EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Ever since Indian PM Narendra Modi’s ascent to power in May 2014, the possibility has been discussed that he might visit Israel. Three years later, on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal relations between the countries, Modi made the historic visit and received a warm welcome. The visit signifies an active Indian foreign policy that stands against the old order as well as a political victory for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, both on the geopolitical level and on the domestic front.
From the 1920s until the establishment of official bilateral relations in 1992, Indian-Israeli ties were dictated by the views of Indian Muslims and moves by Pakistan. Despite Israel’s military support for India during its wars, and the lack of support India received from both Arab and Muslim states, the Congress Party continued to keep its distance from the Jewish State. New Delhi was long preoccupied with the building of the nation, the flow of external aid, and the constant threat posed by its Western neighbor. Relations with Israel remained unfulfilled.
But the opposition party BJP (the Indian People’s Party) held a different view. It perceived India’s enemy not as the “colonial” West, of which Israel is a (supposed) offshoot, but as radical Islam and terrorism. Against that backdrop, the BJP saw Israel as a natural ally.
Public relations remained at a low level even after the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, but Modi’s rise to power signaled a significant change. There has been a tightening of relations on many levels: economic, in the form of mega-deals; political, in the form of frequent meetings of senior officials; and cultural, in the form of a change in public rhetoric towards Israel on social media. There have also been attempts by India to redress the persistent imbalance against Israel in UN votes.
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