At the Maccabiah games held in Israel during July 2013, a contingent of 28 Indian Jews competed with 9000 Jewish athletes from more than 70 countries in the 38 sports contested. The members of the contingent won no medals but their team did beat the British team at cricket. Impressive though this triumph in Tel Aviv may be, far more important is the increasingly cordial relationship between Israel and India.
Cordiality was not always the case. India voted against the November 29, 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution that led to the creation of Israel. It voted in 1949 against Israel becoming a member of the United Nations. It did recognize the existence of Israel as a state in 1950. This position was supported by Hindu organizations throughout the country while the ruling Congress party appeased the Muslim population. But India, a founding member of the nonaligned movement and essentially pro-Arab in its policy positions, did not establish formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state until January 1992. At that point J. N. Dixit, the Indian foreign minister, complained, “What have the Arabs given us?”
The relationship between the two countries has been uneven depending on the policies of the different Indian political leaders in power, though official contacts have been maintained. The relationship cannot be termed an alliance but clearly closer relations have been developing in recent years. India, conscious for many years of the power and the influence of the Soviet Union, supposedly anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist, concerned to placate Arab opinion, worried about energy supplies from the Gulf states, and always anxious about the more than 120 million Muslims in its population, has since the fall of the Soviet Union become aware of the benefits gained from cooperation with Israel. The benefits have largely been in the area of mutual trade, but both countries have experienced security problems, difficulties with Muslim minorities and have been confronted by Islamist terrorists. To this end a joint anti-terror commission was set up in 2000 to deal with the problem of Islamist extremists.
The present reality is that bilateral trade between the two countries, about $200 million in 2001, amounted in 2010 to $4.7 billion, and in 2013 to $6.6 billion, in addition to a $50 million academic research arrangement. India is now Israel’s second largest export market, and its eighth largest trading partner. Israel has access to the Indian domestic market while Indians have access to Israel’s high technology sector. In 2013, negotiations began for a free trade agreement involving technology, biotechnology, and agriculture. Already there is a three-year agricultural agreement according to which Israel helps Indian farmers; it has set up 28 agricultural training centers in 10 of the Indian states.
Indian officials appreciate the value of Israeli expertise. By an agreement of May 2005 for joint endeavors five areas have been listed as priorities in a number of technology fields: nanotechnology, biotechnology, water management, alternative energy, and space and aeronautics.