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Israel International Relations: India-Israel Relations

(Updated May 2016)

India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992 and since then the bilateral relationship between the two countries has blossomed at the economic, military, agricultural and political levels. Both countries see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by neighbors that train, finance and encourage terrorism, therefore both countries also view their cooperative relationship as a strategic imperative.

Relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi were not always warm. Although both countries gained their independence from the United Kingdom within months of each other, they found themselves headed in pointedly different directions for nearly four decades - India as a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement that maintained close relations to the Arab world and the Soviet Union; Israel which linked its future to close ties with the United States and Western Europe.

India's large Muslim population was another major obstacle to building a relationship with Israel, as India feared that close relations with the Jewish State might somehow radicalize its Muslim citizens - numbering more than 100 million - and hurt its relations with the Arab world.

Although India publicly kept a distance from Israel until the late 1980's, there was in fact a great deal of bilateral activities between the two countries in the preceding years. India extended de-jure recognition to Israel in 1950 and allowed Israel to maintain a consulate in Mumbai (Bombay) to facilitate the voluntary immigration of thousands of Indian Jews to Israel. Thousands of Indians have also traveled to Israel for special courses and training in agricultural technology and community development. Israeli supplied weapons aided India in winning the Kargil War against Pakistan in 1999. Israel also provided humanitarian relief to India.  Following a devastating earthquake in 2001, Israel sent an IDF emergency response delegation to India for two weeks to provide humanitarian relief and treatment for the victims.

In November 2002, the head of Israel's space research program, Colonel Avi Hareven, and the head of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Dr. K. Kasturirangan, signed an agreement on space cooperation between the two countries.

Since firmly establishing diplomtic ties, both countries have benefited immensely. India has become one of Israel’s largest trading partners, many of the world’s leading high-tech companies in Israel and India are forging joint ventures that are successfully competing in the tough international marketplace. Trade and cooperation between the countries now centers primarily on security-related deals and aid in areas such as agriculture and water desalination. As of July 2013, India-Israel trade had risen to approximately $6 billion a year, far surpassing the the modest $200 million level it was at in 1992.

In 2006, Israeli and Indian ministers of agriculture signed a long-term cooperation and training deal, which has since been supervised by field experts from Mashav, an international development program of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. In 2008, the two nations started a $50 million shared agriculture fund, focusing on dairy, farming technology and micro-irrigation. This constituted the Agriculture Cooperation Agreement. In 2011, India and Israel signed an agreement to foster cooperation on urban water systems, which came after more than a decade of joint research, development and shared investment in the countries’ respective water technologies.

In May 2013, Israel announced that it will help India diversify and raise the yeild of its fruit and vegetable crops by offering the country advanced technology and know-how. Israel will help set up 28 centers of excellence across India focussed on specific fruit and vegetable crops. "We congratulate India on being self-sufficient in food. Feeding 1.2 billion people is not an easy task. But with improvement in technology, a lot more can be achieved," Daniel Carmon, head of MASHAV, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, said. By March 2014, 10 Centres of Excellence operated throughout India offering free training sessions for farmers in efficient agricultural techniques using Israeli technological expertise and know-how. Vertical farming, drip irrigation and soil solarisation are some of what is taught at the centers. The 10 already operating focus on mangoes, pomegranates and citrus fruits and the idea is to expand to flowers, bee keeping and dairying, with 28 centers by 2015. Israeli Embassy spokesman Ohad Horsandi explained: "The idea is to transfer applied research and technologies to the farmers in various states across India. While Israel has already entered into agreement with seven state governments to set up these centres, the most successful model has been Haryana," in the northern part of the country. The visit was jointly arranged by the governments of India and Israel and managed by the Weitz Center for Development Studies and Israel NewTech, the national sustainable water and energy program of Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.

In June 2013, a delegation of 16 high-ranking Indian officials of the water authorities of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa and Haryana came to Israel and visited wastewater treatment plants, met with some of Israel’s leading environmentalists and agronomists and listened to explanations of some of the newest technologies for water management. "In India, we have a major crisis of water," said Rajeev Jain, an assistant engineer in the water department of Rajasthan. "Our problem is the same that Israel faced. But Israel is an expert at successfully implementing technologies that we aren’t able to implement. So we have come here to understand which technologies they use and how they manage these things."

The key to the growing India-Israel ties, however, is in the realm of security and defense. In the early 2000s, the Indian army declared its intention to implement a modernization program to which resources of tens of billions of dollars would be allocated. Since then, defense deals with Israel have grown exponentially - today, India is the number one export target of Israel’s defense industries.

Israel has sold radar and surveillance systems as well as electronic components for military aircraft and and has helped India defense itself through training in counterterrorism methods. In November 2011, India's elit Cobra Commando unit bought more than 1,000 units of the Israeli X-95 assualt rifle to use in counterinsurgency operation. Also in 2011, India placed orders for four advanced Israeli Phalcon AWACS planes (airborne warning and control systems) which are capable of detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and other incoming aerial threat far before ground-based radars.

In January 2012, India and Israel stepped up their counter-terrorism coordination strategy in the wake of Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's visit to the Jewish state. While in Israel, Krishna met with top Israeli government and defense leaders and agreed to work to boost their counter-terrorism cooperation. The two countries also signed an Extradition Treaty and a pact on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners.

During a July 2014 visit to Tel Aviv, Indian Defense Secretary Radha Krishna Mathur outlined his goals for Indo-Israeli defense cooperation. The Indian government requested an unspecified number of Sword Fish ground radar trackers, precision-guided artillery, unspecified missiles, and two AWACS units (in addition to the four ordered in 2005). Mathur was especially interested in the delivery of long-range anti-missile defense batteries for deployment aboard Indian naval ships.  The project was announced in 2005, and originally scheduled for delivery in 2012. Israeli and Indian government officials signed an intelligence-sharing agreement in July 2014, hoping to fight radical Islamic extremism in the region together.

In a historic moment, the first meeting of the Prime Ministers from Israel and India in over a decade occured on September 28, 2014.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi and the two spoke of economic, technological, and agricultural collaboration in the future.  Netanyahu expressed his concerns about a nuclear Iran and the spread of radical Islam throughout the Middle East, and the two enjoyed a friendly conversation. The Indian Prime Minister acknowledged that Israel and India have a historic working relationship and stated that India is "the only country where antisemitism has never been allowed to come up, where Jews have never suffered and lived as an integral part of our society".  The meeting was left on a positive note, with Netanyahu inviting Modi to Israel for a return visit. 

In October 2014 India and Israel reached a deal for India to purchase 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles and 321 missile launchers developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.  Rafel was competing against US companies Lockheed Martin and Raytheon for this contract, worth $519 million. 

Israel Aerospace Industries successfully tested a jointly developed Indian-Israeli Barak 8 air and naval defense missile system on November 10, 2014.  The missile test was carried out by Israel's Defense Ministry and India's Defense research and Development Organization, and represents the first full successful test of the missile.  A top advisor to India's defense minister hailed the test as "an important milestone in the cooperation between India and Israel". 

India-Israel cooperation increased dramatically in 2014 since the election of India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Between Modi's election in May 2014 and November 2014, Israel exported $662 million worth of Israeli weapons and defense items to India.  This export number is greater than the total Israeli exports to India during the previous three years combined. 

Israel and India continued their positive relationship into 2015, with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon making the first official visit of an Israeli Defense Minister to India in February. While in India, Ya'alon, along with many other top Israeli defense officials, attended the Aero India arms exhibition in Bangalore.  The purpose of Ya'alon's trip was to increase interaction and cooperation between defense industries in Israel and India.  Photos surfaced online the following day of  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi standing at the Israel Aerospace Industries booth at the exhibition, in a public display of Israel and India's strategic relationship. 

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narenda Modi announced in June 2015 that they will be embarking on a historic visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan in 2015, making them both the first Indian President, and Prime Minister to visit Israel. In early October is was revealed that the Indian dignitaries would be making their trip, which will last 6 days, during the week of October 12. President Mukherjee will deliver a speech at the Knesset, and officials from both countries are due to discuss cooperation in science, technology, agriculture, medicine, and economics. During the lead-up to the visit, Indian media speculated that multiple agreements to increase bilateral cooperation would be signed.

In what was hailed as a “huge development for India” by local news agencies, India abstained from a vote at the UNHRC that approved their Gaza Commission of Inquiry report, in July 2015. Fourty-one countries voted in favor of adopting the findings of the biased report, and India was one of only five others who abstained. This marked the first time that India had ever voted against Palestinian interests at the UNHRC, signalling a significant shift in India-Israel relations.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the Indian state-owned Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) began collaborating on a jointly developed surface-to-air missile system for the Indian Army in 2015. Indian officials purchased 321 launchers and 8,356 missiles from the Israeli military in 2015. India uses Israel-made unmanned drones for surveilance and military purposes, and ordered 16 drones during 2015.

India’s ambassador to Israel, Jaideep Sarkar, encouraged the approximately 85,000 Israeli Jews of Indian descent to tour their country of origin in August 2015, amid warming ties between the nations. Sarkar stated that, “We want to tell the world proudly about the rich Jewish life in India with your efforts we are working to preserve the Jewish heritage in India. We hope to have a package tour to Jewish heritage sites in Mumbai and elsewhere by early next year.” He also suggested that these Indian-Israeli Jews consider enrolling in higher education courses at Indian universities.

The government of India quietly approved the purchase of 10 armored Heron TP drone vehicles from Israel on September 11, 2015, at a price of $400 million. These drones will help secure India's borders, and will be operated by members of India's air force. An original proposal for the purchase was presented in 2012, but the program did not receive political backing until 2015.

The Barak 8 long-range surface-to-air missile, developed jointly between India and Israel, was successfully tested on December 30, 2015. The test of the missile system, which cost the Indian government approximately $1.4 billion, was carried out on the Indian warship INS Kolkata. India again successfully tested the Barak 8 on June 30, 2016. An Indian defense official praised the test, stating “the test launch was a grand success and it met all the targets.” The Barak 8 was developed by India's Defense Research and Development Organization in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries, and can be launched from a ship or from land. Another successful test of the Barak 8 missile was carried out on September 20, 2016, at the Chandipur research and development base in Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal.

During a 3-day visit to Israel in January 2016, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj stated that the full development of positive Israel-India ties is of “the highest importance,” to the government in India.

Indian firm Reliance Defense and Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems signed a cooperative agreement worth an estimated $10 billion at Defexpo India on March 30, 2016. Per the agreement, Rafael and Reliance will cooperatively produce air-to-air missiles, various missile defense systems, and surveilance balloons for the Indian military. The undertaking is projected to provide employment for 3,000 Indians at a facility in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

In the first visit of it's kind in 20 years, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited India for a week in mid-November 2016. Rivlin and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi held discussions and meetings pertaining to security cooperation and combatting terrorism, and also discussed the future of Israeli investment in India. While in India, the Israeli President also visited the Taj Mahal and observed Indian water treatment facilities. Indian officials signed contracts worth a combined $1.4 billion with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) during Rivlin's visit, on November 16, 2016. The two defense contracts provide for the Indian purchase from Israel of two Phalcon/IL-76 Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), valued at $1 billion, as well as 10 additional Heron TP UAV drones, valued at $400 million.

An estimated 50,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel in 2015, rising 43% from the number of Chinese tourists in 2014. The number of tourists from India also increased dramatically, with 40,000 Indian nationals vacationing in Israel in 2015.

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