Modi’s Friend Set to Win, Will ‘Bromance’ Redefine India-Israel Relation?


Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised for a resounding victory on Wednesday as his coalition of right-wing religious parties was set to win a comfortable majority in the fifth election in four years. The outcome is likely to end the political impasse that had paralysed the country.

Irrespective of who comes to power, Israel’s relations with India will continue to remain strong. However, Netanyahu’s likely victory could see an upward trajectory in Indo-Israel ties, which flourished while he was in power till 2021.

Historic Ties Between Netanyahu and Modi

In January this year, India and Israel marked 30 years of full diplomatic relations. Israel had opened its embassy in Delhi in February 1992. The Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv opened on May 15 that year.

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An advocate of strong bilateral ties with India, Netanyahu was the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in January 2018. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his historic visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, in July 2017 when the ‘chemistry’ between the two leaders became the subject of intense discussion.

The strong relations between the two nations can be gauged from the fact that the bilateral merchandise trade grew from $200 million in 1992 to $7.86 billion during 2021-2022, with the balance of trade being in India’s favour.

India and Israel elevated their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership during Modi’s visit to Israel. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has focused on expanding knowledge-based partnership, which includes collaboration in innovation and research, including boosting the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

India’s relations with Israel have remained steady and strong even with the incumbent leadership, showing distinct signs of further progress with I2U2 (India, Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates) and discussions around a Free Trade Agreement, but it has not matched the heightened hype so visible with Netanyahu in power.

Modi’s first Visit

In 2017, Prime Minister Modi embarked on his first visit to Israel, also the first by an Indian Prime Minister. With the famous visit, he took full ownership of a relationship that had mostly grown under the radar for more than two decades.

Modi was given a grand official welcome and was warmly embraced by Netanyahu who told Modi, “Aapka swagat hai mere dost.” Netanyahu called Modi’s visit groundbreaking and said that he sees ‘history in making’ in their talks.

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At the conclusion of the trip, Netanyahu had gifted Modi a picture of them strolling at the beach as a token of his visit. “Thank you my friend, PM Netanyahu for the signed photo, your kind words, amazing hospitality and passion towards India-Israel Friendship,” PM Modi said in a tweet to thank the Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu’s India Visit

In January 2018, Netanyahu made a six-day visit to India and was received with a warm hug from PM Modi as he arrived in New Delhi.

“Welcome to India, my friend Netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations,” Modi tweeted in English and Hebrew reiterating the good ties and friendship he shares with Netanyahu.

Calling India “an important world power,” the Israeli Prime Minister said that the visit was an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power.

History of India-Israel Ties

India recognised Israel as far back as 1950, however, the normalisation of the ties between the two took another four decades.

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The relations between the two nations evolved in since 1990s, when there were defence deals and co-operation in science, technology and agriculture.

India was sceptic about its ties with Israel as it tried to balance relations with its historical support for the Palestinian cause and its dependence on the Arab world for oil. However, Indian ministers started visiting Israel in the next decades.

In 2000, LK Advani became the first minister to visit Israel and in the same year, Jaswant Singh visited as Foreign Minister. Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in 2003.

Since then, the ties between the two countries have strengthened especially under Modi and Netanyahu. It was during his term as PM that PM Modi visited Israel in 2017 which led to a diplomatic thaw in the relationship of the two nations.

Netanyahu holds the record of being the longest-serving Prime Minister in the country’s history. Having served in the position earlier between 1996 and 1999, Netanyahu in 2020 surpassed the record held by one of the Jewish state’s founding leaders, David Ben-Gurion.

With around 86 per cent of the votes counted, the bloc led by 73-year-old Netanyahu was seen to be winning 65 seats, a comfortable majority in the 120-member Knesset or Parliament, but these numbers could change a little after the so-called double envelope votes are counted.

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