India's RAW and Israel's Mossad are close

Two natural partners? - Security cooperation between India and Israel

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and question

2. Historical overview
2.1 "No full diplomatic relations"
2.2 Realignment of the Indian-Israeli relationship

3. Bilateral relations after normalization
3.1 Two natural trading partners - economic cooperation
3.2 The engine of cooperation: arms cooperation
3.2.1 Complimentary interests as the basis of armaments cooperation
3.2.2 The main arms transfers between Israel and India
3.3 Fight against terrorism

4. Challenges to Indian-Israeli relations
4.1 India and Iran
4.2 India's relationship with China and Pakistan
4.3 The role of the USA

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction and question

Although the Indo-Israeli partnership is considered to be one of the "most important geopolitical shifts in Asia since the end of the East-West conflict"[1] is estimated, it has received little attention in the European political science press.[2] This circumstance is probably due to the fact that no diplomatic relations existed between India and Israel for over 40 years. Although the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru officially recognized the State of Israel as early as 1950, all Indian governments pursued a pro-Arab or pro-Palestinian policy up to the early 1990s and had no diplomatic relations with Israel. A rapprochement between the two countries and a normalization of the Indian-Israeli relationship was only possible with the end of the Cold War and the associated realignment of Indian foreign and security policy. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations on January 21, 1992, close cooperation has developed primarily in the areas of security and defense, but also in business and trade. India became Israel's second largest trading partner in Asia after Hong Kong. In 2002, the bilateral trade volume reached 1.5 trillion US dollars, six times higher than in 1992. Ariel Sharon’s visit to India in September 2003 marked a temporary high point in bilateral relations and finally made headlines in Europe as well.[3]

As part of the housework, I will analyze the changes in the Indian-Israeli relationship and investigate the extent to which a strategic partnership has developed since normalization. The focus of the investigation is security and defense cooperation. Since the Indian-Israeli cooperation in European political science is still a research desideratum, essays by Indian and Israeli authors were mainly processed in this work, above all P.R. Kumaraswamy, who published on Indian-Israeli relations as early as the mid-1990s.[4]

In order to show the importance of the current development, I will first give an overview of the history of Indian-Israeli relations: What factors led to a normalization of bilateral relations at the end of the Cold War? I will then examine the development of India-Israeli relations after 1992, particularly with regard to security and defense cooperation. Finally, in the context of the problems and challenges of bilateral relations, it will be discussed whether this is a strategic partnership.

2. Historical overview

2.1 "No full diplomatic relations"

The roots of India's Israel policy go back to the 1920s, when the Indian independence movement allied itself with the Palestinians in the fight against British imperialism.[5] In a much-cited newspaper article from 1938, Mahatma Gandhi therefore opposed the Zionist colonization and expropriation of the Palestinians: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French."[6] This negative attitude towards Zionism was adopted after independence from the Congress Party, which for a long time dominated the political system in India. Since Nehru, in the tradition of Gandhi, saw the Israeli-Arab conflict as part of the anti-imperialist struggle, he rejected all claims by the Jewish settlers: "Palestine is essentially an Arab country and no decision can be made without the consent of the Arabs"[7] Accordingly, India voted in the United Nations in November 1947 against the division of the country of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab part, and in May 1949, in unison with the Arab countries, spoke out against Israel's admission to the United Nations. After lengthy negotiations, Prime Minister Nehru granted the State of Israel official recognition on September 18, 1950, and the Jewish Agency's office in Bombay was given the status of an Israeli consulate. But it did not result in a normalization of diplomatic relations. Rather, relations deteriorated parallel to the growing friendship between India and Egypt within the framework of the non-aligned movement, at the head of which Nehru campaigned for the decolonization of the Third World. In addition, the Indian government believed that it was being compelled to show consideration for Indian Muslims. "Perceived opposition of the Indian Muslims aside, apprehensions over the arab position on the Kashmir question played a role in the consolidation of pro-arab policy"[8] Persistent reluctance towards Israel and the pro-Arab policies of the Indian government were also part of a political strategy with which India sought to curb Pakistan's influence in the region.[9] With diplomatic relations with Israel, India would have been an enemy of the Muslims, thereby increasing Pakistan's influence in the region. The Indian government hoped for the support of the Arab countries in particular on the still open Kashmir question.

However, the pro-Pakistani stance of the Arab countries during the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971 (Bangladesh crisis) raises serious doubts as to whether the pro-Arab policies actually served the interests of the Indian government. "So far as India’s quarrels with Pakistan were concerned, the Arab states did not extend any support to India"[10] Nonetheless, the Indian government supported the Arab countries in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Singh once again justified the absence of diplomatic relations with Israel: “India had not established diplomatic relations with Israel because Israel had followed wrong policies against the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians. Until there was a revision of this policy it would be difficult to India to revise her policy. "[11] In contrast, during the Indo-Chinese conflict of 1962, Israel provided small arms supplies to India.[12]

According to Sushil J. Aaron, the Indian government should have reconsidered its Israel policy in view of this imbalance by the 1970s at the latest.[13] But the fixation on Gandhi's traditions and the ideological reservations during the Cold War continued to prevent Indo-Israeli rapprochement. "By becoming a prisoner of its idealism and rhetoric, India has divorced itself from political realism, with consistency ironically becoming the guiding principle towards the ever turbulent Middle East."[14] While India sympathized with the Soviet Union and adopted its anti-Israeli rhetoric, Israel established close ties with the United States in the 1960s. In addition to these political reservations, however, the dependence on Arab oil exports also played a decisive role in the foreign policy strategy of the Indian government.[15]

In 1975, in parallel with poor relations with Israel, India was one of the first non-Arab countries to grant official recognition to the PLO.[16] Even the brief change of power from the Congress Party to the Janata Party in 1977, which was known for its criticism of India's Israel policy, did not result in a change of course in Indian Israel policy. Shortly after the Congress Party's return to power in 1980, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi granted the PLO diplomatic status on her territory and allowed her to establish a representation in New Delhi. Between 1982 and 1988 consular relations between India and Israel did not even exist.[17]

2.2 Realignment of the Indian-Israeli relationship

Persistent reluctance towards Israel did not prevent the Indian government from cooperating with Israel on military and security matters.[18] In addition to the military support already mentioned, which Israel granted India in the Indo-Chinese conflict of 1961, there was cooperation between the Israeli secret service Mossad and the Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) in the 1980s. The Mossad created a personal protection program for Rajiv Gandhi and Indian officers were trained in Israel to counter terrorism. Nevertheless, a large part of India's political elite was convinced of the policy of “no full diplomatic relations” until the early 1990s.[19]


[1] Patrick Franke: India and Israel. Geopolitical Aspects of a New Alliance. In: Yearbook for International Security Policy 2003, pp. 565-583, here: p. 565.

[2] An exception is the article by Citha D. Maaß: Indian-Israeli Cooperation: From the Indian journal «Strategic Analysis» 1999/2000. SWP magazine show, February 2001, pages 1-6.

[3] See the article by Jochen Buchsteiner: Arms deals in focus. Sharon visits India. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9.9.2003.

[4] See P.R. Kumaraswamy: India and Israel. Evolving Strategic Partnership. In: Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 40. Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, September 1998. Here:

[5] For the following presentation, see P.R. Kumaraswamy: Israel-India Relations: Seeking Balance and Realism. In: Israel Affairs 10/2004, pp. 254-272, here: pp. 255-260, as well as Patrick Franke: India and Israel, pp. 566 f.

[6] Quoted from: P.R. Kumaraswamy: India and Israel: Emerging Partnership, in: Journal of Strategic Studies 12/2002, pp. 192-206, here p. 193.

[7] Quoted from: Ibid., P. 193.

[8] P.R. Kumaraswamy: India and Israel: Emerging Partnership, here p. 194.

[9] Cf. on this and the following ibid, p. 194.

[10] Anil Kumar Singh: India & Israel: From Estrangement to Strategic Partners. In: Indian Defense Review, July-September 2003, pp. 110-121, here: p. 111.

[11] Statement of Dinesh Singh, Minister of External Affairs, May 27, 1967, in: A Appodrai, Select Documents on India's Foreign Policy and Relations, 1947-1972, Vol.II, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985, no.5 , P. 369. Quoted here from: Anil Kumar Singh: India & Israel: From Estrangement to Strategic Partners, p. 111.

[12] See Efraim Inbar: The Indian-Israel Entente. In: Orbis, 48/2004, pp. 89-104, here p. 90.

[13] Sushil J. Aaron: Straddling Faultlines: India’s Foreign Policy towards the Greater Middle East. Publication of the French Research Institute in India, CHS Occasional Paper No. 7, 2003, p.17. Here:

[14] P.R. Kumaraswamy: Israel-India Relations: Seeking Balance and Realism, p. 266.

[15] See: Sushil J. Aaron: Straddling Faultlines, p. 17.

[16] For the following presentation see: Patrick Franke: India and Israel, p. 567.

[17] Following an incident in July 1982, the Israeli consul in Bombay, Yosef Hasseen, was expelled from the Indian government for criticizing Israel’s policy. His position was not filled again until June 1988.

[18] For the following presentation, see Patrick Franke: India and Israel, p. 568.

[19] Ibid. P. 569.

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