Strategic Hyphenation between India and Israel: The Major Areas of Cooperation and Constraints in the Post-Cold War Era

Published date01 June 2016
Date01 June 2016
Subject MatterArticles
1 Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Bethune College, Kolkata.
Corresponding author:
Debjani Ghosal, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Bethune College,
Strategic Hyphenation
between India and
Israel: The Major
Areas of Cooperation
and Constraints in the
Post-Cold War Era
Debjani Ghosal1
The article explores the steady strengthening of India’s relationship with
Israel, ever since India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in
the year 1992. However, notwithstanding the convergence of interests
on a range of issues between India and Israel, this bilateral relationship
will have to be carefully managed because of a host of constraints which
circumscribe the same. This study examines those factors which are
bringing the two nations increasingly closer and the constraints that
might stand in the way of healthy bilateral relations between them. The
first section of this article deals with those areas where both the nations
cooperate. The second section highlights the various constraints that
make it difficult for this relationship to achieve its full potential. This
article explores how India has intricately tried to maintain a delicate
balance over the years by addressing the areas of constraints in a very
articulate way, so that the Indo-Israeli relations in the post-Cold War
era continue to flourish.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
20(1) 65–101
2016 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0973598416657971
66 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 20(1)
India, Israel, diplomatic relations, cooperation, constraints, delicate balance
India established full-fledged diplomatic relations with Israel in January
1992 and since then has added various facets and features to their ties in
the spheres of defense and security cooperation, cooperation in the field
of counter-terrorism, trade, agriculture, economic cooperation and cultural
exchanges, etc. Former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao deserves
accolades for the normalization of relations with Israel. He boldly over-
ruled the Congress Party’s as well as the government’s objection on
January 29, 1992 for more extensive bilateral exchanges with Israel. The
transformation of Indian policy toward Israel and the establishment of
diplomatic relations are considered to be one of the most important mile-
stones in the history of Indian diplomacy. Those at the helm of policy
making and formulation in both the countries felt that it was a late forging
of friendship between the two countries both of which had emerged from
colonial rule during the same era. Several historical factors also came in
the way of early normalization of this relationship. The most remarkable
and prominent of these factors were the policies adopted by Indian leaders
such as Mahatma Gandhi and the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru
(Kumaraswamy 2010: 30). India’s traditional support for the Arabs during
the conflict in Palestine, closeness with the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel
Nasser, its commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), as well as
the significant influence of its sizeable Muslim population on India’s
domestic politics, reinforced the country’s indifference toward Israel.
Moreover, India’s stance toward Israel throughout the Cold War was
based upon anti-Western and anti-imperialist worldview that was shared
by the Arabs and the Muslim world (Kandel 2009).
Factors Responsible for India’s Policy Shift
toward Israel
The transformation of the global strategic environment toward the late
1980s and the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, India’s
most significant supplier of military equipment, proved to be a serious
national security setback. Also, the 1991 Gulf War revealed a vast array
Ghosal 67
of previously unseen irritants that existed between the Arab states. The
changing situation, therefore, demanded a new Indian policy toward
West Asia. Moreover, India also wanted to get involved in the ‘peace
process’ that was underway in the Middle East during that time. In the
post-Soviet world, India was keen on acquiring US support on both
diplomatic and technological fronts. As a result of these considerations,
India and Israel initiated talks for the establishment of diplomatic ties in
June 1991. These talks were possible primarily due to the covert nature
of the relationship that characterized New Delhi–Tel Aviv ties since three
decades. India’s diplomatic ties with Israel soon turned into a reality.
In this context, it is prudent to consider the factors which facilitated this
policy shift. Normally, in the case of foreign policy decisions it may not
be a single and independent factor that can be accorded absolute respon-
sibility for bringing about changes in policies and programmes, but
multiple factors and often in its totality (Reynolds 1971: 97). In the
particular case of India’s policy vis-à-vis Israel, the factors at work can
be brought under several distinct but interrelated variables.
(a) Changes in the strategic context and the balance of forces: In
the international context there were a series of incidents that made
the international politics of 1990s distinct from that of the Cold War
era. The changes in this spectrum were quite evident with the fall
of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Though, this
made way for the rise of fifteen Independent Republics, the wave
it created in international politics was so severe and drastic that it
marked the beginning of a new era. This era is peculiar due to its
‘de-politicization’ and ‘de-ideologization’ content in international
politics (Yadav 1993: 24). As a result, the ideological rigidity of
the Cold War was loosened and a ‘free’ and ‘unprejudiced’ form of
political interaction emerged in the global scenario. The end of the
Warsaw Pact also considerably diminished the scope of military
alliance and laid way for economic alliances and groupings. Thus,
the economic content assumed greater momentum and importance,
and it occupied the top priority and became the major concern of
each and every state in the post-war context.
Adding to this, the loose bipolarity that characterized the
international system provided ample scope for the surviving
super power, the United States of America (USA), to unilaterally
dominate the emerging world order. This shift from bipolarity to
unipolarity brought about a vast array of corresponding changes

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