Why did Narendra Modi never visit Israel

Modi sets a milestone in Israel

Delhi has so far maintained a distant relationship with Israel, at least officially, because of the Palestine question. The long-standing cooperation with Tel Aviv has now found a new expression.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is mainly perceived as an economic reformer, but he is at least as active when it comes to foreign policy. As in economic policy, it usually does not make any fundamental changes in direction on the international stage. Rather, he moves on paths that have already been taken, but does so with renewed vigor and vigor and, with his excellent instinct for the grand gesture, knows how to set milestones whose radiance also shines on him.

Hypocritical distance

One such milestone is undoubtedly Modi's three-day visit to Israel, which begins on Tuesday. For the first time ever, an Indian head of government is visiting the Jewish state. The relationship between India and Israel is traditionally a complicated one, because Delhi, at least officially, always viewed it as a function of the question of Palestine. With reference to its anti-colonialist policy, India once voted against the establishment of Israel in the UN. Even after that, Delhi kept its distance, which was explained by the consideration for partners from the non-aligned movement and the proximity to the Soviet Union, but also with domestic political considerations. The Congress Party, which was still a state-sponsored party at the time, hoped to secure the sympathy of Indian Muslims. Only after the turning point in 1991 did the two states establish diplomatic relations with one another.

Before that, however, the nations had already worked closely together, for example in the armaments sector, which is why observers in Delhi sometimes ascribed a certain hypocrisy to Indian policy on Israel. During the Cold War, Israel supplied weapons to conflicts between India and China and Pakistan. India is now the largest buyer of Israeli armaments. Delhi has become an important pillar in the efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to align his country more closely with the growing markets in the global south. India also uses Israeli technology in the civil sector, for example for irrigation systems.

Palestine is becoming less important

There are also geopolitical developments. The strategic realignment of India, which builds on closeness to the West and especially to the USA compared to the Chinese striving for supremacy, also brought Delhi closer to America's allies, for example Israel. The Palestine question became less important in relations with this potentially important partner country.

It became clear early on that this development would receive a new boost under Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist government naturally believes little in pan-Islamic solidarity and is hardly inclined to take the sensitivities of Indian Muslims into account. In 2015 India abstained in a clear break with the decades-long tradition of pro-Palestinian positions in the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution that criticized Israel's behavior in the Gaza war.

India continues to cultivate relations with the Palestinians, who also maintain a full embassy in Delhi. In May, Modi received President Abbas for his fifth visit. With his decision not to visit Ramallah on his inaugural visit to Israel, Modi leaves no room for doubt about his priorities: The endless Palestinian conflict should no longer burden the beneficial partnership with Israel.

During his visit, Modi will meet with his Israeli counterpart Netanyahu. Observers expect that various partnerships and other arms deals will be announced. Modi also met representatives of the Indian diaspora, as he does on most of his travels. Several thousand Jews of Indian origin live in Israel. But the visit as such is more important than individual items on the program. Modi has set another milestone of great symbolic power.