Indian-Israeli Relations Value to India’s Interests

Indian-Israeli Relations Valuable to India’s National Interests?

Today, India stands at an important juncture in its historical development. Following its independence from Britain in 1948, the years that followed have been turbulent ones for India, with a relentless series of political, military and economic challenges confronting the country time and again. Despite these challenges, India has emerged in the 21st center as an increasingly important actor within the international community and has enjoyed steady economic growth for the past two decades. Notwithstanding its enormous geographic size and population, though, India continues to perceive a number of external threats, most especially with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue and relations with much of the Arab world that have often been ambivalent or even hostile. In this environment, forging a foreign policy that ensures that India’s national interests are protected while continuing the path to larger integration in the international community represents a difficult but important enterprise. To determine the historical basis for the current issues facing India in this regard, this study provides a review of the relevant literature concerning Indian foreign policy in general and its foreign policy positions with Israel in particular. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview

With a population of more than 1,100,000,000 people and an economy that has experienced steady and impressive growth for the past 20 years (India 2010), India is the world’s largest democracy and is well positioned to become an increasingly important actor in the international community in the future. For example, Berlin emphasizes that, “One of the key milestones in world history has been the rise to prominence of new and influential states in world affairs. The recent trajectory of India suggests strongly that this state will play a more powerful role in the world in the coming decades” (2006:58). This point is also made by Ghoshal who emphases that, “The theme of India’s power and influence in world affairs is not new. India’s enormous size especially in terms of its population, rich natural resources and its strategic location together with a civilizational past has long convinced Indian leaders of an imperative for playing an international role” (2003:521).

The evolving international role that India will occupy in the years to come appears to be inextricably interwoven with how it deals with Israel. In this regard, Menon and Pandey emphasize that, “The transformation in the relationship between India and Israel, from one that was at best cool and correct to one that is now hailed as a strategic alignment is among the striking changes in the post-Cold War landscape” (2005:29). This transformation in foreign policy has received the full support and encouragement of the international community in general and Israeli, Indian and American observers in particular (Menon & Pandey 2005). According to these authorities, “They believe that its potential significance extends well beyond the dense network of transactions that has developed between the two sides, and out across the entire region of South Asia and the Greater Middle East” (Menon & Pandey 2005:30).

Although India and Israel have experienced a fundamental shift in their respective foreign policy stances with respect to each other over the years, there are some important issues involved in this complicated relationship that may create difficulties in the future (Menon & Pandey 2005). In this regard, Menon and Pandey note that, “Both friends and foes of the alignment between India and Israel see it as an important development. Only once this much ballyhooed entente faces trials that require tough tradeoffs will we know whether it will be limited to mutual gains provided by arms sales and the flow of commerce” (2005:30). Suggesting that it is still too early to gauge the long-term implications of this sea change in foreign policy on the part of India with respect to normalizing and improving relations with Israel, Menon and Pandey conclude that, “Such exchanges would still put India and Israel on a new road, but they will not amount to a strategic partnership that could change the balance of power in pivotal regions. For now, the safe bet is that the collaboration between India and Israel will meet the expectations of neither its foremost proponents nor its most fervent critics” (2005:30).

As can be seen from the political map of India at Appendix a, the country, like Israel, is geographically located in a strategic region of the world, and the countries that neighbor India as well as other major actors, including Israel, with interests in the area have all played a formative role in its foreign policy decision-making over the years (Berlin 2006). According to Berlin, “Over the past few years, India has placed itself on a path to achieve, potentially, the regional influence in the Indian Ocean to which it has aspired. India’s links with the most important external actors in the Indian Ocean — the United States, Japan, Israel, and France-also have been strengthened” (2006:58). These improve relationships are due in large part to the burgeoning Indian economy to be sure, but there have been some notable refinements in India’s foreign policy as well. In this regard, Berlin adds that, “These are significant achievements, and they derive from India’s growing economic clout and from a surer hand visible today in Indian diplomacy” (2006:58).

The concept of Indian national interest is expressed in part in the manner in which it pursues its foreign policy goals. Modern Indian foreign policy can be traced to the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 and the installation of Jawaharlal Nehru as its first prime minister (Wadlow 2003). According to Wadlow, “Nehru was able to play a high profile role in world politics, especially at the start of the Cold War and as a mediator in the 1950-1953 Korean War, which some feared was the forerunner of a broader armed conflict. Indian diplomats were also able to work on compromise formulas during the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China” (2003:90). Although allowed a great deal of latitude in establishing foreign policy goals and developing a unique diplomatic Indian style, Nehru experienced a number of significant foreign policy challenges early on, including when the issue of the partitioning of Pakistan erupted into country-wide inter-religious violence and the Kashmir issue (Wadlow 2003). According to U.S. analysts, “Communal violence led to the subcontinent’s bloody partition, which resulted in the creation of two separate states, India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought three wars since independence, the last of which in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh. India’s nuclear weapons tests in 1998 caused Pakistan to conduct its own tests that same year” (India 2010:3). Although the two countries have not used their nuclear weapons against each other, the potential for this eventuality hangs heavy over the region as well as the rest of the world. From India’s perspective, nuclear weapons are just part of the arsenal it needs to ensure its survival in a hostile world. In this regard, Karp emphasizes that, “For India, a nuclear weapons capability is an issue that defines national uniqueness. The end of the Cold War provoked a crisis of credibility for Indian foreign policy, which found itself unable to adjust to a world without the Soviet Union, dominated by economic globalization and American political leadership” (1998:14). Despite its nuclear capability, India’s foreign policy was mired in stagnated economic development pool. As Karp puts it, “India’s attempt at economic liberalization began in 1991 but quickly stalled, keeping foreign investment low and suppressing growth” (1998:14). Moreover, India’s foreign policy during the closing decade of the 20th century was largely based on reacting negatively to the United States and its allies. According to Karp, “Indian commentators have been highly critical of the country’s indecisive foreign policy that is seemingly based only on opposition to the United States. This policy manifests itself in areas as diverse as opposition to pressure on Iraq, criticism of NATO expansion and particularly with regard to arms control and disarmament issues” (1998:14). There has been one issue on which virtually all Indian policymakers agree, though, and that is its right to possess nuclear weapons without restrictions of any type from the international community. As Karp points out, “One clear cornerstone of New Delhi’s foreign policy-something on which Indians of every political stripe can agree is opposition to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)” (1998:14). Although most of the international community has supported the NPT, India and Israel remains two of the last three holdouts for much the same reasons (Karp 1998). Both India and Israel have good reason to be wary about the promises made by the international community and both countries have experienced attempts by its neighbors to eradicate them from the world map. Although other countries have expressed their reservations about the NPT, India is unique in its outspoken criticisms of the pact. According to Karp, ”

Where India stands apart is in its long-standing moral opposition to what it considers to be the discriminatory basis of the NPT-dividing the world in the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ Indians across the political spectrum, especially the country’s powerful nuclear weapons establishment, are critical of the NPT, arguing that it unfairly warps international hierarchies to the disadvantage of the non-nuclear-weapon states” (1998:15). In its efforts to balance the pressures from the international community with its own self-interests in formulating foreign policies, the position adopted by India has been starkly different than other countries. In this regard, Karp concludes that, “Most states party to the NPT accept the unfairness of the treaty as a tradeoff that serves their own and global interests. India’s leaders insist that fair and genuine nuclear disarmament must start with the nuclear-weapon states themselves, a demand formalized by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in his 1990 global nuclear disarmament initiative” (Karp 1998:14).

As a result of these events, the 20th century witnessed the formation of various positions in Indian foreign policy that would endure throughout the Cold War era and beyond (Wadlow 2003). These foreign policy positions were primarily based on India’s official foreign policy of nonalignment, an approach that was adopted early on in an effort to help India maintain its independence and navigate its way in a bipolar world (Ghoshal 2003). According to Ghoshal, India’s foreign policy of nonalignment “was aimed at drawing economic and technological aid for development from both powers as well as to provide an alternative model of international relations in a world which was then intensely bipolar” (2003:521). The objectives of India’s foreign policy was to establish a buffer zone between the polarized blocs of the international community and minimize the potential for conflict with an ultimate goal of creating a new world order in which there were more than two primary spheres of influence (Ghoshal 2003). According to Ghoshal, the nonalignment stance adopted by India provided the country with influence that far outweighed its economic and military clout. For instance, Ghoshal notes that nonalignment “made it possible for India to maintain normal relations with all the major world powers, with varying degrees of warmth and intimacy, while facilitating the flow of technical and financial assistance from the two ideological blocs. In short, nonalignment gave India the maximum possible dividends in a bipolar world” (2003:521). Clearly, nonalignment during the 20th century was in India’s best interests, but nonaligned does not mean disinterested and India’s foreign policy has shifted as events required. In this regard, Heo and Horowitz note that, “India’s approach to alignment, both during and after the Cold War, is a defining characteristic of Indian foreign policy, but one which was subject to shifts and reinterpretation. Similarly, India’s strong stance on disarmament and arms control was based on moral assumptions apparently at odds with its decision to test and deploy nuclear weapons” (2003:139).

In addition, India’s propensity to employ military force as a means of achieving political goals has differed dramatically over time since the country’s independence (Heo & Horowitz 2003). For example, in 1962, India fought a frontier conflict with China. According to Wadlow, “The conflict was widely considered a defeat for India and India was seen as an unsuccessful state in the international system” (2003:90). This point is also made by Ghoshal who reports, “India’s profile and influence, however, were not always balanced during this period; both external and internal factors combined (in the later years of the Nehru era and after), to deprive non-alignment some of its elan and effectiveness” (2003:521). This outcome, of course, was not what Indian policymakers viewed as being in their best interests and even the addition of nuclear capabilities did little to reverse these trends at the time. In this regard, Ghoshal adds that, “Externally, India’s defeat at the hands of China in 1962 proved to be a major setback, and the relationship of near-permanent hostility with Pakistan exercised a disabling effect on India’s foreign policy. Internally it was seen as a crisis-ridden country with poor economic performance. Militarily, it could not elevate itself to the status of a major power as China did by exercising its nuclear option in 1964 despite its poor economic base” (2003:521).

Based on the widespread perception among the international community that India had been weakened by the conflict with China, India’s foreign policy was further constrained concerning which direction the country should turn in its efforts to maintain a nonaligned status while receiving the assistance it so desperately needed to overcome these setbacks. As Ghoshal points out:

Since nothing blights more the image of a nation than failure, the defeat at the hand of the Chinese conjured up an international perception of India whose attributes were that of a country which had become weak, incoherent, unable to defend its own interests, and which had to turn to the outside for help and protection. Nothing is forgiven in international relations, least of all the defeat of a country that has the normative pretensions of building a self-reliant and self-sustaining nation. (Ghoshal 2003:521)

In response to these failures on the part of the Indian government, the prime minister was accused by Indian policymakers of having been negligent with respect to the Chinese threat but Nehru died before he could take steps to reverse these perceptions of India as being a weak and ineffective state (Wadlow 2003). His daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister during the period 1965 to 1977 and 1980 through 1984 when she was assassinated (Wadlow 2003). Prime Minister Gandhi also experienced some distinct challenges during her tenure, and while she made an effort to reformulate India’s foreign policy to rebuild India’s image abroad, the situation had changed in fundamental ways by the time these efforts were made and they were largely ineffective. In this regard, Wadlow notes that, “Although there were still crises, the Cold War had become stable, and neither Russians nor Americans felt the need for intermediaries (Wadlow 2003:90). Consequently, India shifted its foreign policy directions from the international community to a more regional level, especially the issue of the independence of Bangladesh (Wadlow 2003). As Wadlow points out, “After Nehru, things began to change. The balance slowly tilted in favor of regionalism. While the global policy began to gradually lose its luster, its coherence, its framework, and, what is more, its importance, the broad contours of a regional policy began to emerge — a policy that was more coherent, more pragmatic, more national-oriented and more forceful” (2003:90).

Thereafter, India’s foreign policy became more militaristic in nature. According to Heo and Horowitz, “Under Indira and her son Rajiv Gandhi, Indian foreign policy became more militarized, including a series of provocative military exercises in 1986-87 and a disastrous intervention in Sri Lanka from 1987-90” (2003:141). Therefore, during this era in India’s history, the primary focus of Indian foreign policy was directed at regional issues in an effort to extend its influence in ways that would benefit its self-interest. In fact, the 1980s witnessed a brief rise in the influence wielded by the Indian military in formulating foreign policy. According to Heo and Horowitz, “The combination of an inexperienced prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi), a charismatic and intellectual chief of army staff (General K. Sundarji), and a quiet but brilliant civilian administrator and planner (Arun Singh) led to a far more aggressive use of military coercion and much higher defense budgets” (2003:143). In response to Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, India conducted a large military exercise along the border with Pakistan, an exercise that resulted in yet another political crisis for the country (Heo & Horowitz 2003). From Pakistan’s perspective, the staging of such an exercise on its border was an alarming escalation in tensions between the two countries that could easily become a full-blown war. In this regard, Heo and Horowitz note that, “This demonstration of Indian military capability, larger than any previous military exercise and including virtually all of India’s mechanized units, could easily have been expanded into an actual invasion. Virtually simultaneous maneuvers and exercises were held on the Chinese border, with similar results” (2003:143). In addition, during the 1980s, the Indian military establishment was included as part of the foreign policy planning process for the use of nuclear capabilities (Heo & Horowitz 2003). Taken together, it is apparent that Indian foreign policy has managed to keep the country independent and reasonable secure, but the world stage has changed in the meantime creating the need for additional refinements in Indian foreign policy with regards to states such as Israel, and these issues are discussed further below.

Historical Aspects of Israeli/Indian Relations

The Palestine Question. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Palestinians and many countries in the Arab world placed the blame for continuing violence in the Middle East squarely on the United States for failing to restrain Israel; conversely, Israel cites the tendency for the United States to ignore violence by the Palestinians (Elahi 2002). The Madrid peace process in October 1991, though, served to improve Israel’s international stature (Karsh 2003). A willingness to compromise where compromise was never an option was the driving force behind this shift in international perception. According to Karsh, “The willingness of the Arabs and the Palestinians to seek a negotiated settlement altered the basic rules of the Arab-Israeli conflict. By its very nature, a negotiated settlement implied the willingness of both parties to abandon their maximalist demands and to seek a compromise solution” (2003:266). The peace process initiated in 1991, then, also served as the basis for a change in Indian foreign policy with respect to Israel. In this regard, Karsh notes that, “Once the Arab states and the Palestinians embarked on this course, there was no compelling reason for India to maintain the status quo. The absence of fundamental conflicts between India and Israel eroded any need to continue the situation of non-relations” (2003:266).

The peace process initiated in 1991 also served to demarcate the end of Israel’s extended isolation from the international community in both political and diplomatic terms (Karsh 2003). In a dramatic shift from previous policy positions concerning Israel, many countries took this opportunity to normalize relations, including China in January 1992 (Kumaraswamy 1998). According to Karsh, “India’s ability to play any meaningful role in the Middle East peace process depended on its willingness to establish normal relations with all parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict including Israel. Not to be left out of the process, India announced its decision within days after the Chinese move” (Karsh 2003:266). The decision to normalize relations with Israel signaled a new direction in Indian foreign policy that was characterized by a recognition of the need for improved relations with the international community to facilitate trade, arrange mutual security agreements and other outcomes that would favor its self-interests. In this regard, Karsh emphases that Indian’s decision to normalize relations with Israel “appears to have been a considered move aimed at seeking a balance and pragmatism in Indian foreign policy. By becoming a prisoner of its idealism and rhetoric, India had divorced itself from political realism, with consistency ironically becoming the guiding principle of its policy towards the ever-turbulent Middle East” (2003:266). More importantly, perhaps, this new pragmatic direction in Indian foreign policy was not easily derailed and Indian policymakers adhered to this approach even when it became unilateral. For instance, according to Karsh, “While extending political support for the Arab and Islamic countries of the region, it was unable and unwilling to seek reciprocity. Even the political and military support of some of these countries for Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistani wars did not modify this trend” (2003:266). By normalizing relations with Israel, Indian policymakers sought to level the playing field in ways that would benefit India while avoiding regional entanglements that could derail the process. For instance, J.N. Dixit, the Foreign Secretary (Permanent Under-secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs) for India stated at relations with Israel were normalized, “What have the Arabs given us, if I may ask? Did they vote for us in the Kashmir issue? Were they supportive of us when we had the East Pakistan crisis [in 1971]?'” (quoted in Karsh 2003:267). It is reasonable to suggest that Indian policymakers were relieved that the normalization of relations with Israel did not provoke any negative reaction from the region, although some countries in the Arab world expressed their displeasure with the initiative (Karsh 2003). Indeed, despite concerns over an adverse reaction by Arab states, the normalized relations with Israel did not negatively affect the ability of India from forging improved relationships with several countries in the Middle East that were in India’s self-interest (Karsh 2003). For instance, Karsh emphasizes that, “The improved ties with Iran and the highly publicized visit of President Hashemi Rafsanjani in April 1995 offered a vivid demonstration that normalization did not inhibit India from improving its relations with other countries of the region” (Karsh 2003:267). The relations between India and Israel were formally normalized in 1992 by the establishment of an Indian embassy in Israel’s capital, a move that was reciprocated by Israel shortly thereafter (Karsh 2003).

The 2006 Lebanon War. The brief but bloody 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon drew criticisms from a number of Indian policymakers who were in power at the time. The facts, though, did not support such a condemnation from the perspective of many international observors. What is known is that in July 2006, a number of militants from the Shia group, Hezbollah, staged a border intrusion from Lebanon into Israel, in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two were abducted back into Lebanon (Rill & Davis 2008). In response to the border invasion, deaths of eight Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared the actions by Hezbollah an act of war, notified the government in Lebanon that included members of Hezbollah that Israel was holding them responsible for the incursion and called for the return of the two abducted Israeli soldiers (Rill & Davis 2008). Based on the facts that emerged at the time, the U.S. government also assigned responsibility for the border incursion to Hezbollah, and added that both Iran and Syria, as active supporters of Hezbollah, should also be held accountable for the border incursion, deaths and abductions (Rill & Davis 2008). In response to these demands by Israel, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah went to far as to acknowledge that Lebanon was holding the two Israeli soldiers hostage and that Hezbollah group members being held prisoner in Israel would have to be released before Lebanon would consider releasing the two Israeli soldiers (Rill & Davis 2008).

Not satisfied by this response from the Lebanese leader, the response by Israel was unequivocal, swift and forceful. According to Rill and Davis, “Within hours of the incursion, Israel had launched a counter-strike into Lebanon, bombing the airport in the capital city of Beirut and a range of targets in southern Lebanon which it said were connected with Hezbollah” (2008:609). Over the next several weeks, Hezbollah responded with numerous rocket attacks targeting northern Israel (Rill & Davis 2008). Although the military exchanges only lasted slightly more than a month, they caused more than one thousand deaths and thousands of injuries on both sides (Rill & Davis 2008). After the UN brokered a ceasefire between the warring belligerents, Israel started to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon in mid-August 2006, and assisted by UN peacekeepers, Lebanese military forces attempted to reestablish order and stability in their country (Rill & Davis 2008). As Rill and Davis point out, this bloody exchange was viewed in starkly differently ways in different parts of the world. “This event was of substantial significance,” they advise, “widely covered by news media outlets throughout the world. However, various international media covered this story in very different ways, or with very different frames” (Rill & Davis 2008:609). In this regard, India chose to interpret the retaliation by Israel negatively, due in large part to pressures from religious fundamentalists in the country to abandon its secular government. According to Kapila, “India’s condemnation of Israel over its military operations in Lebanon through a resolution in Parliament was avoidable. It has arisen from the Leftists pressure in the Coalition Government and the other disparate political groupings that masquerade as ‘secularists’ but in reality pander to Indian Muslim vote banks” (2006:2). In addition, India also condemned the more recent bloodshed over the Gaza Strip settlements by Israel in 2008. According to a recent report from India Times, although the Indian government criticized Israel for the military actions, it did acknowledge the provocation it was responding to in the region. In this regard, the report notes that, “While India is aware of the cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks, particularly against targets in southern Israel, it urges an immediate end to the use of force against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip that has resulted in large numbers of casualties” (India says end conflict, but takes note of Hama missiles too 2008:2-3). These criticisms follow the pattern of the Indian government viewing these actions by Israel as using “disproportionate retaliation” (India says end conflict 2008:3).

Notwithstanding these setbacks in bilateral relations between India and Israel, the two countries have apparently recognized that improved relations are in their mutual best interests, including their economic interests which are discussed further below.

Economic Aspects of Israeli/Indian Relations

Currently, the economic aspects of the Indo-Israeli relationship are far outweighed by its strategic importance, with neither country registering so much as a blip on the other’s major trading partner radar as can be seen in Table 1 and 2 and Figure 1 and 2 below.

Table 1

Major Export Partners: India

Export Partner

Percentage of Exports

United Arab Emirates


United States




Figure 1. Percentage of Exports to Major Export Partners: India

Table 2

Major Export Partners: Israel

Export Partner

Percentage of Exports

United States


Hong Kong




Figure 2. Percentage of Exports to Major Export Partners: India

Source: World Factbook, 2010

There are signs that the levels of trade between Israel and India are increasing and will continue to do so in the future, although this trade remains primarily focused on arms deals. In this regard, Karsh reports that, “Since the start of normalization in the early 1990s, India and Israel have significantly consolidated their security cooperation. Without much publicity and disclosures both countries are silently pursuing serious discussions, dialogues and dealings in the military and security spheres” (2003:267). A significant amount of these negotiations have involved arms sales as well as collaborative efforts intended to promote the mutual security of the two countries. According to Karsh, the pace of trade is also increasing. For instance, Karsh notes that, “During the first six years after normalization there were over 50 defence-related exchanges and developments between the two countries. Prolonged neglect and indifference do not appear to be inhibiting both countries from pursuing military transactions and cooperation” (Karsh 2003:267).

Political Aspects of Israeli/Indian Relations

The past decade or so has witnessed an across-the-board shift in the political relationship between Israel and India. According to Sandler, this shift is part of a larger process involving other members of the international community: “Israel’s improved international standing, expressed in the restoration of diplomatic relations with almost all the African states, renewed relations with all the Eastern European states and the establishment for the first time of diplomatic relations with India, may have generated a process of change of attitudes toward the international community” (1999:270).


Any serious evaluation of the emerging relations between the two countries cannot ignore certain trends as well as impediments. There is a greater Indian reluctance to maintain high-level political contacts with Israel. In the absence of prolonged relations, political contacts provide both a framework and an impetus for greater co-operation between the two countries. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin apparently made an unsuccessful bid to visit India during a state visit to the Far East. Likewise, prolonged persuasion from the military establishment preceded the decision to post a military attache in Israel. There are indications that India is yet to integrate and internalize Israel into its Middle-East policy. Like the U.S. State Department, the Indian foreign-policy establishment is largely staffed by Arabists, and a significant number of the diplomats posted to Israel have previously served in, or would be going to, Arab countries. Historical legacy, economic interests and geo-strategic considerations necessitate a pro-Arab stand. This is further compounded by Israel’s inability to integrate itself as a Middle Eastern power. Consequently, any proposal emanating from the Indian mission in Tel Aviv would have to be weighed against possible repercussions from other parts of the region. Even well-meaning proposals are naturally buried in the bureaucratic muddle in New Delhi and inevitably lead to delay and indecision. (Karsh 2003:269).

The election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister in May 1996 further complicated the picture. The slowing of the peace process during his tenure considerably weakened Israel’s diplomatic position. A number of Arab and Islamic countries which had sought semi-official ties with Israel either froze or suspended the process of normalization. The Netanyahu government’s confrontation with the Clinton administration was further compounded by the conservative and inward-looking worldview of some of its coalition partners. India was not immune to these developments (Karsh 2003:269).

Israel’s policies towards China and Pakistan do pose certain concerns in India. Rarely discussed in public, Israel’s military co-operation with China does threaten some of India’s strategic interests. Despite the disagreements over the nature and extent of this relationship, it is generally agreed that since the 1970s Israeli-Chinese military co-operation has involved technological transfers and upgrading. Such cooperation not only enhances the capabilities and modernization programs of China but also improves the quality of its arms exports. As a traditional customer of China, Pakistan would thus indirectly benefit from this military cooperation. (Karsh 2003)

Moreover, even while seeking relations with India, Israel has long sought to court Pakistan. There are indications that these overtures have not gone unreciprocated and representatives of both countries have been in regular contact and even reached limited understanding over sensitive matters. Although India should not be unduly concerned about Israel’s relations with its immediate neighbors and historic rivals, it cannot be indifferent to any close strategic co-operation and partnership between the Jewish state and China and Pakistan (Karsh 2003)

The Global War on Terrorism. Today, Israel and India remain two of the three countries with nuclear capabilities that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (the other is Pakistan) (Miller & Scheinman 2003). Following reluctant approval by the United States, Israel is believed to have first started development efforts for nuclear weapons in 1969 culminating in a test in 1979, and India is known to have detonated a nuclear device in 1974 (Miller & Scheinman 2003). Much of the rationale in support of allowing India to pursue peaceful nuclear technology is based on the “importance of strengthening ties with the ‘world’s largest democracy’ that is also an ally of the United States and Israel in the war against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism” (Miller & Scheinman 2003:15). According to Ghoshal, “The end of the Cold War has opened new opportunities for India to refashion its relations with other states, such as France and Israel — the former in the context of a common concern over American hegemony, and the latter in the backdrop of both being the victims of terrorist threats” (2003:521). There are some constraints, though, involved in analyzing India’s foreign policy in this area because of a lack of transparency for security purposes, but Karsh adds that, “While both sides are extremely reluctant to discuss the issue, it appears that this relationship is not confined to Israeli arms sales to India” (2003:521). The Indo-Israeli relationship has become increasingly characterized by mutual interests in regional and maritime security as well as intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism activities (Karsh 2003). As Karsh concludes, “Numerous strategic projects presently undertaken by both countries are not different and provide the basis for a strategic partnership. India’s searches for technology and Israel’s need for economizing defence research are complementary and can be the foundation for any sustained and long-term partnership” (2003:521).

There has in fact been a growing need for such a sustained and long-term partnership between Israel and India in the ongoing global war on terrorism. For instance, in 1993 (Kurlantzick 2006) and again in November 2008, terrorists allegedly originating from Pakistan conducted a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial capital (India 2010). According to Kurlantzick, “People in Delhi cannot help but consider the India-Israel comparison — and for many, Israel looks good. Just as Israel has called out Hezbollah for its brutal rocket attacks and then denounced Iranian and Syrian support for the Shia militia, India’s prime minister has declared that groups in Pakistan — including, potentially, Pakistan’s intelligence service — supported the Mumbai bombers” (2006:3).

The Conflict in Kashmir and the Israeli View. The controversy over Kashmir represents a real obstacle to stability in the region. According to Kurlantzick, “Just as they want a tougher response, many Indians also realize that their own military balance makes it impossible. Unlike Lebanon or Syria, which can hurt Israel but remain weaker militarily than Israel, Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, and could decimate Indian cities” (2006:4). As noted above, both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, and they came dangerously close to using them during conflicts over Kashmir (Kurlantzick 2006). Despite the relatively limited use of military force in the past against Pakistan, there remains a terrorist threat that originates there. Notwithstanding this overarching foreign policy dilemma, there are also domestic threats to consider. For example, according to Wadlow, “Although the Kashmir issue was taken to the United Nations and was one of the first major issues which the UN had to face, relations with Pakistan, the integration of refugees and relations with the domestic Muslim population have always been the focus of domestic political activity” (2003:91). The Kashmir problem as well as many of the other foreign policy issues at stake for India have frequently revolved around the role being played by the United States at the time, and these issues are discussed further below.

Role of the United States. The United States is walking a fine foreign policy line with India. The country’s strategic importance, particularly with respect to Pakistan, places it at the forefront of countries that can help prosecute the global war on terrorism. Like some other countries such as Turkey, though, the national government of India has come under increasing pressure from various religious fundamentalists who seek an end to the secular government. In this regard, Chollett and Lindberg add that, “While the place of American values in foreign policy endures, questions remain about how such policies should be implemented and how the inevitable trade-offs should be managed, especially in the current political environment” (2007:4).

Because the prevention of territorial conquest has become a cornerstone of American foreign policy in recent years, the United States has taken steps to intervene in India’s affairs from time to time. For instance, Chollett and Lindberg note that, “Sometimes this might require active diplomacy to prevent one state from threatening another with force, such as the United States’ repeated efforts in recent years to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan” (2007:4). Notwithstanding India’s official policy of nonalignment during the last half of the 20th century, Indian foreign policymakers have not neglected the benefits that can accrue to solid relationships with the United States and while it existed, the Soviet Union, and it is apparent that India has consistently played both ends against the middle to its advantage. In this regard, Heo and Horowitz report that after 1960, “Nonalignment took a decidedly more pragmatic, India-centric focus over the next twenty years” (2003:145). For example, in 1962, Prime Minister Nehru sought the assistance of the United States for a wide range of purposes, including joint military exercises conducted on Indian soil as well as requests for a significant military assistance agreement (Heo & Horowitz 2003). These early collaborative efforts were derailed shortly after they began, though. According to Heo and Horowitz, “This growing cooperation faltered in 1965, when Pakistan invaded India with U.S. weapons, and the U.S. imposed sanctions on both states” (2003:145). In some cases, the heavy-handed foreign policy tactics used by the United States have backfired. As Heo and Horowitz point out, “President Lyndon Johnson deliberately micro-managed food assistance to India in the midst of a serious famine in an effort to lessen corruption and terrible inefficiencies in the Indian distribution system. However, this intervention offended Indian leaders and the public, and it did little for Indo-U.S. relations” (Heo & Horowitz 2003:145).

Because the assistance available from this “end” had been exhausted or become untenable, Indian foreign policymakers altered course and sought assistance from the Soviet Union, the world’s other superpower at the time (Heo & Horowitz 2003). According to these authorities, “Under Khrushchev, the U.S.S.R. had taken steps to improve relations with the developing world and had emphasized anti-colonialist rhetoric. In addition, the Soviets agreed to provide India with first-line military equipment — something the West was reluctant to do — at lower cost and on far better terms of payment” (Heo & Horowitz 2003:145). The relationship between the Soviet Union and India was codified in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries which was signed in 1971 (Heo & Horowitz 2003). According to Ziring and Kim, “The signing of the IndoSoviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1971 signaled a concerted attempt to formalize Soviet-Asian security needs” (1995:363). The importance of this treaty quickly became apparent. Shortly after the peace and friendship treaty was signed, India launched military operations against Pakistan in order to liberate the territory that would become Bangladesh (Heo & Horowitz 2003). In this regard, Heo and Horowitz note that, “This new relationship assured India of a veto on the UN Security Council — vital for postponing UN intervention — and some form of nuclear umbrella against U.S. Or Chinese nuclear threats” (2003:145). It must be pointed out, though, that this new relationship between India and the Soviet Union was relatively limited in its scope. For example, India did not join the Warsaw Pact or any other Soviet-sponsored organizations, and India did not allow the Soviets to install military bases on its land or any other types of facilities following the signature of the treaty of peace and friendship (Heo & Horowitz 2003). The next several years were characterized by other events that shaped and reshaped the direction in which the “nonaligned” nation of India would align itself. For example, following a low point in India-U.S. relations marked by President Richard Nixon dispatching the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal (see map at Appendix a) during the 1971 war over Bangladesh (Heo & Horowitz 2003:145). This low point was countered by a high point reached in 2005 when President George Bush stood next to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and clearly stated that: “The relationship between our two nations has never been stronger, and it will grow even closer in the days and years to come” (quoted in Khanna & Mohan 2006:43). This statement, together with the Bush administration’s the Indian prime minister’s state visit to the U.S. capital served to solidify the strategic partnership between India and the United States (Khanna & Mohan 2006). In between these low and high points, the United States was perplexed concerning how best to proceed with foreign policy negotiations with India. In this regard, Khanna and Mohan note that, “Towards the end of the Cold War in 1989, the Pentagon commissioned the Rand Corporation’s George Tanham to report on India’s strategic thinking; he famously concluded that there was none” (2006:44).

In sharp contrast to this period in India’s history, India’s foreign policy has matured and become focused on promoting the country’s self-interest in innovative ways that were not available to it during its period of isolation from the international community. This point is made by Khanna and Mohan who emphasize, “India is beginning to rediscover the enduring elements of its own traditional geopolitical thinking and actively considering partnership with America, if only to advance its own interests. Within a constellation of shifting regional alliances among major states and powers such as the U.S., EU, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, China, South Korea, and Japan, India’s relevance to the future of international power balances is assured” (2006:44). The importance of America’s continuing participation with India across the full spectrum of diplomatic engagements is regarded as essential to India’s long-term security and economic interests. In this regard, Khanna and Mohan add that, “India’s strategic canvas is broadening, as is its thinking in the military, economic, diplomatic, and cultural realms. America’s trade with China will eclipse that which it has with India for years to come, but democratic India is sure to be a more reliable partner” (2006:44). The improved relations between the United States and India, though, have a corresponding concomitant in increased expectations on the part of Indian citizens. The continuing participation by the United States, though, is insufficient for India’s long-term interests. This point is also made by Menon and Pandey who emphasize, “The mere fact that the United States appears to have blessed the Israel-India union also does not ensure substantive cooperation in either of these two regions. And one should not discount the eagerness with which American defense companies are eyeing the lucrative Indian market” (2005:30). In fact, increased trade with the United States may adversely affect the Indo-Israeli relationship. According to Menon and Pandey, “Once American defense industries begin to enter the Indian market, Israel’s value as an arms supplier could diminish in Indian eyes. Though not inevitable, it is worth keeping in mind at a time when news reports and academic essays trumpet the India-Israel alignment” (2005:30). Foreign policymakers in India are also faced with the long-term implications of improved relations with the United States while it seeks to forge a new strategic relationship with Israel. In this regard, Menon and Pandey add that, “Moreover, if from New Delhi’s standpoint the road to Washington runs through Tel Aviv, what will happen when India reaches its desired destination? What will be the residual value of the Israeli connection, especially given the hazards India could encounter should it join forces with Israel in southwest Asia?” (2005:30). Despite these misgivings, recent trends and signs point to a continuation of the strengthening of the relationship between Israel and India, and these issues are discussed further below.

Cultural Exchange and Influence between Israel and India

In response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and a changing geopolitical environment, India and Israel determined that it would be in their best mutual interests to further normalize relationships. As a result, in early 1992, India established an embassy in Israel’s capital and Israel opened its embassy in New Delhi (Karsh 2003). Since this normalization of relations between the two countries began, a number of official, quasi-official and extra-official visits have taken place between India and Israel. For example, Karsh notes that, “The brief but very public visit of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in May 1993 and a week-long visit of President Ezer Weizmann in December 1996 were the highlights of the bilateral relationship” (2003:267).

The visit by Israel’s foreign minister occurred during a period when India’s Congress Party was in control; however, the 7-day visit by Israel’s president in late 1996 occurred when the country’s opposition party was in power, reflecting the emerging of a growing perspective among Indian citizens as well as foreign policymakers concerning the need for improved relations with Israel (Karsh 2003). Besides the two foregoing visits, during the period from 1991 to 1996, a veritable flood of Israeli government officials and business representatives also visited India, and India responded in kind with various visits by Indian governmental officials and business delegations; the goal of these exchanges was to promote mutual cultural, economic and political interests between Israel and India (Karsh 2003). These exchanges went a long way toward improving relations between the two countries. For instance, according to Karsh, “Except for a minor controversy over the visit of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in July 1993, the relations remained free of problems. Neither the deportation of some 400 Hamas militants in December 1992 nor the murder of 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron by an Israeli zealot in February 1994 evoked adverse reactions from India” (Karsh 2003:267).

Besides some fundamental religious differences, there are also some important cross-cultural differences that exist between India and Israel that must be taken into account in any analysis of the future course these countries will take with respect to each other. Although India and Israel are largely congruent in the cultural dimension measures with regards to individualism and masculinity (see complete definitions at Appendix B), there is an enormous disparity between the power-distance and uncertainty avoidance indexes for the two countries as can be seen in Figure 3 below. According to Ilangovan, Scroggins and Rozell, “Power distance focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country’s society. A high power distance ranking indicates inequalities of power and wealth. A low power distance ranking indicates the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen power and wealth. In these societies equality and opportunity for everyone is stressed” (2007:541).

Figure 3. Geert Hofstede’s Cross-Cultural Comparison of Indian and Israel

Note (see complete definitions at Appendix a):


Power Distance Index






Uncertainty Avoidance Index


Long-Term Orientation

Source: Hofstede, 2010

India’s power distance ranking of 77 reflects a high degree of inequality of power and wealth within Indian society; by very sharp contrast, Israel’s power distance ranking of 17 reflects a greater degree of equality between societal levels, including government, organizations, and even within families; this cultural orientation supports cooperative interaction across power levels and creates a more stable cultural environment (Ilangovan et al. 2007). As shown in Figure 3 above, there is also a marked difference between the uncertainty avoidance index (UAI) for Israel and India. According to Zinkhan and Balazs, “Citizen in high UAI countries [such as Israel] tend to avoid making individual decisions (in preference to group decision making) and tend to resist change. That is, those in high UAI countries seek ways to reduce and manage risk” (1998:535). These findings indicate that Israelis place a higher value on individual decision-making compared to the group decision-making approaches favored in India. Finally, although a comparable dataset is not available for Israel, India’s long-term orientation ranking of 61 is indicative of a culture that is frugal and diligent, with an emphasis on the future (Ilangovan et al. 2007). Taken together, the cross-cultural analysis of India and Israel by Hofstede indicates that while the two countries share some common core values, they are also characterized by vast differences in their cultural orientations as well. These differences, together with the religious differences that exist between India and Israel, must be taken into consideration when seeking to gain insights into the rationale behind India’s past, current and future foreign policy objectives.


The research showed that the current juncture in India’s historical development is an important one, and a host of factors have served to shape the country’s foreign policy directions to date. Although thousands of years old, modern India has had just a few decades in which to forge a new identity for itself in a changing and frequently hostile world, and the changes that have taken place in the geopolitical sphere in recent years have forced India to constantly reevaluate its foreign policy initiatives to ensure they are in the country’s best interests. One of the major challenges in formulating foreign policies that are truly in India’s best interests, though, has been the need to balance its self-interests with a dynamic global environment where the actors have changed in profound ways over the past 30 years or so. Gone forever are the “good old days” of the Cold War where everyone knew what everyone’s position was on the vitally important issues of the day, to be replaced with a scenario in which terrorist threats at home and abroad are threatening India’s interests in the same fashion that has caused the United States and Israel so much grief in the past. The juncture in India’s future means that it can continue to pursue normalized relations with the United States and its erstwhile ally, Israel, pursue a more rigid path of nonalignment or fall victim to the fundamentalist religious powers that are calling for an end to secular rule. Although a policy of nonalignment helped India remain independent and survive during the last half of the turbulent 20th century, it is reasonable to conclude that mutual security arrangements with countries such as Israel are clearly in India’s best interests, but only time will tell if the current approach will be sufficient to prevent future hostilities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, or whether India can withstand the forces arrayed against it by religious fundamentalists.


Berlin, D.L. 2006 “India in the Indian Ocean.” Naval War College Review 59(2): 58-59.

Chollett, D. & Lindberg, T. 2007 “A Moral Core for U.S. Foreign Policy.” Policy Review 146: 3-


Davis, C.B. & Rill, L.A. 2008 “Testing the Second Level of Agenda Setting: Effects of News

Frames on Reader-assigned Attributes of Hezbollah and Israel in the 2006 War in Lebanon.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 85(3): 609-610.

Elahi, M. 2002, February “Don’t Make U.S. Foreign Policy a Scapegoat.” World and I 17(2): 14.

Ghoshal, B. 2003 “India as an Emerging Power.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 25(3): 520-521.

Heo, U. & Horowitz, S.A. 2003 Conflict in Asia: Korea, China-Taiwan, and India-Pakistan.

Westport, CT: Praeger.

Hofstede, G. 2010 Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. [online] available:>.

Ilangovan, a., Scroggins, W.A. & Rozell, E.J. 2007 “Managerial Perspectives on Emotional

Intelligence Differences between India and the United States: the Development of Research Propositions.” International Journal of Management 24(3): 541-542.

“India.” 2010 CIA World Factbook. [online] available: .

“India says end conflict, but takes note of Hamas missiles too.” 2008, December 29 India Times.

[online] available:



Khanna, P. & Mohan, C.R. 2006 “Getting India Right.” Policy Review 135: 43-44.

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Kapur, H. 2002 “Diplomacy of India: Then and Now.” New Delhi: Manas Publications.

Karp, a. 1998, May “Indian Ambitions and the Limits of American Influence.” Arms Control

Today 28(4): 14-15.

Karsh, E. 2003 Israel: The First Hundred Years. London: Frank Cass.

Kumaraswamy, P.R. 1998, July-December “China and Israel: Normalization and After.” China

Report (New Delhi) 34(3-4): 265-286.

Kurlantzick, J. 2006, July 26 “Israel’s War and India: Aftershocks.” Carnegie Endowment.

[online] available:


Menon, R. & Pandey, W. 2005, Summer “An Axis of Democracy? The Uncertain Future of Israeli-Indian Relations.” The National Interest 80: 29-30.

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Dimensions of Foreign Policy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Schienman, L. & Miller, M. 2003, December “Israel, India, and Pakistan: Engaging the Non-

NPT States in the Nonproliferation Regime.” Arms Control Today 33(10): 15-16.

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20(1): 90-92.

Ziring, L. & Kim, C.I. 1995 the Asian Political Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.

Appendix a

Political Map of India

[Source: World Factbook, 2010]

Appendix B

Geert Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions



Power Distance Index (PDI)

This dimension measures the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more vs. less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that ‘all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others’.

Individualism (IDV)

This dimension on the one side vs. its opposite, collectivism is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side are found societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side are found societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word ‘collectivism’ in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.

Masculinity (MAS)

This dimension vs. its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women’s values differ less among societies than men’s values; (b) men’s values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women’s values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women’s values on the other. The assertive pole has been called ‘masculine’ and the modest, caring pole ‘feminine’. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

This dimensions deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, and different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth; ‘there can only be one Truth and we have it’. People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO)

This dimension vs. short-term orientation is the fifth dimension found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars This dimension deals with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long-Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short-Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one’s ‘face’. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 BC; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage.

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