Prime Minister had visited four major countries along the Persian Gulf – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar – without any sign of an Israeli visit. Notwithstanding that, there have been unprecedented high-level contacts with Israel. In May 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first world leader to congratulate Modi on his landslide victory when most Arab leaders stood stunned at the electoral debacle of the UPA. That September, Modi met Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and both have been exchanging greetings and messages at regular intervals. Such regular engagement with Israel comes against the backdrop of Modi’s high-visibility political visits to the region. Prime Minister visited UAE in August 2015, Turkey in November 2015 for the G-20 meeting, and followed these up in 2016 with visits to Saudi Arabia (April), Iran (May) and Qatar (June). Israel is the only other major country in the region that he did not visit.
is noticeable in Modi’s engagements with the Middle East.
India and Palestine
- Military-security cooperation occupies a prime place in all bilateral engagements. The same emphasis on security cooperation was also visible in his engagements with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar. Israel would not be different especially when security has been a major area of cooperation since the normalization of relations in January 1992.
- Unlike in the past, Modi’s visits were preceded or followed by reciprocal visits or bilateral meetings in third countries. Since May 2014, Modi has met Saudi leaders at three G-20 summits. The Emirati Crown Prince visited New Delhi in February 2016 and will be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Celebrations in 2017. The Qatari emir visited India in March 2015. This pattern may recur in the case of Israel as well. A Modi visit to Israel could be followed by a Netanyahu visit to India.
- Modi’s visits to the region have a pattern. Each has been a stand-alone visit and hence did not take away the primary focus from the country visited.
Moreover, the political gains of Modi visiting Palestine are rather limited. Not only does Palestine not offer any economic incentives, even its political advantages have diminished over the years. While there is popular support for the Palestinian cause, its relevance for inter-Arab relations is marginal. The Palestinian cause is their last priority and they are unlikely to modify their policy towards India due to a stand-alone visit by Modi to Israel.
A standalone visit
to Israel will not only be in line with Modi’s engagement with the Middle East but would also send a powerful message to the international community that India is no longer apologetic about befriending Israel. In practical terms, that would mean strategic Indian investments in hi-tech industries in Israel including military industry, cyber security, Nano technology, alternative energy, and recycling, and India becoming a partner in technology development and sharing. Sensitive technologies are either stolen or bought, but never shared even among friends. Indian investments would be the easiest and, in the long run, the cheapest way to ensure technology transfers from Israel. Should the visit be premised on such an endeavour, Modi’s standalone visit to Israel would be both feasible and likely.