Balancing in the Middle East: India's Relations with Iran, Israel

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), February 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

Balancing in the Middle East: India's Relations with Iran, Israel


India, Feb. 17 -- With reports speculating a likely visit to Israel by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj this year and home minister Rajnath Singh having visited the country earlier in November 2014, bilateral relations between India and Israel have seen a flurry of activity after the new Narendra Modi-led government took power at the Centre.

The PM also met his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September, where the prospect of Modi visiting Israel was discussed.

Recent reports even suggested that India might consider changing its stance on Palestine at the United Nations. However, no further word on the issue has been forthcoming.

All these developments point to the fact that India is keen on developing bilateral relations with Israel, underlining its strategic importance for the country. Bilateral trade between India and Israel is reported to be about $6 billion. A free trade agreement that could further increase trade between the two countries is also being discussed.

As far as cooperation in defence is concerned, both nations face threats from terrorism and have signed agreements related to homeland security. India is Israel's largest buyer of defence equipment. "On a purely bilateral mode, unlike the UPA era, India will be more open, candid and unapologetic when dealing with Israel," PR Kumaraswamy, director, Gulf Studies Programme and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for West Asian Studies told HT.

However, this spurt in relations between India and Israel has not produced any major changes in India's foreign policy yet, apart from reports about India's stance on Palestine. Even if this were to happen, it would be a largely symbolic move as India is not a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the organ that makes binding decisions.

In fact, India continues to build relations with Iran, a country that is not friendly with Israel. India's ties with Iran may have been caused hiccups in its relations with Israel, but with India's emergence as a growing economy, it can afford to do business with other nations on its own terms as well. The Modi-led government seems to have recognised and is making use of this fact, for example major investments from both China and Japan and the nuclear deal with Australia was closed despite the fact that India is a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"India's relations with Iran and its ties with Israel have remained exclusive," Kumaraswamy said. "Both relations will be largely independent, but with a couple of caveats. One, India will pursue the February 2012 terror attack against the Israeli embassy vehicle more actively and this would lead to some anxious moments for India-Iranian relations. …

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