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India-Israel Ties: 30 Years of Friendship and Going Strong

On 29 January 2022, the historic Teen Murti Haifa Chowk in India and Masada Fortress in Israel was lit up with Israeli and Indian flags to mark the 30th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his message said that there could not be a better time to set new goals for taking India-Israel relations forward, and asserted that the cooperation between the two countries played a key role in the growth stories of both nations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in his message said that the two nations enjoyed “gehri dosti.” 

While India had recognized Israel in September 1950, formal diplomatic ties were established only on 29 January 1992. The end of the Cold war and new geopolitical realities offered India to redesign its foreign policy. A well-strategized policy was to open formal ties with Israel. Post the establishment of formal ties, the two nations have only witnessed an upswing in their bilateral ties, highlighted by the commitment and trust bond.

With formal ties, began multifaceted cooperation. Initially, agriculture and defence cooperation were the main pillars of this cooperation. Over the years, engagement involves other domains, including participation in the hi-tech economy and knowledge sharing. 

Political leadership enjoys great camaraderie and top leaders from both countries have visited regularly. Many Indians and Israelis follow Israeli and Indian leaders on social media. 

By 2017, the countries decided to upgrade their ties to the strategic partnership level. 

Trade-wise, in 1992, the bilateral trade was worth USD 200 million, by April 2020-February 2021, it stood at USD 4.14 billion. Within Asia, India is the third-largest trading partner of Israel. Israeli companies have invested in India’s energy, real estate, water technologies, and telecom sectors. Israel has invested in more than 300 businesses mainly covering technology and agriculture. In agriculture, with the participation of Israel, 29 Centre of Excellence across different Indian states are proposed to be inaugurated. Israeli agri-tech has really helped Indian farmers in irrigation and post-harvest management. Now, Indian farmers have embraced drip irrigation to optimize water utility.  

India is the largest buyer of Israeli arms and equipment. It may be noted that Israel is the second-largest supplier of arms, next only to Russia. In the field of defence and security, the Indian Air Force and Naval chief have made visits to Israel in 2018 and 2017, respectively. The sides have JWG-level dialogue for defence and counterterrorism. 

Among Indian companies, TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Tech Mahindra, Sun Pharma are some of the eminent companies invested in Israel. India-Israel incubation centres and mentorship program is fueling startups in tier-II cities in India.  

To take things to the next level, the two sides are engaged in dialogue to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).  

India and Israel have an understanding of Homeland security, and criminal matters. Since 2015, IPS trainees spend a week at the Israel National Police Academy as part of their training. 

India and Israel also have agreements to build and collaborate in the field of space technology. ISRO & Israel Space Agency have signed three agreements on space cooperation in July 2017.

When it comes to people-to-people connections, thousands of Indian and Israeli tourists visit Israel and India. Direct flight connections between New Delhi, Mumbai, and Tel Aviv facilitate the movement of such a large number of people between the countries. 

In Tel Aviv and Haifa universities, India-related courses are taught. Private and public universities from both countries have arrangements to collaborate on identified areas. The Israeli government has been offering scholarships to Indian post-doctoral scholars to visit their institutions. Indian doctoral and post-doctoral scholars have shown keen interest in Israeli institutions. 

There are about 85000 Jews of Indian origin in Israel, who have migrated in the 1950s and 60s.

Israel hosts about 14,000 Indians in different cities, the majority of them are elderly caregivers, rest are IT professionals, diamond traders, and students.  

India established formal ties following the recalibration of its West Asia policy. Another churning is taking place following the signing of “normalization agreements” between Israel, UAE, and other West Asian countries. This has unleashed several opportunities among India, Israel, and UAE to look at the bigger picture and collaborate in priority areas. Given the alignment of interests and priorities, bilateral ties between India and Israel will continue to see a further upswing.