India's Stance on Israel

Leadership Solidarity amidst a Balanced Government Position
Photo of the National Flag of Israel

Photo of the National Flag of Israel

© Leon Natan from Pexel via Canva

Indian foreign policy underwent a significant revision in the early 1990s as the Cold War ended – it decided to move on from the anti-Americanism stance of the Cold War era by redefining its non-aligned foreign policy to engage with everybody in world politics. The new world order, as much as India's domestic financial crisis that resulted from the closed-planned economy model of the Soviet Union, acted as the major catalysts for long-term corrections in Indian foreign policy. Starting diplomatic relations with the State of Israel was one of India's most critical corrections in 1992. India has established significant strategic, political, and defense relations with Israel in the last three decades. Israel is now part of India's multilateral alliances in the region such as the I2U2 with the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, Israel is also an essential link in the proposed transport corridor, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, declared at the G20 Summit in Delhi. 

From diplomatic distance to strategic partnership

India's diplomatic distance with Israel from 1950 until 1992 was due to many factors: a) India's immediate national interests, such as oil and gas supply, were compelling issues for which it needed good relations with the Arab states; b) the support of the Arab states was vital for India over the Kashmir issue with Pakistan in the 1950s at the United Nations; c) early Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were more convinced that the Arabs and Palestinians were fighting the British colonial wrongdoings such as the Balfour Declaration and India should stand with them. They were further constrained because of India's energy dependence on the Arab states.

The diplomatic normalisation with Israel has seen 30 years of growth and deepening ties with the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the two predominant national parties. Israel has become a bipartisan issue at the government level, not in the socio-political public space. Much of the diplomatic deepening occurred when the Congress was in power, starting with normalising relations with Israel in 1992. However, the Congress preferred to keep much of its dealings with Israel in the closet, whereas BJP went public about India's friendship with Israel. No wonder India's first Prime Minister to visit Israel had to be Narendra Modi – a BJP leader – in 2017. Understandably, it meant a lot for Israel to be acknowledged in public as India's strategic partner. Bilateral trade and economic relations have been rapidly growing between the two nations. From a modest USD 200 million in trade in 1992, bilateral trade between India and Israel has reached USD 10.1 billion (excluding defense) in 2022-2023. India is Israel's second-largest trading partner in Asia and the seventh-largest globally. There are over 300 investments from Israel in India, mainly in high-tech, agriculture and water. Between 2020-2023, India received foreign direct investment of close to USD 300 million from Israel. Gradually, Israel has become India's fourth-largest destination for exports of petroleum products. For India's defense requirements, Israel is the third largest exporter of defense equipment after Russia and France. Engaging in economic and defense partnerships with Israel strengthens the bond between the two nations, fostering closer ties in both strategic and economic spheres.

Full support to Israel, solidarity with the Palestinians

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi quickly extended his support for Israel on October 7 when Hamas attacked the ordinary people of Israel. He Tweeted, “Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour”. More than 1,200 people were killed in a single day in Israel, and there has not been such a big loss of lives for the Israeli citizens in recent history. Narendra Modi's firm and candid support for Israel is also in sync with India's long-standing principled position against all forms of terrorism in the world. To make that point clear, India wanted the United Nations General Assembly resolution of October 27 to condemn the act of terror committed by Hamas on Israel. When that was not included, India abstained from the resolution led by Jordan on October 27 with the support of major Arab states that called for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas to stop the ongoing conflict. Like Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, India objected to the resolution for not including a condemnation of the terror attack by Hamas on Israel. India, till date, has not designated Hamas as a terrorist organization; however, this may change in light of the brutal killings and taking of hostages of the common Israelis by the Hamas. Hamas's religious ethos, and violent means such as suicide bombing and acts of terror against civilians, are serious concerns for India which does not support radical religious movements. Indian Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has said that India stands firm with Israel against terrorism as much as it stands with the Palestinians when it comes to the two-state solution of the conflict.

Despite Prime Minister Modi, other senior ministers of the current government, and other supporters extending their sympathy to Israel — a country portrayed to be a 'natural partner' in the fight against terrorism — by condemning Hamas' violent attack, the Indian External Affairs Minister clarified India's official position. India's long-standing solidarity and support for the Palestinian movement have not been diluted over time when India has strengthened its strategic partnership with Israel. The Palestinian Authority enjoys full diplomatic status in Delhi, like other foreign missions.

It appears that India has once again adopted a balanced perspective on Israel-Palestine affairs. Such a position could be rooted in continuing India's historical legacy, its leadership ambitions for the Global South, and India’s increasing bilateral trade with Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. BJP might also be weighing its potential impact on the 2024 general elections. Foreign Minister Jaishankar's statements reflect these balanced perspectives. However, it is to be noted that many senior members of the government and the public extending their support to Israel could already be termed as progress in Indo-Israel bilateral relations — an occurrence that has rarely happened in the history of India's relations with Israel.