India-Israel Ties Set to Blossom Under Modi — Ghitis, Frida

modi_03072014India-Israel Ties Set to Blossom Under Modi. By: Ghitis, Frida. World Politics Review (Selective Content). Abstract: The article reflects on the growth of the foreign relationship of India and Israel with the victory of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as of 2014. Topics discussed include trade and political ties between Israel and Gujarat, India, similarities between both the countries as both arose from a partition of territory ruled by the British Empire and are threatened by the actions of terrorists and the ideologies of Islamist organizations.
The electoral earthquake that just shook up India is stirring up great excitement in, of all places, Israel, where Indian voters’ dramatic move to sweep away the ruling Congress Party and bring to power the opposition is making outsized headlines.
By all indications, the victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader, Narendra Modi, is about to rapidly accelerate a trend that was already in place, creating much closer and much more productive ties between Israel and India.
Modi was famously described months ago by an Indian journalist as “Israel’s best friend in South Asia.” The sentiment, which is reportedly shared by much of the BJP’s leadership, was in evidence during Modi’s 13 years as chief minister of the economically vibrant state of Gujarat.
In much of the world, Modi’s campaign was viewed with concern over the potential for strife between Muslims and Hindus, as I discussed in an earlier column. Indian voters, however, focused on Modi’s pragmatic economic policies. The fear has not vanished, but Modi managed to persuade even large numbers of India’s Muslims to support his vision of growth.
Growth in Gujarat included strong links with Israel. Gujaratis, including Modi, visited the Jewish state. Every year, thousands of Gujarat farmers travel to Israel to learn new techniques, and Israel has set up three educational facilities, called “centers of excellence,” in Gujarat.
Israel and Gujarat’s wide-ranging trade and political ties are booming.
Modi, it appears, wants to replicate that on a national scale.
Israel and India have always shared a number of important traits. The perspectives of the BJP only accentuate the commonality.
The two countries share a self-image as islands of democracy in a sea of dictatorships. They both feel threatened by Muslim regimes, by the actions of terrorists and by the ideology of radical Islamist organizations, which they see as operating with the support of threatening governments.
Both countries arose from a partition of territory ruled by the British Empire, and both see themselves as the nation-state of an ancient people. Modi will govern a country with a significant Muslim minority, about 15 percent of the population–comparable to the percentage of Israel’s Muslim citizens–and one where, just as in Israel, a territorial dispute has lingered since the time of partition.
The parallels in worldview and history are even more pronounced on the right of the political spectrum. The Israeli right came to power after decades of dominance by the left-of-center Labor, just as the BJP has battled dominance by Congress. In both countries, the right has sought to counteract the secularism of the center-left, while opening up the economy to free markets.
India and Israel share strategic, ideological and economic interests. With both countries now governed by rightist parties, there is little doubt we are about to witness the renewal of a love affair that had already started to bloom.
As soon as the election results were announced, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Modi to congratulate him. Netanyahu later told the Israeli Cabinet, in a report that was widely disseminated in India as well, that the soon-to-be prime minister of India made “a clear expression of the desire to deepen and develop economic ties with the state of Israel.”
The historical evidence suggests that is exactly what will happen.
Israel and India established ties in 1992, but the relationship started blossoming when the BJP took power in 1998. When India and Pakistan clashed in 1999 during the so-called Kargil War, Israel quietly provided India with satellite imagery and high-tech military equipment. In 2003, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India.
Since then, the relationship has grown at an exponential rate, with diplomatic, military and economic ties expanding and trade growing from $200 million a year to at least $5 billion now.
But the potential for even closer relations was on display in Modi’s Gujarat, where Israeli investors poured billions of dollars and the areas of cooperation expanded.
Modi’s controversial role during anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 left him isolated on the global stage. As a result, he sought ways to develop Gujarat’s trade ties in places other than the West. He found a warm welcome in Israel.
Gujarat came to take on a unique place in the bilateral relationship. While India-Israel trade focused mostly on military and gem sales, Gujarat started exploring other areas where Israel’s high-tech economy could prove useful. Before long, trade with Gujarat expanded to agriculture, an area where Israeli technology has developed ways to maximize output. Israeli investors moved in to develop Gujarat’s productive capacity in countless other sectors.
Even before Modi’s electoral victory, the two countries were on a fast track. A huge delegation from India is arriving in Israel right now, with some 30 Indian companies preparing their exhibition at next week’s Tel Aviv technology fair.
Many of Israel’s largest technology firms already have operations on Indian soil. In fact, some of the back-office operations so commonly associated with India receive support from Israeli firms. Israel’s Amdocs, for example, has more than 1,000 employees in the Indian city of Pune. Large Indian firms, such as Infosys and Tata, have their own operations in Israel.
The most visible aspect of the relationship is and will continue to be trade. India wants Israel to help it develop its capacity to build and export high-tech equipment. In the coming years, the bilateral trade relationship will become even more visible with a trend toward large-scale joint ventures. But even more will happen below the surface.
The relationship will develop more quietly on other levels. Israel is sure to continue selling military equipment, as the simmering rivalry between India and Pakistan continues and very likely intensifies under BJP rule.
In addition, New Delhi is likely to develop closer intelligence ties with Israel, with an emphasis on counterterrorism. The most interesting aspect of the ties between the Modi and Netanyahu governments will unfold on the diplomatic stage.
Until now, India has been careful to downplay its ties with Israel, fearing retaliation from Muslim states. Modi’s assertive nationalism could prove less bashful about India’s ties with the Jewish state. After the landmark decision by Indian voters, the new Indian-Israeli partnership may just make a splash on the global stage.
By Frida Ghitis, Column
​Source: World Politics Review