The Indo-Israel bilateral relationship has reached a new level of maturity, signifying the triumph of pragmatism over political symbolism. Despite voting against Israel on the Jerusalem issue at the United Nations recently, India has left no one in doubt about the strategic importance that it attaches to Tel Aviv. A string of key agreements has been signed between the two countries during the ongoing visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Apart from being high on optics, marked by warm hugs and showering of mutual praise, the visit demonstrates serious commitment at the highest level to deepen bilateral engagement. Israel has, over the years, emerged as a major defence supplier to India, strong security partner and a provider of frontier technologies in agriculture, water, cybersecurity and innovation. The two countries share a common interest to fight extremism. The deepening relationship with Israel does not mean any dilution of New Delhi’s long-standing policy of supporting the Palestinian cause. It reflects an attempt to jettison empty symbolism and instead embrace pragmatic global politics. It is time to shed the hyphenated approach that the successive governments had adopted towards the age-old Israel-Palestine conflict. The priorities set during the cold war era are no more relevant now. In the rapidly changing world driven by knowledge-based economies, Israel can be a useful partner in development, given its technological prowess and military superiority. The bilateral cooperation has increased manifold over the years, particularly in the field of defence, intelligence sharing, solar energy, agriculture and science and technology.
Since coming to power in 2014, the NDA government has reiterated on several occasions that India’s support to the Palestinian cause remains intact even as it maintains good relations with Israel. There has been a conscious effort to infuse pragmatism into India’s engagement with West Asia. Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv last year, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, was loaded with geopolitical significance and marked the first serious attempt at the highest level to deepen bilateral engagement with a country that always evokes mixed domestic reactions. The shift in Indo-Israel ties began about a quarter century ago during the Narasimha Rao regime when diplomatic ties were established with Tel Aviv in a pragmatic response to the changing global realities. India’s engagement with West Asia has undergone a paradigm shift in the recent years. It must be noted that Modi had visited UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar and all of them were standalone visits, signifying the importance of bilateral ties. Netanyahu’s visit, accompanied by a 130-member-strong business delegation, exemplified the mutual commitment to boost and diversify economic ties. It also highlighted the shared interest to fight extremism. Both countries have also agreed to work towards a free trade pact.