India and Israel: The Ties That Bind

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, a doomsday thriller about the Iranian nuclear threat and current geopolitical issues in the Middle East.


india-israel-flagAt first glance, Hindu-majority India, with approximately 1.2 billion people and an entire subcontinent, would seem to have little in common with Jewish-majority Israel, which has only about eight million people living on territory that’s just roughly 15 times the size of India’s capital city. While full diplomatic relations were established between Jerusalem and New Delhi only in 1992, the two countries actually have much in common.

Both countries are homelands for ancient peoples who gained their independence from the British in the 1940s. Both states have gone on to create vibrant, multicultural democracies that have experienced dynamic, technology-driven economic growth. India and Israel each also has a large Muslim minority population, and each faces an ongoing terrorism threat from foreign and domestic Islamic extremists; indeed, both Israelis and Indians were targeted and killed in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Even more serious, India and Israel each faces ballistic missile threats from at least one close, hostile Muslim state. India already faces the nuclear threat posed by Pakistan, and Israel may soon confront the same threat from Iran, if Iranian nukes aren’t stopped.

There is also a blossoming military and commercial relationship between India and Israel. Israel is India’s second largest arms supplier after Russia, and Israeli-Indian military cooperation extends to technology upgrades, joint research, intelligence cooperation, and even space (in 2008, India launched a 300-kilogram Israeli satellite into orbit). Israel has upgraded India’s Soviet-era armor and aircraft and provided India with sea-to-sea missiles, radar and other surveillance systems, border monitoring equipment, night vision devices, and other military support. Bilateral trade reached US $6 billion last year and negotiations began this year for a free trade agreement.

Israeli-Indian cooperation in agriculture and water technology is growing both through government-sponsored initiatives and private business deals. Last year, Israeli and Indian government institutions jointly launched an online network that provides real-time communications between Indian farmers and Israeli agricultural technology experts, and Israel is in the process of setting up 28 agricultural training centers throughout India. Israeli Professor Yoram Oren has been studying the potential use of nano-filtration to filter out harmful textile dyes from India’s polluted Noyyal River. Last June, a delegation of 16 high-ranking Indian officials from the water authorities of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa and Haryana traveled to Israel to visit waste-water treatment plants and meet with some of Israel’s leading environmentalists and agronomists to learn about the desert country’s newest green technologies.

Tata Industries, the multi-billion-dollar Indian company, recently invested $5 million to kick-start the Technology Innovation Momentum Fund at Tel Aviv University’s Ramot technology transfer company. Tata Industries hopes to capitalize on future Israeli innovation, like the algorithm for error correction in flash memory (which is one of the patents filed by Ramot and now inside billions of dollars worth of SanDisk products).

These are but a few examples of the remarkable cooperation between India and Israel. Such a synergistic relationship is unsurprising, given the historically harmonious relations between the peoples of Israel and India.

Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to come to India: the Cochin Jews arrived about 2,500 years ago and settled in the city of Kerala, where they flourished as traders. In addition to the few thousand Jews who live in major Indian cities like Mumbai, there are also some larger Indian communities, like the 8,000 “Bnai Menashe” (from the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur) who claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. While Jews have always been a minuscule religious minority in India, they have historically encountered very little antisemitism. In Israel, about 1% of the Jewish population has Indian ancestry.

In addition to the many historic and economic reasons for India and Israel to strengthen their ties, there are also strong geopolitical motivators. Israel’s tiny land mass (about 21,000 square kilometers) makes the Jewish state particularly vulnerable and compels it to make strategic use of seaborne offensive and defensive military capabilities. A vital component of those capabilities is Israel’s submarine force, which requires friendly waters in which to deploy and maintain such a force — something that the Indian Navy can provide with its dominance of South Asian waters.

With the ongoing security threats posed by India’s nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan, the Kashmir conflict (which recently claimed five Indian soldiers), and potential conflict with the other Asian heavyweight (China), India needs the kind of military edge that Israel can help it to obtain. Insofar as India provides an Asian counterweight to Chinese dominance, a powerful India bolstered by Israeli technological expertise is also in the interest of smaller Asian countries and the United States.

One area where India could deepen its alliance with both Israel and the U.S. is on the issue of Iranian nukes. India, the second largest importer of Iranian crude oil after China, won its third 180-day waiver from U.S. sanctions last June after reducing its oil purchases from Iran. But in 2012, Iran and India agreed to trade in rupees for shipments of oil, rice, sugar and soybeans, to circumvent U.S. financial sanctions on Iranian oil shipments. And Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals is now reportedly receiving a cargo of Iranian crude, after a 4-month hiatus, with Hindostan Petroleum also restarting imports soon. Iran may also become the top buyer of soybean meal from India for a second straight year, as Iran turns to Asia’s biggest exporter to replace imports disrupted by Western sanctions.

While India has its own commercial interests, India also has a strong interest in a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. India’s economic and diplomatic clout can help to pressure Iran into a compromise that prevents a catastrophic Middle East war. Such a regional conflagration could spread beyond the Middle East and, in any case, would send India’s energy costs skyrocketing, disrupt global trade, and dangerously destabilize India’s geopolitical backyard.

India’s history of religious tolerance stands in stark contrast to that of Iran’s. Indeed, one of India’s religious minorities, the Zoroastrians, have been fleeing persecution in the territory that is today Iran (Persia) for about 1,200 years. Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been regarded as one of the world’s worst offenders against freedom of religion. Iran’s vicious human rights abuses and undemocratic political system are also well known. Would India want such a country to have nuclear weapons? Isn’t Pakistan enough?

As a responsible member of the nuclear club, a fellow democracy, and one of the greatest rising world powers, India should approach the Iranian nuclear issue as an opportunity to demonstrate how growing Indian clout can promote global security and curb extremist, undemocratic regimes like the Islamic Republic. By deepening India’s ties with other innovative and economically advanced democracies like the United States and Israel, India can better secure its own interests and position itself for continued growth and leadership in a more stable world.

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, a war novel about Iranian nukes and an Israeli submarine with an Indian Jew on board.

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  • TheOrdinaryMan

    Great article. In the event of a war against Israel, the jihadists and other assorted trouble-makers will find that the world is a complicated place, after all.

  • georgejochnowitz

    Inda and Israel would have become allies long ago if Gandhi had not been an antisemite.
    http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/AntiSemitism.html

    • Jillian Becker

      Gandhi was not an antisemite. He lived with two Jews on Tolstoy Farm outside Johannesburg. When he said the Jews should have offered their throats to the Nazi knife (or whatever he said along those lines), he was propagating his pacifism, not antisemitisim. In other words he was being foolish, not evil – as through most of his political life.

    • Feisty Redhead, Roselle, IL

      Gandhi was certainly no saint!

      • victoryman

        A saint only to those who wrote revisionist history…….and continue to do so today.

  • Marty

    India may be Israel’s new best friend. They share the same existential threat to their existence from the islamic world. Over the last millenium 80 million Hindus have been slaughtered by muslims; tens of millions of others have been forcibly converted or enslaved. Yes, these two nations have a great deal in common.

    • Feisty Redhead, Roselle, IL

      Absolutely India and Israel should be the best allies in the world.

    • victoryman

      I’m sure that this slaughter of Hindus, the forced conversion to Islam and the enslavement of others by the Islamic hordes is fully taught in today’s schools…….not. The government/union “Teachers” are too busy propagandizing the students on the “Religion of Peace.” Thank you Marty, for your brief, FACTUAL statement on history. It should be read by all.

      • defcon 4

        I’m certain the same lies of omission about islam0nazi atrocities and slavery are taught in US universities, colleges and grade schools.

  • meh

    Kerala is not a city in India. Its a state. I wonder what else could be factually incorrect in this article…

    • Feisty Redhead, Roselle, IL

      You must be a radical Islamist!

  • mikeh420

    Both countries are victims of Muslim hordes showing up and claiming others’ land as theirs. They have a Common Enemy, as does all mankind.

    • victoryman

      Well stated, mikeh420. Unfortunately, we have “Leadership” in our country busily aiding and abetting our enemies. The barbarians are no longer at the gates, they are now in our cities…….and in our “Government.”

  • INTOLERANTOFEVIL

    India is a land of cowards, Israel should use it’s nuclear weapons on the muslim countries of the world. Then they should use nuclear weapons on the liberal cities of this country, all our problems would be solved…..

  • Danny

    India hasn’t been walking along the edge of a knife since its creation. India and its Hindu population of over a billion is not a hare’s breadth away from complete annihilation the way Israel and its 7 million Jews are. However, aside from that distinction, there are many similarities between the two countries, most notably, that they both have a Muslim population that wants to destroy them. As a Jew, my experiences with Hindus have always been based on mutual understanding and solidarity. Since the coming of President Obama, it seems that Israel could have (and indeed should have) India as its closest ally (along with Canada).

    • victoryman

      A quote from the golfer-in-chief. “India? Canada? I haven’t heard of them……..maybe I read about them in the papers.” The vacationer-in -chief is careful not to have pictures taken of him next to Stephen Harper….who is the TRUE, strong, respected leader in our hemisphere. A picture of them together could be captioned, “The leader and the mouse.”

    • defcon 4

      Ah yes, Canada where a rabbi was strong-armed into dis-inviting Pamela Geller to his synagogue and there were no repercussions for the law enforcement entities doing to the strong-arming.

  • victoryman

    When was the last time the vacationer-in-chief uttered the word, “India?” I rest my case.

    • Headed4TheHills

      *Obama standin’ at a podium*
      “Why, if I had a country it would look like Syria…uh…India…yeah, I meant India…”

  • defcon 4

    A quisling by any other name…

  • Din Ali

    The author of this article have a little knowledge of religions and History. The Jews and the Hindus are not the “Universal States”. But the Muslims and Christians are the Universal States. Both these States have so many twists and Turns. Whenever these Universal states have death in one Region, they get the Birth in the other region and are on the earth since the centures and will live for the centuries.
    As for the India’s Hindus and Israeli Jews are concerned, the region faith of both is altogether differet. They have ties for the present only for little purpose. Jews are dishonest and the Hindus are Coward. And Gandhi was responsible for the creation of Muslim State of Pakistan because he did not give the rights to Muslims in India when they formed governments in six provinces of India after 1936 elections. Hece Muslims united themselves uder the banner of All India Muslim Leage headed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

    • Feisty Redhead, Roselle, IL

      Hindus are coward? Hahahhaha. Pakistan got defeated by India in all 3 of its wars!! Hindus are not bloodthirsty like Muslims! By the way Ali Jinnah’s parents were originally Hindu, and his grandparents were Hindus. Benzair Bhutto’s mother was a Hindu Rajput. Time for you to read the history, Mr. Radical Islamist!

      • Headed4TheHills

        Feisty, yer feedin’ the trolls again.

  • georgejochnowitz

    I suspect–I have no proof–that Gandhi’s antisemitism may be connected with his falling in love with a Jewish man and feeling guilty about it for the rest of his life.

  • Guest

    I don’t know why the Musilm still reside in India because when divide and make it Pakistan then still want to make Pakistan recently

  • class

    why when at that time the Partition done then why make India again a muslin nation the population Increases and many ..many riots like in U.P or shreenagar and rest part of India this will the force the future is not going good because riots are increasing and giving the proof that when Muslim in majority another pakistan created the mistake done by Gandhi going to suffer all other religion people who is not Muslim if India want to save then keep low like china only 2 children because Nation first…..