How Identity Issues Keep India and Israel Apart

And Why Modi’s Visit May Not Signal a Transformation in Ties

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel, July 2017. Amir Cohen / REUTERS

When Narendra Modi visited Israel last week, he became the first Indian prime minister to set foot on Israeli soil. Modi’s visit and the ecstatic reception he received in Israel reflected a little-discussed fact: the relationship between India and Israel is among the world’s most unusual major-country partnerships. 

India recognized the newly established state of Israel in 1950. But for the next four decades, despite Israel’s many overtures, Delhi refused to establish formal diplomatic relations with the country. After the two governments established formal ties in 1992, their bilateral trade and military ties took off: by 2016, annual trade between the two countries had risen from $200 million in 1992 to $4 billion, and Israel had become India’s second-largest defense partner. Yet those changes did not translate into a close, friendly partnership. India often opposed Israel in the United Nations, and it avoided referring to Israel as a strategic partner—a term

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