Mahatma Gandhi had clearly
spelled out that though he was sympathetic to the Jews and was aware of their
persecutions, he was not in favour of a forced settlement between Israel and
Palestine, which was already home to the Arabs.
Although he blamed the
Christian community for wronging the Jews, he believed that Palestine belonged
to Arabs in the same way as England belonged to English and France to French. Mahatma
Gandhi was of the firm opinion that the Jews had erred grievously in seeking to
impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain.
1947: THE INDEPENDENCE YEAR
India's first Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru held the same belief and followed the line taken by Mahatma
Gandhi in saying no to Israel if it was not with the permission of the Arabs of
Palestine. He even refused Albert Einstein's appeal to vote in favour of the
partition of Palestine, an event that later led to formation of Israel on May
14, 1948. Other factors, too, weighed heavily on Nehru's mind when he said no
to Einstein and when India voted against the United Nations General Assembly's
(UNGA) resolution on partition of Palestine on November 29 1947.
India was already facing the
trauma of partition on religious lines, ravaging its geographies, and Nehru,
probably, could not support another country's partition on religious lines. To
add to that India had a sizeable Muslim population that was traditionally
opposed to creation of Israel on the Palestinian land. Also, an immediate war
with Pakistan was looming large and Nehru needed the global community's support
including the Arab nations.
India formally recognised
Israel post independence in September 1950. However its Israel policy was
driven by the principled stand of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and
India's international approach on issues as aligned with its domestic needs.
Nehru had mentioned this in his reply to Einstein that national leaders needed
to be selfish to see the interest of their countries first when it came to
geopolitics. So India continued with its pro-Palestine policy in line with its
principled stand and the sentiments of its large Muslim population, coupled
with the fact that more and more Indians were heading to the Gulf nations and
it was fast emerging as a major source of remittances.
In addition, India was also
dependent on the Arab nations for oil supply to meet its energy needs.
Emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1950s, of which Nehru was a
founding member, further drove India away from taking any pro-Israel stand
openly. NAM had its origin in the Cold War which had divided the world in two
blocks, pro-USSR and pro-USA. NAM countries proclaimed they would have neutral
stand in global affairs instead of going with any block of the nations.
The 1962 India China war was
the first occasion when when Nehru wrote to Israeli Prime Minister David Ben
Gurion for shipments of arms and ammunition. Nehru had requested Ben Gurion to
ship weapons without the Israeli flag as it could have adversely affected
India's ties with the Arab nations. Though expressing sympathy and solidarity
with India, Ben Gurion refused help. Israel sent shipments to India only when
India said it would accept them with the Israeli flag. And that is when when
Israel and India started communicating at strategic levels.
The 1971 war between India
and Pakistan that led to formation of Bangladesh was the next significant step
in taking forward India-Israel strategic cooperation. Srinath Raghavan's book
1971, quoting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's adviser PN Haksar, says even if
Israel was not in a position to supply arms to India, its Prime Minister Golda
Meir diverted the shipment meant for Iran to India. Israel also provided India
with intelligence support. In return, Golda Meir asked for full diplomatic
1992 ESTABLISHMENT OF FULL
It was in 1992 when India finally
established full diplomatic relations with Israel but only after taking
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on board. Arafat was in Delhi and after
meeting Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, he announced that establishing embassies
and maintaining diplomatic ties were India's sovereign decisions and he
respected it. There were two reasons behind it.
The first was the peace
process between Israel and Palestine was in an advanced state at that time.
State of Israel and Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized
each other for the first time with the US mediated Oslo Accord signed in
Washington in 1993. For their peace efforts, Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak
Rabin were jointly given the Nobel Peace Prize of 1994.
The second was the pressure from
United States. The version in bureaucratic circles is as India needed now a
global interface for its economy after it decided to follow economic
liberalization in 1991 as well as new markets for to meets its defence needs
after the USSR collapse, its main defence supplier, it found America as the
obvious choice. But in return, America asked India to accommodate Israel in its
foreign policy. And the timing was opportune as the ongoing peace process
helped India in convincing Arafat, something that helped India in dealing with
the Arab nations. What was sought by Golda Meir from Indira Gandhi in 1971
finally became a reality on January 29 1992 and Indira's foreign minister
Narasimha Rao, who was now the prime minister, drove the development.
India's second series of
nuclear tests in 1998 saw the US and other western countries imposing
sanctions. However, it didn't affect India much as Israel filled the gap
effectively delivering the US arms as it had close military ties .
The 1999 Kargil war was a
leap in terms of India-Israel military cooperation. Israel provided India with
mortar ammunitions, surveillance drones and laser guided missiles along with
intelligence inputs that helped in winding up the war with a befitting reply to
Pakistan. It is said that the Kargil War pushed India to introspect on its
security loopholes and the country decided to modernise its forces. Next year,
in 2000, India's Home Minister LK Advani and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh
paid a visit to Israel beginning the series of ministerial level visits to
In 2003, Ariel Sharon became
the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. Strengthening the bilateral
ties, the Delhi Statement of Friendship and Cooperation was signed. Though
Sharon had to cut short his visit due to terror attacks in Tel Aviv, his Deputy
Prime Minister Yosef Lapid had, for the first time on record, accepted that
"India and Israel had closes ties in defence and Israel was the second largest
supplier of weapons to India."
Though ministerial and other
bilateral visits between India and Israel continued unabated all this while, it
is said that the Manmohan Singh led UPA government was not in favour of
speaking much about India-Israel defence and strategic ties and rather focused
on agriculture, science and technology for mutual areas of cooperation.
Confirming this line of
thought, Israeli Ambassador to India, David Carmon, had said last year when
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was leaving for Israel that "though
India-Israel ties had evolved over the last 25 years, it had been more visible
under the Modi government."
And now to take that
"visibility" to the next level of bilateral cooperation, Narendra
Modi is visiting Israel in the first ever prime-ministerial visit to Israel and
what is the defining moment here is he has dehyphenated the Palestine ties with
the Israel ties, unlike any previous official visit when Indian leaders made it
a point to include both Palestine and Israel in their itinerary. During his
visit in October 2015, first by an Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee first
went to Palestine and then to Israel. Sushma Swaraj followed suit during her
January 2016 visit.