In the history of diplomacy seldom have relations between any two nations blossomed as fast as they have in the case of India and Israel. Ever since India’s Congress Prime Minister P V Narsimha Rao decided to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state in 1992, there has been no looking back . The successive dispensations in New Delhi have carried forward the Rao tradition attaining newer heights in its multi-faceted relationship with Jerusalem.
Knowledgeable sources say that with Bharatiya Janata Party Prime Minister Narendra Modi now at the helm, this process looks all set to acquire further momentum. The new momentum in Indo-Israeli ties can be attributed to several factors.
Firstly, Prime Minister Modi has long been a great advocate of stronger ties with the Jewish state. He has visited Israel as Chief Minister of Gujarat and experienced how meaningful Israeli cooperation has been in the success story of the state he led until recently. He is likely to visit the Jewish state as India’s Prime Minister and repeat his Gujarat story at the all-India level promoting mutual endeavors in the areas of agriculture, industrial research and development, solar and thermal power, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, water recycling and water desalination plants.
Secondly, unlike in the previous Indian governments with some voices of dissent against the growing Indo-Israeli bonhomie, there is an almost complete unanimity among all Cabinet Ministers today to boost the bilateral ties. Modi’s External Affairs Minister Sushama Swaraj has been greatly influenced by the legendary Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Swaraj has served as chairwoman of the Indo-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group ( 2006-2009). In 2008 she described Israel as “a reliable partner” while criticizing the then left-wing parties’ opposition to the Israel-India diplomatic relationship.
Thirdly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an historic opportunity to implement his party ideology today and foster better ties with Israel. The party derives its ideological sustenance from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Sangh has always enjoyed a fine relationship with the Jewish state. Its hard-core ideologues and Israel’s right-wing Zionists have had a lot in common. Both of them long for a ‘lost civilization’ and lament that they have been the victims of a cruel phenomenon of the ‘outsiders’ dispossessing the originals from their own homelands. The RSS views the nation-state as a goddess (Bharat Mata– the land of Lords Rama and Krishna) while the Zionists see it in a ‘Holy Land’ where the Halakha or sacred law prevails. Paradoxically, some of the original proponents of Zionism and Hindutva cannot be said to be representatives of Judaism and Hinduism in an orthodox religious sense with Theodore Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Max Nordau, VD Savarkar and KB Hedgewar being self-professed atheists.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh views Israel as a bulwark against Islamist terrorism. In 2003, when then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India, the R S S stated, “The entire world acknowledges that Israel has effectively and ruthlessly countered terror in the Middle East. Since India and Israel are both fighting a war against terrorism, we should learn a lesson or two from them.”
Given this background of RSS- Israel bonhomie, Prime Minister Modi is likely to make the best use of Indo-Israeli cooperation in every possible area. Needless to say, the previous BJP-led government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could do little as it was constantly under pressure of the coalition politics to act differently. With a majority of its own in Parliament, the Modi government would have no such hindrances in implementing its Israel-friendly ideology and serving the perceived Indian national interests .
Fourthly, the Modi government seems to be of the firm conviction that in the post-Cold War landscape Jerusalem can be a very highly reliable partner in its defense modernization . There has of late been a near consensus across the Indian strategic community that New Delhi has had a very realistic approach to defense. Its nuclear doctrine has been followed by a huge investment in improving its command, control, communications, and intelligence systems and its second strike capacity, including the survival of the decision-making structure. India today is also being increasingly equipped with an appropriate defensive nuclear biological and chemical (NBC) mechanism to counter the related threats from any potential corners.