Re-(Modi)fying India’s Israel Policy: An Exploration of Practical Geopolitical Reasoning Through Re-representation of ‘India’, ‘Israel’ and ‘West Asia’ Post-2014

Date01 April 2020
Published date01 April 2020
Subject MatterResearch Articles
India’s Israel Policy:
An Exploration of
Practical Geopolitical
Reasoning Through
Re-representation of
‘India’, ‘Israel’ and ‘West
Asia’ Post-2014
Tanvi Pate1
Narendra Modi became the first Prime Minister of India to undertake a stand-
alone visit to Israel from 4 to 6 July 2017. Although India–Israel relations had
been normalised in 1992, the nature of this bilateral relationship remained murky
as India avoided any explicit recognition. However, with Modi’s visit, the pol-
icy of ‘equidistance’ or ‘de-hyphenation’ of ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’ was formally
operationalised proclaiming that India’s relations with one country will have no
impact on relations with the other. Conventional academic wisdom attributes
causal determinants to Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel as guided by interna-
tional and domestic factors. This article contends that a constitutive approach
to understanding India’s foreign policy towards Israel and the Middle East offers
a viable alternative. Adopting Gearoid O Tuathail’s theoretical framework of
practical geopolitical reasoning, this article critically explores the geopolitical rep-
resentations of ‘India’, ‘Israel’, ‘Palestine’, ‘West Asia’, ‘South Asia’ and ‘Middle
East’ in the National Democratic Alliance government’s foreign policy discourse
through an analysis of ‘grammar of geopolitics’, ‘geopolitical storylines’ and ‘geo-
political script’. The article demonstrates that re-representation of ‘India’ as a
‘global actor’ and re-representation of ‘Israel’ as a country in ‘West Asia’ have
enabled the Modi-led government to implement India–Israel bilateral partnership
which underscores strategic cooperation in full visibility via overt normalisation.
1 Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.
Corresponding author:
Tanvi Pate, Department of Politics and International Studies, Social Sciences Building, University of
Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
7(1) 7–35, 2020
The Author(s) 2020
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797020906647
Research Article
Creative Commons Non Commercial CC BY-NC: This article is distributed under
the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License
( which permits non-Commercial use,
reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work
is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
8 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 7(1)
India, Israel, West Asia, critical geopolitics, representation, foreign policy
With a charismatic media campaign, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) made a spectacular history by winning the Indian general election in
2014. With the electoral mandate firmly in favour of the BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, speculations in relation to an overt
normalisation of India–Israel bilateral relations became rife. This was partly due
to the BJP’s historical attitude towards Israel. The BJP’s predecessor, the Janata
Party, during its short stint in 1977, had proposed diplomatic relations with Israel
but never enacted upon this stance. However, Narendra Modi’s special affinity
with Israel (Tel Aviv had made considerable investments in the state of Gujarat
when Modi was the chief minister) led to impending predictions of the political
embrace of Indo-Israel ties (Nanda, 2017).
In 2014, the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel but did not visit
Palestine (Sanyal, 2017). Furthermore, in July 2015, India abstained from voting
on a resolution against Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council
(UNHRC) that condemned Israel for the ‘alleged war crimes’ in Gaza offensive
of 2014 (Haidar, 2015). Then Modi undertook a maiden visit to Israel from 4 to 6
July 2017, skipping a visit to Palestine, which resulted in a series of agreements
between India and Israel for cooperation in the fields of space, water management,
agriculture, science and technology (Inbar, 2017). Ostensibly, this diplomatic
sojourn underscored Modi’s ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ innovative that
emphasised joint development of technology (Roy Choudhury, 2017). However,
being the first Prime Minister of India to undertake an official visit to Israel indeed
made a political statement that the Indo-Israel relations were no longer under
wraps (Marlow, Bipindra, & Arnold, 2017). Henceforth, it is going to be a bilateral
relationship that would be ready to confront regional and global strategic
challenges in full visibility.
The change in NDA government’s policy towards Israel is significant. India
and Israel have a chequered past. While India under the Jawaharlal Nehru-led
Indian National Congress (INC) government did recognise Israel in September
1950, bilateral relations remained strained as Nehru’s ‘West Asia policy’ gave
significant consideration to the Arab sentiments and opposed the Zionist project
in Palestine (Blarel, 2015, p. 6). This did not detract from the fact that India did
solicit Israel’s military and intelligence assistance during and after the Sino-
Indian War of 1962. As Nicolas Blarel (2015, p. 158) notes in his assessment of
the evolution of Indo-Israel bilateral ties: ‘In fact, Nehru created a precedent in
obtaining military assistance from Israel without requiring any diplomatic
exchange, or even publicly acknowledging the existence of such security
assistance’. Only on 29 January 1992, under the premiership of P.V. Narasimha
Rao, the Congress government enacted full diplomatic relations with Israel

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