Who would have predicted, when India cast its vote against the Partition Plan in 1947, that tiny Israel would not only come into being, but survive many Arab attempts to snuff out its young life, and would thrive economically, in all the most cutting-edge economic sectors, and become the third largest trading partner of India, and its second-largest supplier of military equipment? Who could have imagined that Israel would be asked by India to supply it with military equipment during India’s conflicts with China in 1962, and with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971? Who could have foreseen that India, voting consistently for so long with the Arab bloc against Israel at the U.N., would nonetheless develop its deep ties with Israel? Both countries share common threats, from Muslim states and Muslim terrorists, and the intelligence sharing between Israel and India about these threats have created the closest security ties India has with any foreign country, and, save for its intelligence ties with the United States, also the closest for Israel.
There were several reasons for India rejecting Israel’s entreaties for so long. Partly, this reflected the desire of Indian politicians to curry favor with the Muslims who made up about 10%-14% of the electorate. Another factor was the desire to keep good relations with the Arab suppliers of oil. A very distant third factor was the attempt to keep the Arab states from supporting the Muslim separatists in Kashmir whom Pakistan backed.
All during this period, it is true, there were those Indian politicians, from the Hindu nationalist parties, who on both ideological and strategic grounds argued that India should support Israel, but the Congress Party’s reluctance prevailed until the beginning of the 1990s. Indian perceptions began to change in favor of Israel slowly, after the Jewish state, as noted above, unstintingly supplied military aid to India in its 1962 flare-up with China, and then again during its brief war with Pakistan in 1965, and again in 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War (which lasted all of two weeks after India entered the war on the side of the Bangladeshis against Pakistan). Israel’s willingness to repeatedly come to India’s aid did begin to affect Indian views. But as long as the Congress Party was in power, not much changed in India’s leftward turn in policy toward Israel. Golda Meir had even dared to hope, in 1971, that in recognition of Israeli military assistance that year, India might at least establish diplomatic ties, but she was disappointed.
The desire of some Congress Party politicians to curry favor with Muslim voters was not shared by the Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janatat Party, or BJP. When they came to power, those followers of Hindutva (the ideology seeking to make Hindus, and the Hindu way of life, dominant in India), and who had always urged better ties with Israel, appeared to be vindicated. The Muslim electorate was not going to support the BJP, no matter how the BJP voted on Israel and “Palestine” in the U.N., so why bother to curry favor with it, always in vain, by shunning Israel? Israel more and more was recognized by the BJP for what it was — a fellow victim of Islamic terrorism — and valued for being willing to share what it had learned from its long experience in countering that terrorism, in everything from effective vetting of airline passengers, to infiltration of terrorist networks, to cyber security. Israel was an increasingly valued trading partner for India, too, offering both top-of-the-line weaponry and help to India’s own arms industry, that no other arms supplier was willing to grant. Israel willingly shares with India its advances as a world leader in water management and conservation. Finally, Israel provides a model of a “start-up” nation, that Indians admired and wished to emulate. In 2009, an international poll revealed that 59% of Indians viewed Israel with admiration, more than they did any other country, and more than did the people of any other country (in the same poll, 58% of Americans viewed Israel with admiration, a close second). Israelis have had their own love affair with India, perfectly aware that Jews in India had never experienced antisemitism from Hindus, but had lived safely in India for more than a thousand years, in such places as Maharashtra and Kerala. Israel is a famous destination for young Israelis after they fulfill their military service.
Meanwhile, the feared Arab “oil weapon” turned out not to exist. Less than one-quarter of India’s energy now comes from oil, and that percentage is steadily decreasing. India has in the last few years turned to renewables in a big way. The buyers, not the sellers, of oil are now in the driver’s seat. Supplies of non-OPEC oil, and renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass), are taking an ever greater share of the world energy market. This means that the Muslim members of OPEC are well aware that they need to hold onto what customers they can, and certainly don’t want to be unreliable suppliers to such a major market as India, which would only push that country both to buy from other sellers of oil, such as Russia, and to shift even more rapidly, than it is already doing, to renewables.
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