides an overview of India’s relations with each country followed by a brief history of Iranian-Israeli relations. It then discusses prospects of cooperation for India with each. It is in India’s interest to reduce the conflict scenario between Iran and Israel so that it can continue to reap the benefits of cooperation from both.
Following India’s independence in 1947, after nearly 90 years under British rule, establishing good diplomatic relations was a priority. With the fall of the Soviet Union, which had been one of India’s principal patrons, and the domestic financial crisis that ensued, India worked to transform its economic and foreign policies while establishing and advancing ties with Israel, an increasingly important ally in all sectors. India’s rapid growth and development has drastically heightened its need for energy resources and security, thus attaching urgent importance to relations with countries possessing and producing energy. It is largely in this context that India has moved closer to Iran, a country with which it has deep historical ties. Both Israel and Iran are now among India’s closest international allies, despite the fact that Iran and Israel have been hostile to each other since the end of the Gulf War for religious and geopolitical reasons. Thus, maintaining a careful balancing act has long been a concern for India and has become increasingly difficult due to the intensification of the Israeli-Iranian rivalry in the past decade, as the countries have become engaged in a series of proxy conflicts and covert operations against each other.
Under the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with its vibrant foreign policy, India has been actively trying to develop relations with both Iran and Israel and reap the benefits of cooperation. New Delhi’s ties with Tehran have been largely commercial, mainly driven by India’s energy needs. Simultaneously, India has maintained an important relationship with Israel, based around military support, counterterrorism, innovation and economic expertise, technological exchanges, agricultural and irrigation development, and renewable energy. Yet major changes in global, regional, and even internal Western Asian politics–especially the Iran-Israel rivalry–demand a new interpretation of the strategic importance of India’s relations with Iran and Israel. In this complex scenario, India is trying to walk a treacherous tightrope: cultivating a multidimensional partnership with Israel while also ensuring that its energy requirements are met by resource-rich Iran. In light of this complex interdependence, India must reevaluate its foreign policy outlook towards Iran and Israel in order to maintain its own precarious position in the region.
IRAN: TIES BEYOND ENERGY
India and Iran have a millennia-long tradition of cultural and civilizational ties. India has been labelled as Iran’s “closest” Asian friend given the rich history between both countries. Cultural, linguistic, religious, commercial, and diplomatic ties between India and Iran date to the beginning of Indo-Aryan civilization during the seventh century BC. The late medieval period (thirteenth to eighteenth century) is sometimes seen as the “Golden Age” of Indo-Iranian history. Indeed, the Safavid dynasty in Persia was a vital part of the foreign policy and cultural identity of the Mughal Empire, founded after the conquest of Delhi in 1526. The Taj Mahal in Agra, which unites Persian and Indian elements of architecture, was constructed under the guidance of a Persian architect named Ustad Ahmad Lahori. This world wonder is an example of the shared history between India and Iran. The Muslim conquests on the Indian subcontinent, which mainly took place from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, and the expansion of Islam into Iran in the seventeenth century fortified cultural ties between the two civilizations. With the expansion of the British presence in India during the eighteenth century, the Safavid and Mughal dynasties in the region began to decline in parallel to one another. This led to the end of diplomatic relations between the two civilizations, but trade continued. However, until the Second World War, Persia remained a significant strategic subject for the British. In 1947, the shared border between India and Iran ceased to exist with the formation of Pakistan.
After India’s Independence in 1947, New Delhi and Tehran signed a friendship treaty in 1950, bilaterally deciding to pursue trade interests in the energy sector. However, relations between India and Iran were not entirely warm during the beginning of the Cold War period. India’s post-independence diplomacy was based on the promotion of decolonization and non-alignment while maintaining good defense ties with the Soviet Union. At the same time, Iran was a crucial ally of the United States and supported Pakistan militarily and diplomatically in its 1965 and 1971 wars with India. Nonetheless, the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War era marked a shift in India-Iran relations.
Pragmatism guided Iran’s foreign policy after the election of Hashemi Rafsanjani as president of Iran. Iran began to focus on improving ties with its Asian neighbors in order to balance its economic and political isolation in the region. At the same time, Sunni-Shi’a tensions were growing in Pakistan, and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was on the rocks. These circumstances led to the breakdown of Iranian-Pakistani relations, requiring Iran to seek out new partnerships. Tehran thus established ties with India in the hopes that this would help end its international isolation. For New Delhi, the West Asian country of Iran could potentially support India in its efforts to reach out to the Islamic world and detour the never-ending Pakistani hostility. The newly forged partnership was revealed at a 1994 United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva, when the Iranian representative convinced Pakistan to withdraw its resolution condemning Indian policy in Kashmir.
Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Indo-Iranian ties intensified. Throughout the 1990s, there were a number of high-level exchange visits, including Indian Prime Minister Shri Narasimha Rao (September 1993) and Indian Vice President Shri K. R. Narayanan’s (October 1996) visits to Iran and Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s visit to India (April 1995). This trend continued in the 2000s, with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visiting Iran in 2001; in 2003, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami was also chief guest of India’s Republic Day parade, an honor bestowed only upon the country’s closest friends and thus a clear indication of New Delhi’s interest in its partnership with Iran. During Khatami’s visit, the countries also signed the “Delhi Declaration” and the “Road Map to Strategic Cooperation,” which promulgated a plan for their evolving partnership. Iranian President. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to India on an official visit in April 2008.
Since the late 1990s, India and Iran have been discussing a gas pipeline project to India, but a number of political obstacles, in particular India’s conflict with Pakistan, have put this on hold. In May 2010, Iran and Pakistan agreed to unveil the pipeline project with a provision that India could later join. However, ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, the Baluchistan issue, and U.S. opposition to the pipeline have prevented this from moving forward. Nonetheless, total bilateral trade between India and Iran has seen a significant increase, from $6.011 billion in the 2005-2006 period to approximately $14 billion in 2014. This could be attributed to the growing economic cooperation between the two countries.
For India, with its sweeping economic growth, increasing energy needs, and strategic ambitions, its ties with Iran offer a great trade and strategic opportunity. For Tehran, which is attempting to challenge what it views as U.S. world hegemony, India’s growing economy and global influence make it an attractive partner. The Indo-Iranian relationship is thus likely to persevere for the foreseeable future.
ISRAEL: A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED
India, born amid a bloody partition on religious lines, avoided establishing ties with the newly created State of Israel in 1948, for fear of antagonizing its Arab allies and its own domestic Muslim population. While Mahatma Gandhi believed the Jews had a moral authority and a prior claim over Israel, he was opposed to the formation of a Jewish state. The Indian National Congress (INC or Congress) party, which ruled India for several decades from its independence, was founded on secular principles and rejected the idea of religious nationalism. This was evident in India’s attitude towards Israel, with India voting against the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and opposing Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1949.
Despite growing opposition from Hindu nationalists and right-wing groups, which supported and sympathized with Israel, The Indian government maintained its pro-Palestinian position. In 1950, however, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to grant de jure recognition to Israel, though he still refused to establish full diplomatic relations. According to K.P. Mishra, the decision to recognize Israel was due to the realization that “continuing non-recognition is not only inconsistent with the overall relationship but even limits the effectiveness of the Government of India’s role as a possible intermediary between Israel and Arab States.” Following recognition, Nehru stated, “We would have [recognized Israel] long ago, because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries.” This was a clear pronouncement of India’s pro-Arab policy, which was also evident in India’s stance on all matters related to Israel.
For well over a millennium, Jews have been an important part of Indian culture, living in the country without fear of persecution–a fact that Israel acknowledges. Shortly after India’s recognition of Israel, Israeli immigration and consular offices were established in the port city of Bombay (now Mumbai) to facilitate Jewish immigration to the newly formed State of Israel. The Nehru government as well as those that followed were, however, hesitant to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. India feared that if it were to abandon its pro-Arab policy, the Arab states would cease to support India in its conflict with Pakistan, including the Kashmir issue.
In addition, as India’s main source of energy imports and foreign exchange reserves, New Delhi considered its ties with the Arab states more important than its relationship with Israel. The Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were also observers in India’s non-aligned movement, which of course played a major role in India’s stance towards Israel–which had close ties with the United States. It was only in the 1990s that Indian policymakers began to understand that the Arabs would always support Pakistan–a Muslim state–over India, irrespective of India’s policy toward the Jewish state.
While no formal Indo-Israeli relationship existed for several decades after recognition, there was a limited level of cooperation between the two states. For example, Israel provided India with vital information and arms throughout India’s many wars with its neighbors. In addition, following India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war, Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh. Since its establishment in 1968, India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), maintained a secret relationship with Israel’s national intelligence agency, the Mossad. These ties, however, were not made public to protect India’s political interests.
According to Rajendra Abhayankar, it was not until 1989 that several global developments sowed the seeds of change. First, this marked the beginning of a period of coalition politics in India: National and regional parties began to influence policy implementation. The second factor was the intensification of Pakistani-backed terrorism in Kashmir and the Arab states’ inclination toward Pakistan on this issue. Third was the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War–which changed the world order. This, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait–which led to a thawing of U.S.-Iraqi relations–and the peace process between Israel and the Arab countries also brought about a change in India’s policies vis-à-vis Israel.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, India was facing a serious financial crisis, which forced it to liberalize its socialist economy. The country also suffered from a serious lack of defense equipment. Israel, on the other hand, was by then a developed economy with cutting-edge technology, including hi-tech agricultural facilities and a highly sophisticated defense industry. It also had decades of experience in counterterrorism. The Madrid peace process, which began in 1991, was also a turning point for Israel, leading to improved diplomatic relations with many countries around the world. Recognizing the need to develop ties with industrialized countries and the Arab states’ continued support for Pakistan, India–under Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao–established full diplomatic relations with Israel on January 29, 1992. India thus opened an embassy in Tel Aviv shortly after.
Bilateral ties have since expanded, mainly due to shared security concerns and strategic interests. Still, in the two decades that followed the establishment of official ties, India preferred to keep relations low-key. It rarely acknowledged aid provided by Israel, for political reasons. For example, Israel’s assistance to India with intelligence and sophisticated technology in India’s 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan was not publicized. There was also an asymmetry of high-level visits. After Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to India in September 2003, there were no prime ministerial or presidential visits to either country until 2014. Despite these factors and India’s strong criticism of Israeli military activity in the Palestinian territories–which was attributed to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s (2004-2014) attempts to garner Muslim votes in India–the countries maintained good relations. The formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (Indian People’s Party, BJP) National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 1998 led to improved Indo-Israeli relations, due to the BJP’s pro-Israel orientation and shared right-wing ideology with the Likud. Despite rapprochement during the 1998-2004 period when the BJP was been in power, this cooperation was still kept quiet.
Nonetheless, the two nations have viewed their cooperation as a strategic imperative. Both see themselves as isolated democracies, threatened by neighbors and non-state actors that encourage, finance, and engage in terrorism. The geographical region between India and Israel is a hub of terrorism and religious tensions. Since 1992, there have been a number of high-level exchanges.
In 2014, the pro- Israel right-wing BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi) came to power once again, following a sweeping electoral victory. The new government’s attempts to attract foreign investment and to revive India’s manufacturing sector through its “Make in India” campaign have led India to intensify efforts to develop closer ties with Israel. This was marked by an extremely publicized meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in September 2014, on the side lines of UN General Assembly. This was the first meeting at the presidential/prime ministerial level since 2003. India’s ties with Israel thus finally came out into the open, and cooperation has since expanded in a number of sectors
Shortly after the meeting at the UN, Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel in November 2014. This was followed by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s visit to India in February 2015. Then, in October 2015, Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian president to visit Israel, where he was given the rare honor of addressing the Knesset (Israeli parliament). Mukherjee also invited Netanyahu to visit India. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj then visited Israel in January 2016. Swaraj’s visit has also paved the way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July 2017. During his 2016 visit to India, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, “Since Modi has been the head of government, he has changed the strategy of India when it comes to the relationship with Israel.”
This new approach towards Israel can also be seen in India’s actions in the United Nations. On three different occasions, India abstained from voting on resolutions against Israel. This major shift in India’s attitude towards Israel, however, should be viewed within the broader historical context. This announcement of evolving India-Israel cooperation was not unprecedented. There were similar calls for the expansion of strategic and economic cooperation under the NDA government (1999-2004). Modi’s government, however, is far more eager and confident in expanding ties with Israel, because it holds an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament and due to the government’s hunger for investment. Despite these public demands for increased cooperation, one would not yet call this a “strategic partnership.” Still, the trend of bilateral activity between India and Israel under the Modi government is a clear indication that India is leaning toward formalizing a relationship that was once been behind closed doors.
IRAN AND ISRAEL: SWORN RIVALS
The ongoing rivalry between Iran and Israel has been a growing concern for New Delhi. For India, which has much to gain from both Iran and Israel, it has been difficult to choose sides. Once de-facto allies, since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Israel and Iran have become regional adversaries. Prior to the revolution in Iran, Jerusalem and Tehran cooperated on a wide range of issues. Their shared concerns over Nasserite pan-Arabism and the Soviet influence in the West Asia were the major driving force behind this cooperation. Israel considered Iran a vital part of its periphery alliance doctrine, which was intended to counterbalance its Arab enemies by establishing ties with non-Arab states in the region, such as Iran. The Shah’s great power aspirations are what prompted Iran to turn to the strong and influential State of Israel as a useful counterweight to the Arab states (especially due to Israel’s ties with the United States). The Shah, however, aware of anti-Israel sentiment in the region, kept these relations discreet.
Following the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, this close relationship deteriorated and eventually became one of mutual hostility. Israeli concerns over the rise of Iran as a major regional power; Iran’s direct and indirect support for various anti-Israel paramilitary organizations and terrorist groups, such as Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and others; as well as rising religious tensions pushed both countries apart. The Gulf War and the Iraqi defeat in 1991 as well as Saddam Hussein’s removal in 2003 led to a strategic rivalry between Israel and Iran, which eventually became ideological and religious too.
Today, the Iranian regime perceives Israel as a regional opponent and ally of the United States that is determined to bring an end to its revolutionary system. The government in Tehran calls for the destruction of the Jewish State, which it views as its commitment towards Islam. “Death to Israel” was once a popular mantra at public events and gatherings, such as at military parades. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, however, has ordered this to stop, claiming this hatred is an obstacle to the peace he seeks in the region. According to experts, Rouhani, aware of “the influence of the Israel lobby on decisions related to Israel in the European Union and the United States” fears such slogans will contradict the agenda of “peace and stability in the Middle East” he is attempting to promote through his speeches. At the same time, however, Ali Khamenei’s mouthpiece Kayhan newspaper writes, “The belief that Israel must be eliminated is a condition of our adherence to Islam… Each and every one of our officials should reiterate our responsibility of the need to destroy this cancerous tumor of Israel.
As for Israel, it perceives Iran, in particular its nuclear program, as a major security threat, posing serious strategic and ideological challenges to the Jewish democracy. Israel has been working to prevent the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran’s role in providing financial and military support to terrorist groups–Hamas, Hizballah, PIJ, etc.–are also a serious concern for Israel (especially after Israel’s wars with Hizballah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008). Moreover, the Arab Spring and the regional instability that has followed have deepened Israel’s concerns about the Iranian influence in the Middle East.
While its relations with both Iran and Israel are important for India, walking the fine line between the two rivals has posed a challenge. The following section presents a cost-benefit analysis of India’s ties with Iran and Israel and what this might mean for Indian policy vis-à-vis the two states.
PROSPECTS OF COOPERATION
Energy and Commerce
India is now the fastest growing major economy in the world and a global giant in energy consumption. Based on the projected economic growth rates, energy demand is expected to go up. The increasing need for energy, in turn, has generated awareness of the importance of energy security. Availability, accessibility, and affordability of energy resources are the three factors that guarantee energy security.
Energy-rich Iran holds some of the world’s largest oil deposits and natural gas reserves. It has the fourth largest oil and second largest natural gas reserves. Iran is among the world’s top ten oil producers and top five natural gas producers. In 2014, Iran produced almost 3.4 million barrels per day of petroleum and other oil-based products, and an estimated 5.7 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas in 2013.
Since the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has been free–at least in theory–to export enormous quantities of gas to the global market, including to India. The Islamic republic becoming an alternative supplier has changed the geopolitical landscape. India has thus greatly benefited from the Iranian nuclear deal. Since the late 1990s, New Delhi has been working to implement the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project. Progress has been stalled, however, as a result of tensions between India and Pakistan. In order to bypass Pakistan, India has, therefore, been seeking to build an undersea pipeline via the Arabian Sea that would transport Iranian gas to India. Iran is, in fact, India’s sole option in this case, due to its ongoing conflict with Pakistan. Purchasing energy from Iran would also allow India to end its geographic isolation from the energy-rich Central Asian region. During his visit to Turkmenistan, Prime Minister Modi thus proposed an alternative land-sea route via Iran for transporting Turkmen gas to India. Should this be realized, it would be a turning point for Indian energy security. Iran, therefore, appears to be India’s only feasible energy option for the foreseeable future.
Strategic and Security Factors
The main security issue on which India and Iran’s strategic interests converge is Afghanistan. Both countries have a vested interest in Afghanistan’s stabilization, and economic development and a shared concern over the terror threat there as well as in Pakistan. Economic aid alone will not bring stability to Afghanistan. Yet India’s ability to provide full-fledged support to the Afghans requires land access to Afghanistan, which is blocked by Pakistan. The only means of access is thus via Iran, hence the Islamic republic’s strategic importance for New Delhi. In addition, India has been building a port in Chabahar, Iran, to ensure its energy flow through the Straits of Hormuz and to allow access to Afghanistan and Central Asia–another strategic advantage for India. Improved Indo-Iranian cooperation would enable India to contain Pakistan should the need arise.
Defense and Intelligence
The Indo- Israeli relationship is a primarily strategic partnership due to shared threats. India is Israel’s largest defense buyer and Israel India’s second largest defense supplier. With the end of the Cold War and the fading Soviet arms industry, India was required to turn elsewhere for defense procurement. Israel, with its sophisticated and ultra-modern defense technology, was a promising new source of weapons for India. Israel’s defense industry–and its ability to manufacture on a large enough scale for it to be economically viable–however, has always been dependent on exports. Supplying weapons to the Indian military thus opened a new market for Israel and helped it obtain its status as a major exporter. Israel has since become one of the top arms exporters in the world. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report, in 2015, Israel was the largest exporter of sophisticated drones in the world. Israel’s defense ties with India have thus aided Israel with the development its own, local defense industry, which has also boosted the Israeli economy as a whole.
With Israel’s cutting-edge technology and research and development, Israeli defense systems are considered among the best in the world and at the level of American and European systems. Its hi-tech defense systems coupled with top-class intelligence has enabled Israel to survive its perilous geopolitical situation as a small country (with a population of roughly eight million) surrounded by a mostly hostile Arab world many times its size. Harsh V. Pant explains, “Despite enjoying a close relationship with the United States, self-reliance is a mantra that Israel has followed almost to perfection.”
While other developed nations have withheld arms sales to India for fear of changing the balance of power in South Asia, Israel has advocated a practical approach towards India. Even after other major states imposed sanctions on India following its May 1998 nuclear tests, the Jewish state continued to and even increased its defense supply to India. Since then, defense procurement from Israel has gone up annually, and New Delhi hopes to expand its defense ties with Israel. In 2017, the Indian government approved the purchase of Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Defense Missile Systems from Israel, with a budget of $2.6 billion. Many Israeli defense manufacturers, including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael, have already expressed interest in investing in India as a part of the “Make in India” campaign. This will help to boost India’s R&D sector, which is dominated by developed countries like the United States, Japan, Israel, etc. Indo-Israeli defense cooperation–which now includes anti-missile systems, surveillance aircrafts, UAVs, and hi-tech radars–thus continues to expand.
Agriculture has been a significant aspect in the Indo-Israel relationship. While Israel is a world leader in agricultural technology, India–despite abundant natural resources and favorable geographical conditions for agriculture–is still largely dependent on rain water and outdated agricultural methods. Israel’s highly sophisticated agricultural industry has attracted attention from all over the world. Given the fact that Israel’s geographical conditions are not suitable for agriculture, their expertise in this sector and mass production of fresh produce is quite a feat. As pioneers in drip irrigation technology, Israel–despite ground water scarcity–has made deserts bloom. Though there has been some level of bilateral cooperation in the agricultural sector, this aspect of the Indo-Israeli relationship has not been fully developed. The integration of Israeli agro-technologies in India could also contribute to India’s Second Green Revolution. Indian policymakers should thus seriously consider expanding cooperation with Israel in this sector.
Science and Technology
Given India’s strong scientific base, especially in space research and information technology, Israel has always been eager for cooperation in these fields. At the same time, Tel Aviv has been ranked the second best innovation hub in the world after the Silicon Valley and among the top ten leaders of hi-tech in the world. Eric Emerson Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. and former Google CEO commented that “Israel has the most important high-tech center in the world after the US.” Israel’s success in the high-tech industry can in part be attributed to the excessively high number of engineers and scientists in the country. Israel has proven its expertise in a wide range of technological fields, including agriculture, information technology, electronics, cybersecurity, genetics, health care, defense, optics, environmental security, solar energy, communication, and engineering. As a promoter of innovation, Israeli inventions are used across the globe as part of our daily lives. Almost every multinational corporation has been eager to invest in Israel and Israeli start-ups. Microsoft, Google, Intel, IBM, SanDisk, and Motorola are only a few of the companies that already have R&D bases in Israel, and almost all of their technologies are Israeli-made.
Despite Indo-Israeli cooperation in the fields of science and information technology, there is far more potential for expanding such ties. The Israel Space Agency, Israel Aerospace Industries, and India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) have been cooperating in the space sector since the early 2000s. India’s hi-tech industry is thriving, and the country is hungry for investment. Moreover, it has an abundance of human resources and a huge market. Israel, on the other hand, is a technologically developed country and a world leader in research and development, but it lacks human resources at the lower levels and is seeking new markets. Increased cooperation between India and Israel in science and technology would therefore be mutually beneficial.
As the fastest growing major economy and with a huge pool of both human and natural resources, India is a potential market for Israeli goods, services, and investment. India’s “Make in India” campaign, which revealed the country’s eagerness for investment and manufacturing, has also played a major role in the Indo-Israeli relationship. At the same time, Israel’s impressive technological expertise is indispensable for India and a critical factor in its cooperation with Israel. While cooperation has mainly focused on defense, agriculture, and science and technology, it also exists in a number of other sectors, including the economy, environmental security, energy security, water management, and the diamond industry.
Israel’s capitalist economy can provide major economic benefits to India, especially through investment. Its expertise in environmental security, energy security, and water management is also an undoubted fact. For example, Israel recycles 86 to 90 percent of its water, making them the best in world by far in terms of water management (with Spain coming in second at just 10 percent). Since water and environmental issues may be India’s greatest challenges for the future, India should look towards Israel too for cooperation in these areas.
THE BALANCING ACT
Its ties with both Iran and Israel are important for India, and New Delhi cannot afford to distance itself from one for the sake of improving relations with the other. Israel, with its expertise and strong economy, would appear to be the better option for India when it comes to economic, defense, scientific and technological, agricultural, and environmental security cooperation. Moreover, Israel has always come to India’s aid when it needed it, a very important factor when considering Indo-Israeli relations. However, as a growing power, energy is a priority for India. While Israel has been working to develop alternative and renewable energy sources, at present, Iran is still the best option for India when it comes to energy. Iran’s huge energy reserves can guarantee India’s future energy needs. Iran’s strategic importance is yet another factor. While Israel has frequently voiced its displeasure to India regarding its relationship with Iran–especially their strategic and security cooperation–Iran has generally remained silent about its concerns over Indo-Israeli ties.
India will not be able to walk this fine line between Iran and Israel forever. Should a major conflict erupt between Tehran and Jerusalem, this would be more than enough to bring India’s balancing act to an end. It is in New Delhi’s interest, therefore, to reduce the conflict scenario between Iran and Israel as much as possible. India has good diplomatic relations with both countries. Under Prime Minister Modi, with his new and energetic foreign policy approach, relations with both Iran and Israel have greatly improved. India would thus be an ideal mediator between the two.
The nuclear factor has been one of the main sources of tension between Tehran and Jerusalem. India is a responsible nuclear power with a good track record. Israel and India both are Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) non-signatories. In addition, India has for centuries had cultural and civilizational ties with the two nations. New Delhi would, therefore, be best placed to mediate between Iran and Israel, should such mediation prove feasible.
As the fastest growing major economy in the world and an upcoming global power, it is in India’s interest to improve its image in the international community. Seeking the role of mediator between Iran and Israel could help India to do so. This could also help India obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
India, a stable secular democracy, is now the world’s fastest growing major economy and a regional power. It is hungry for investment, technology, defense, and energy. Its ties with both Iran and Israel are essential for India. Thus, it must maintain good relations with both. The rivalry between Iran and Israel has, however, always been a concern for India and even more so now as India–under its new and dynamic foreign policy outlook–is moving closer to both countries. If India wishes to continue to reap the benefits of cooperation with both Iran and Israel, it must tread carefully. It could also consider seeking the role of mediator between Iran and Israel.
*Adarsh Aravind is a post-graduate research scholar at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, Karnataka, India. His research focuses on Indo-Israeli relations, counterterrorism, Israeli security and economy, as well as Judaism.
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 Jayshree Bajoria, “RAW: India’s External Intelligence Agency”, Council on Foreign Relations, November 7, 2008, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/raw-indias-external-intelligence-agency
 Rajendra, The Evolution and Future of India-Israel Relations.
 Ibid; Kumaraswamy, India’s Israel Policy, p. 239.
 “Historical Overview,” India-Israel Relations, Embassy of Israel in India, http://embassies.gov.il/delhi/AboutTheEmbassy/India-Israel-Relations/Pages/default.aspx.
 Hasan Suroor, “West Asia Policy Hostage to ‘Muslim Vote’,” The Hindu, March 15, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/news/the-india-cables/west-asia-policy-hostage-to-muslim-vote/article1539452.ece.
 Kumaraswamy, India’s Israel Policy, p. 252.
 Barak Ravid, “PM Netanyahu to Indian PM: For Bilateral Ties, ‘The Sky’s the Limit,’” Haaretz, September 29, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.618211.
 PTI, “Israel’s Defence Minister to Visit India for First Time,” The Times of India, February 5, 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Israels-defence-minister-to-visit-India-for-first-time/articleshow/46135424.cms.
 “PM Netanyahu Addresses Special Knesset Session in Honor of President of India Mukherjee,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, October 14, 2015, http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2015/Pages/PM-Netanyahu-addresses-special-Knesset-session-in-honor-of-Indian-president-14-October-2015.aspx.
 Stanly Johny, “Modi Will Visit Israel This Year: Diplomat,” March 12, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/modi-will-visit-israel-this-year-diplomat/article8343640.ece; “Modi and Netanyahu Drive Desalinization Car, Dip in the Sea,” The Jerusalem Post, July 6, 2017, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Modis-Visit/LIVE-Indian-PM-Modi-arrives-in-Israel-for-historic-visit-498728.
 Tovah Lazaroff, “Rivlin to JPost: India Won’t Let Anyone Threaten Israel’s Right to Exist,” The Jerusalem Post, November 23, 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Rivlin-to-Post-India-wont-let-anyone-threaten-Israels-right-to-exist-473410.
 Nicolas Blarel, “The Myth of India’s ‘Shift’ Toward Israel,” The Diplomat, February 19, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/02/the-myth-of-indias-shift-toward-israel/.
 Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), p. 195.
 Frederic Wehrey, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Jessica Watkins, Jeffrey Martini, and Robert A. Guffey, The Iraq Effect: The Middle East After the Iraq War (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2010), http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG892.pdf.
 “The Zionist Entity and Iran,” Global Security, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iran/zionist-entity-3.htm.
 Yasser Okbi and Maariv Hashavua, “Report: Rouhani Requests Removal of ‘Death to Israel’ from Iranian Missiles,” The Jerusalem Post, April 25, 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Report-Rouhani-requests-removal-of-Death-to-Israel-from-Iranian-missiles-452250.
 Ehud Yaari, “How Iran Plans to Destroy Israel,” The American Interest, Vol. 11, No. 1 (August 1, 2015), https://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/08/01/how-iran-plans-to-destroy-israel/.
 “Iran Country Analysis,” U.S. Department of Energy, June 19, 2015, https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/analysis.cfm?iso=IRN.
 “PM Narendra Modi Pitches for Early Implementation of TAPI Gas Pipeline Project,” The Economic Times, July 12, 2015, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-07-11/news/64308814_1_gas-pipeline-project-prime-minister-narendra-modi-india-and-turkmenistan.
 Sudeep Paul, “Why India-Israel Partnership Is About Surviving Coming Storms,” The Indian Express, July 7, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-india-israel-partnership-is-about-surviving-coming-storms-3/.
 “The Top 20 Arms Exporters, 2010–2014,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, https://www.sipri.org/googlemaps/2015_of_at_top_20_exp_map.html.
 George Arnett, “The Numbers Behind the Worldwide Trade in Drones,” The Guardian, March 16, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/mar/16/numbers-behind-worldwide-trade-in-drones-uk-israel.
 Pant, “India-Israel Partnership.”
 Alexei Danichev, “India Clears $2.6 Billion Air Defense System Purchase from Israel,” Sputnik International, February 24, 2017, https://sputniknews.com/asia/201702241051002481-india-air-defense-russia/.
 “Defence Manufacturing,” Make in India, http://www.makeinindia.com/sector/defence-manufacturing.
 At a November 7, 2014, discussion in New Delhi on “Challenges and Opportunities of Creating a Second Green Revolution in India,” former Israeli president Shimon Peres remarked, “While India needed to rely on foreign aid in the 1960s to avert disaster, today India is a net exporter of food, and any threat of malnutrition is a question more of distribution than of production. The world can learn a lot from your experience. Your commitment to basic scientific agricultural research is the only way that India today is more food secure than it was 50 years ago. And amazingly, you have done this while still relying primarily on small-scale farmers…The green revolution has brought new challenges that must be dealt with. We must maintain the increased yields, but with more environmentally sustainable practices. I’m convinced that the answer lies in science and technology. India and Israel have a common agenda. We both realize the importance of food security for both our national security and regional stability.” See “Israel, Australia Lend Support to India’s ‘Second Green Revolution’ Quest,” November 7, 2014, Balochwarna News, http://balochwarna.com/2014/11/07/israel-australia-lend-support-to-indias-second-green-revolution-quest/.
 Michael Kohn, Israel & the Palestinian Territories (Lonely Planet, 2007), p. 53.
 Dovid Efune, “Top 10 Non-Jews Positively Influencing the Jewish Future 2012,” The Algemeiner, August 9, 2012, http://www.algemeiner.com/2012/08/09/top-10-non-jews-positively-influencing-the-jewish-future-2012/.
 Gordon Robertson, “Made in Israel: Technology,” CBN, http://www1.cbn.com/700club/made-israel-technology.
 Emily Harris, “Israel Bets on Recycled Water to Meet Its Growing Thirst,” NPR.org, June 21, 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/06/21/415795367/israel-bets-on-recycled-water-to-meet-its-growing-thirst.
 Jayita Sarkar, “India and Israel’s Secret Love Affair,” The National Interest, December 10, 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/india-israels-secret-love-affair-11831.