India’s May 2014 parliamentary elections resulted in the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi. Known to be sympathetic to Israel and Jews, Prime Minister Modi’s election is an auspicious development in Indo-Israeli relations. This does not appear to be a temporary, easily reversible blip in the relations between the two countries, but rather a reflection of deeper socio-economic trends: the rise of a more Western-oriented young middle class indifferent to the Third World, and, also, a certain Hindu nationalist resurgence. The period from mid-2014 to mid-2017 saw Indo-Israeli relations improving in many sectors, demonstrated publicly in October 2015 with the first-ever state visit of an Indian president to Israel, and almost exactly one year later with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s visit to India. Yet many policy issues and challenges remain. For the Jewish people, which has spent the last 2000 years almost entirely under Christian and Muslim rule, and for Israel, the ultimate challenge is how to connect to and seek the friendship of a country where the great majority has not been touched by Biblical religions. There are other challenges: for example, a substantial advancement of the peace process with the Palestinians would greatly reinforce and stabilize India-Israel relations. Irrespective of whether there is progress on this issue or not, addressing the remaining issues and challenges becomes even more desirable as Israel’s opportunities are, for the time being, growing by the day.
The Indian institution that knows Israel best, appreciates it most, and has the strongest links with it is its military. India’s academia and some of its intellectual elites know and appreciate Israel less well and have very few established links with it. Indo-Israeli economic relations fall somewhere in between. They are growing, but still relatively small. The following policy recommendations are aimed at optimizing the Indo-Israeli relationship.
The list is comprehensive and ambitious. It represents a long-term endeavor. It will be difficult to carry out all recommendations completely even over a ten year-period. Also, some are almost cost-free but demand political will (e.g. 1, 2, 4) while others could be expensive (e.g. 13). These recommendations indicate the directions that Israel will have to pursue if it wants its relationship with India to become a solid, permanent, and future-supporting pillar.