The revelation that Pegasus – spy ware developed by the Israeli cyber-arms firm NSO – was used to surveil opposition politicians, activists, public officers and journalists in India, has as soon as once more confirmed that the proper to privateness, freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press are threatened beneath Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist authorities.

Dismissing the controversy, a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Celebration (BJP), Basavaraj Somappa Bommai, declared, “It’s a conspiracy involving overseas press the place these sorts of misinformation campaigns have been carried out towards India … Utilizing digital platforms, they attempt to destabilise totally different international locations. Now, the eyes are set on India.”

Nevertheless, opposition politicians have accused Prime Minister Modi of “treason”. And, the Press Membership of India (PCI) described this as an unprecedented assault on the Indian democracy. The PCI tweeted, “That is the primary time within the historical past of this nation that each one pillars of our democracy – judiciary, parliamentarians, media, executives and ministers – have been spied upon.”

However it isn’t mere happenstance that expertise developed by an Israeli firm was used by the Hindu nationalist management in India. Through the years, the 2 international locations have developed a sturdy strategic, navy and expertise partnership. Moreover, there has lengthy been an ideological alliance between the BJP and Israel that helps additional the ambitions of each events.

Historical past of a fraught relationship

Relations between Israel and India haven’t at all times been as pleasant as they’re right now. In 1938, Mahatma Gandhi had famously stated, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the identical sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”

Jawaharlal Nehru – who ultimately grew to become the primary prime minister of unbiased India – expressed his sympathies for the Jewish inhabitants dealing with persecution in Europe. Nevertheless, Nehru additionally insisted that “basically the issue of Palestine is a nationalist one. The Arabs are struggling towards imperialist management and domination. It’s a pity, due to this fact, that the Jews of Palestine as a substitute of aligning themselves with this battle have thought it match to take the facet of British imperialism and to hunt its safety towards the inhabitants of the nation.”

India remained invested within the thought of Arab freedom in Palestine within the lead as much as its independence in August 1947 and thereafter. It was an elected member of the UN Particular Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). And, in September 1947, it was considered one of solely 13 international locations that voted towards the United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine.

In an announcement towards the partition plan, the Indian consultant and member of UNSCOP, Sir Abdur Rahman, stated, “The folks of Palestine have now admittedly reached a stage of growth the place their recognition as an unbiased nation can not be delayed. They’re on no account much less superior than the folks of the opposite free and unbiased Asiatic international locations.” Rahman added that the failure to grant independence to Palestinians would result in continued violence within the area.

As Israel secured UN membership, signed armistice agreements with its neighbours and was recognised as a sovereign state by the main powers, India additionally ultimately felt compelled to recognise Israel in 1950. Nevertheless, India’s leanings in direction of the Soviet Union throughout the Chilly Warfare and standing as a key architect of the Non-Alignment Motion meant that its allegiance was with its Arab allies and it had very restricted, if any, diplomatic relations with the Western bloc-allied Israel on the time.

In 1956, throughout the Suez Disaster, India prolonged its help to Egypt and Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1974, it grew to become the primary non-Arab nation to recognise the Palestinian Liberation Group (PLO) as the only, respectable consultant of the Palestinian folks. In 1975, the federal government of India additionally allowed the PLO to open an workplace in New Delhi as affirmation of its continued help to the Palestinian “battle for the restoration of their inalienable rights of their homeland”. India recognised the State of Palestine in 1988 and it opened the doorways of its first consultant workplace in Palestine in 1996.

Nevertheless, with the autumn of the Soviet Union, India engaged in a technique of financial liberalisation and, with it, started to reposition itself in world politics. This included its relationship with Israel. In 1992, beneath the management of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, India established formal diplomatic ties with Israel, however remained dedicated to the Palestinian trigger and its economically essential ties with different international locations within the Center East.

Materials and ideological partnership

Right now, bilateral relations between India and Israel is a multifaceted affair. Between April 2020 and February 2021, bilateral merchandise commerce (excluding defence) stood at $4.14bn. Indian software program corporations have a rising presence in Israel. Each international locations signed a complete cooperation settlement for the agriculture sector in 2006. The fifth section of this settlement is at present being carried out. India and Israel additionally signed a Science and Know-how Cooperation Settlement in 1993. And, in 2017, a $40m India-Israel Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund (i4F) was established. Eleven ongoing tasks have been funded beneath i4F.

In December 2020, the 2 international locations signed an settlement to extend cooperation within the fields of healthcare and medication. On the peak of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Indian and Israeli authorities have additionally labored collectively to develop a speedy COVID-19 testing equipment. In March 2021, it was introduced that India’s Premas Biotech and Israel’s Oramed had collectively developed a COVID-19 oral vaccine. Lately, there has additionally been an uptick in cultural trade, tourism and people-to-people contact.

Throughout his go to to India in 2018, the then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted an occasion titled “Shalom Bollywood” in Mumbai that was attended by among the most outstanding figures within the Hindi movie business. A yr later, Netflix launched Drive, the primary Bollywood film filmed in Israel.

Safety and defence cooperation, nonetheless, has at all times been and nonetheless is the cornerstone of bilateral relations.

Three many years earlier than the institution of formal diplomatic ties, Israel had provided weapons to India throughout the Sino-Indian Warfare of 1962. India additionally used Israeli weapons within the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971. And, when India’s overseas intelligence company, the Analysis and Evaluation Wing (RAW), was established in 1968, its first spy chief RN Kao was tasked by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to ascertain ties with Israel’s Mossad.

Israel has additionally emerged as India’s most dependable weapons provider that’s prepared to take care of provide channels with none political preconditions. This was evident throughout the Kargil Warfare of 1999. On the time, India was nonetheless dealing with financial sanctions and an export ban on weapons and navy expertise imposed by the Clinton administration as retribution for its Pokhran-II nuclear assessments in 1998. But, Israel avoided criticising India’s nuclear programme and provided weapons and surveillance methods and upgraded present navy {hardware} throughout the conflict.

Because of this, right now India is the biggest purchaser of Israeli weapons. Israel is India’s second-largest weapons provider. Imports elevated by 175 p.c between 2015 and 2019 and present annual gross sales quantity to greater than $1bn. India’s Defence Analysis and Improvement Organisation (DRDO) and Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) are at present collaborating on growing surface-to-air missile methods for the Indian armed forces.

The Indian armed forces have additionally inducted Israeli UAVs, radar methods, surveillance expertise in addition to anti-aircraft missiles and air-to-air missiles. Quite a few Indian cops, together with many stationed in Indian-administered Kashmir, have been skilled on the Israel Nationwide Police Academy. Safety forces within the Kashmir Valley additionally use Israeli surveillance expertise and foliage-penetrating radar. In 2018, Indian Union Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated two good fence tasks alongside the border with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir that can use Israeli surveillance expertise. India and Israel are additionally a part of a Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism that serves as a platform for dialogue and data trade on regional and international terrorism menace notion, the prevention of the switch of weapons to violent teams, and counterinsurgency methods.

However regardless of the breadth of the bilateral relations between the 2 international locations, India has walked a diplomatic tightrope for years. It has tried to current its strategic and defence partnership with Israel as a low-key affair and a matter of realpolitik. On the similar time, by being vocally pro-Palestine in its political stance and by sustaining a pro-Palestine voting file on the UN, India has sought to take care of its ties with Arab states, particularly the oil-rich Gulf states which are vital to its power safety and an necessary supply of overseas funding.

A major shift within the public notion of Israel in India was seen in 2008 after the Mumbai assaults when specialists started to counsel that the nation ought to undertake an Israeli method to preventing terrorism. Nevertheless, help for Israel has been the official coverage of the BJP lengthy earlier than the Mumbai assaults. Throughout BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stint as prime minister between 1998 and 2004, India strengthened its ties with Israel considerably. In 2000, then Minister of Dwelling Affairs LK Advani grew to become the primary Indian minister to go to Israel. A yr later,  BJP’s Jaswant Singh grew to become the primary Indian overseas minister to go to Israel. And, in 2003, Ariel Sharon grew to become the primary Israeli prime minister to go to India.

Modi and former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu additionally shared a really public camaraderie till the latter was voted out of workplace in 2021.

And their relationship grew to become a logo of the marked transformation of India-Israel bilateral relations from a matter of realpolitik to an ideological alliance between two international locations – every led by a right-wing, nationalist management – that see themselves on the forefront of a supposed international, political and navy battle towards “Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism”.

The Bibi-Modi “bromance”, and BJP’s decades-long vocal help for Israel, started paying dividends not lengthy after the BJP gained the 2014 normal elections. In 2015, India was one of many solely 5 international locations that abstained from a decision within the UN Human Rights Council that endorsed a report on Israeli conflict crimes throughout Operation Protecting Edge. In 2017, Modi was the primary Indian prime minister to go to Israel. As a transparent indication of adjusting allegiances, he selected to not go to the Palestinian Authority on the time.

Welcoming Modi to Israel, Netanyahu stated, ““Aapka swagat hai mere dost [Welcome, my friend]. We love India. We admire your tradition, historical past, democracy and dedication to progress. I’m assured of the actual arithmetic of life, of success of our partnership for a lot of causes; expertise of our folks.” Celebrating the warming of diplomatic ties, Modi tweeted, “I for I. Which suggests India for Israel and Israel for India.”

In fact, Modi’s enthusiasm is a mirrored image of the sturdy help Israel has traditionally loved amongst Hindu nationalists in India. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) – typically credited for having developed the Hindutva ideology – wrote within the Nineteen Twenties, “If the Zionists’ desires are ever realised – if Palestine turns into a Jewish state – it should gladden us nearly as a lot as our Jewish mates.”

It was the outstanding chief of the paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Bhaurao Deoras who satisfied, Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to ascertain formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. Present RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has additionally stated India ought to be taught from Israel’s means to defend itself, regardless of being “surrounded by adversaries from all sides”. He added, “Until we stand as united as Israelis are, each folks and the politicians, we are going to remorse badly sooner or later.”

For its half, Israel has been constant in its help for Modi and his insurance policies.

When the Modi management enacted the controversial Citizenship Modification Act (CAA) in December 2019, which successfully excludes entry to citizenship for Muslims, it confronted global criticism. Nevertheless, the Israeli Consul Common for South India Dana Kursh stated, “India as a sovereign nation has the best to enact the CAA. It isn’t for the European Parliament to resolve what India ought to or not do. India’s sovereignty is to be revered and he or she is aware of methods to shield her folks.”

In 2017, senior Israeli authorities had declared that Israel would by no means “help Pakistan on the Kashmir challenge”. On January 26, 2021 – the anniversary of the Indian Republic – Netanyahu ignored the continuing farmers’ protests towards India’s controversial farm payments. As a substitute, he tweeted: “To my nice pal Prime Minister @NarendraModi. Congratulations to you and the folks of India in your 72nd #Republic Day. Our friendship grows from yr to yr”. On the event of Republic Day, a member of the Knesset and Netanyahu’s Likud get together, Yariv Levin, additionally lauded “India’s sturdy dedication to the beliefs of rights and values of the structure”.

India-Israel ties can solely get stronger

In a tweet on Might 16, Netanyahu thanked 25 international locations for “standing with Israel” throughout its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. India was lacking from this record because it had not made an official assertion expressing its help for Israel throughout “Operation Guardian of the Partitions”.

Netanyahu’s snub despatched Hindu nationalists on Twitter right into a frenzy. One person wrote, “What the hell man, you forgot so as to add India???? We have now at all times stood in solidarity as a robust ally of Israel.” One other person wrote, “We Indians with you sir, please point out our flag & additionally point out Hindu nationalist of India who help Israel all time, all climate.”

Regardless of this episode, relations between India and Israel stay on safe floor. In 2020, Israel signed normalisation agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Morocco, Oman and Bahrain. However these agreements don’t simply symbolise a marked shift in regional politics. In addition they break the stigma of building diplomatic relations with Israel. And, for India, the altering political panorama within the Center East gives fertile floor for additional strengthening its ties with Israel with out worry of jeopardising its relations with its different allies within the area.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.