Israel is one of the few countries that can help India achieve a degree of self-reliance in semiconductor production

As we near the completion of three decades of formal diplomatic relations, it must be pointed out that unbeknownst to most, India and Israel have enjoyed strong bilateral ties since 1950. It moved from India trying to keep these ties off the radar to formalising it in 1992. This relationship has seen a dramatic upswing in the last many years. While the current trajectory is posited on the personal chemistry Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoyed with the former prime minister of Israel Netanyahu, there is much substance to this relationship.

India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment. Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to India. India is Israel’s third-largest Asian trade partner. Bilateral ties have broadened into sensitive areas like high technology products, defence equipment, space, security, and intelligence. Joint production and development of key defence items have emerged as important domains of cooperation. Commercial and development ties now cover agriculture, water management, pharmaceuticals, information technology, etc.

India has for long enjoyed great goodwill among Israel’s citizens as the only country in the world where Jews have not faced anti-Semitism. There are many instances of Jews under Hitler’s persecution finding shelter in India including some that were said to have been facilitated by Nehru. The minuscule Jew community was able to rise to eminence in various fields.

While this friendship is certainly a yardstick for many other nations, there is a need to appreciate that it is currently at a sub-optimal level. The bulk of the focus of this relationship has been defence and other security-related items. Besides the partnership in agriculture, all other arrangements are focused on the big cities and niche segments of the society.

The full potential of this relationship will be achieved only when business and commercial interests are mutually beneficial and the associations directly affect people. The benefits will need to be accessible and available for common citizens. Nothing touches our lives better than cultural exchanges and connections.

Long before 1992, Israeli youths visited India in large numbers attracted by its culture and heritage. Israel has admirers in India for its ability to thrive in spite of very adverse situations in its short history as an independent nation. There is a strong need to use soft power diplomacy to build people-to-people bridges and to add to economic benefits through robust inter-country tourism. This needs to be revived after the current disruption and a two-way street needs to be created.

India’s world-class institutes of higher education could benefit from the strong culture of research and innovation that thrives in Israel. Israel, after all, hosts R&D centres of more than 300 multinational companies and has the highest number of patents per capita. A student exchange programme at the university level could catalyse the partnership. An India-Israel higher education forum with the participation of the industry could drive this agenda with vigour.

With climate change and its disruptive impact, strategic issues related to the waters of the Brahmaputra and Indus and the rapid urbanisation in India warrant that we benefit from water management technology with a focus on productivity and reduction of water consumption and on recycling of wastewater. Israel is the ideal partner for this.

Israel considers innovation as a public good and actively encourages innovations at different stages of development and this underpins the solid start-up ecosystem in Israel. Indo-Israel incubation centres and mentorship programs especially for start-ups in India’s tier-2 cities can provide interesting spin-offs to these collaborations.

Converting high-end defence technologies to create civil use applications will have a far-reaching impact on industrial innovation and development. The current crisis scarcity of semiconductor chips can occasion a partnership by building chip manufacturing in India. Israel is one of the few countries that can help India in achieving self-reliance in the production of semiconductors.

On citizen-to-citizen level engagement, both countries must come forward to build an institutional mechanism to share their community practices. For example, India needs to learn a lot from the inspirational role Kibbutz and Moshav as agriculture cooperatives play in nation-building in Israel. Similarly, Israel can benefit from the transformational journeys of many self-help women’ collectives in India that have shown the way with the grassroots development model.

India presents a massive market for Israel’s manufactured goods and technology. With almost 40% of Israel’s annual defence production being exported to India, the advantages to Israel’s economy cannot be understated. Additionally, India’s embracing of Israel offers Israel massive intangible benefits.

This is a friendship for long and mutual benefits for both nations, as a former ambassador of Israel to India remarked: “The Indian and Israeli markets do not compete with one another but complete one another.” A potential quadrilateral with US and UAE can help this relationship soar to new heights.