India Israel Relations in Post Second World War Era “they have to answer the future generations”


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.                                


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 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 ties.


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 Israel.


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 defense and Israel was the second largest supplier of weapons to India.”     

The attitude of Nehru and his daughter show how the dynasty came to subvert the national interest for the sake of advancing personal political interest. However collapse of USSR in the 1990 started impacting the mindset of Indian Politicians. Israel made an effort again to establish a full relationship with India.

In November 1991, at the request of Dr. Moshe Yegar of Israeli Foreign Ministry, an international Jewish activist, I.S. Liebler, sought a meeting with the newly elected Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao. Yegar had met him in July 1991 following the kidnapping of Israeli Tourist in Kashmir but the meeting deteriorated into a diatribe against Israel on Palestine Rights.

The timing for Liebler’s meeting was ‘Problematic’ as Rao had only been elected a few months earlier in June 1991 and probably India continued with its hangover of appeasing the Muslim population as his party major vote share came from that community. Though through combined intervention of  Congressman  Stephen Solarz, then the head of the House Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee and then Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, Liebler’s request for an audience was “reluctantly”  granted. This meeting was the first in many years between and Indian Prime Minister and a global Jewish Representative. It became clear very quickly to Liebler that Rao was far more receptive than his predecessors probably he didn’t had dynastic past.

At the time, Liebler reported on behalf of the World Jewish Congress – that the situation in India was “much more promising … no personal, irrational impediment to improved ties with Israel….. the fact the Rao agreed to the meeting at a highly inconvenient time for himself … indicates the seriousness he attached to improved ties with world Jewry as an important element in India’s orientation in the Post-cold War Era.

Liebler Writes ” but it transpired that there were only minor changes and no substantive improvement to India’s Policies. While agreeing to expand the Israeli Consulate in Kerala and Mumbai, the deputy foreign minister stressed that India would not even contemplate full diplomatic relations with Israel until substantial progress was achieved in the peace process with the Palestinians.”.

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