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The Uncomfortable Friendship

Recent attacks in New Delhi, by Iran against an Israeli diplomat, and the degree of coordination in thwarting the attacks, reveals an interesting and yet rarely discussed relationship between the Jewish State and India. In recent years, especially in the wake of rising tensions between Iran and Israel, their relationship has improved in the realms of intelligence sharing, arms sales, and counter-terrorism. Military collaboration in space, trade, and technology has also deepened. The Mumbai massacre, which struck in 2008 and the targeted a Chabad-Lubavitch House, has bound these two countries together in what had historically been an uncomfortable relationship.

Although India initially supported the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, Ghandi’s Congress Party was weary of adopting an overtly pro-Israel policy in fear of India’s large Muslim minority. Their support was important due to the potential of political backlash resulting from the crisis in Kashmir with Pakistan. As a consequence, India adopted a pro-Arab policy and developed into a strong influence in the Non-aligned Movement throughout the Cold War.

Indian condemnations of Israeli military actions in the Palestinian Territories would also further strain their relationship. These condemnations can be once again attributed to the Indian government’s desire for maintaining good relations with India’s large Muslim population, which currently numbers around 130 million. The relationship between these two nations dramatically improved, when Congress Party dominance ended in 2003 giving way to the centre-right Bahartiya Janata Party (BJP). In fact, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made an official visit that same year. Israel has been helpful in providing crucial information to India during its multiple clashes with China and Pakistan and, more recently, has sold India military equipment, from surface-to-air missiles and radar systems.

With the drums of war beating between Iran and Israel, one can speculate as to how India feels about an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Although India continues to import a lot of oil and shares historical and religious connections with the Persian state, will the recent attacks on Israeli officials isolate Iran in Indian circles? As Indian interests continue to shift with its rapidly growing economy and desire for technology, the relationship between India and these two states results in a bind. As India continues to foster economic growth using new technologies, which requires aid from Israel, domestic conflict will likely ensue due to its multi-ethnic character. At the same time, Indian dependence on Iranian oil will only further complicate relations with the West, which is looking to cripple the Iranian economy through embargoes and sanctions aimed at curbing the Iranian nuclear program.

In many respects, India is faced with a “catch-22,” since overtly supporting either side will result into conflict at home or abroad. The answer to this conundrum can only be achieved through Indian diligence. New Delhi must be stick to determining their own long-term goals, which assuredly will be the maintenance of domestic stability. The key question is when will India not be able to have its cake and eat it too.



–  Cody Levine

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