Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Israel later this year – a first by an Indian head of the government that comes 25 years after the two countries established full diplomatic ties. The visit, a long awaited, is significant for their growing ties in defense, counterterrorism, science and technology, agriculture, space exploration, and several other areas.
The two nations on January 29 celebrated the golden jubilee of their ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Tel Aviv’s rising diplomatic influence in the world was a resultant of “diplomacy of technology” that has allowed his country to expand its relations with numerous countries, including China and India.
Netanyahu also said the "relations with these two major powers…attests to the status of Israel among the nations, a position that is becoming stronger due to our technological, military and intelligence capabilities”.
India had always put conditions on better ties with Israel based on progress in the Israel-Palestine dispute. And the first steps toward full diplomatic ties were taken in early 1992 when Congress ruled the country with P V Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister. Since then bilateral ties have been growing slowly but steadily despite domestic and diplomatic concerns.
But ties came fully out of the closet with Modi rising to power in 2014 when he openly expressed his desire to attach greater priority to ties with Israel, a cause that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had openly espoused for a long time.
In contrast to the back-channel security ties that existed before the normalization of bilateral relations, India has been more willing in recent years to carve out a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship with Israel, including deepening military ties and countering the threat terrorism poses to the two countries.
Modi is expected to visit Israel in June 2017 though the dates have not been announced as yet. Modi had visited Israel as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2006. As Indian prime minister, he met his Israeli counterpart, Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s annual in 2014. Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President to visit Israel in 2016, even though both the Israeli President and Prime Minister have visited India in the past.
Experts believe that India had its own defence compulsions to move closer to Israel particularly after the US government in 1998 - after India tested nuclear weapons for the second time - stopped selling certain weapons systems to India as part of a sanctions regime.
According to estimates, India buys half of Israel's small arms exports, with annual totalling in the billions of dollars. These figures have remained stable over the years, although with the return of Russian arms, India has begun to diversify its sources.
Despite close political ties, India continues to be critical of Israel's occupation of Palestine - whether it be the wars on Gaza or the settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem or indeed Israel's evisceration of the "peace process".
Modi has been praising Israel lavishly over its fight against terror. At a public function in Himachal Pradesh last year, Modi compared the Indian Army’s alleged surgical strikes against terror launch pads across the de facto border with Pakistan to the Jewish state’s policy of targeted assassinations and military actions against Islamist militants.
“Our army’s valor is being discussed across the country these days. We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that the Indian Army is no less than anybody,” he said.
Israeli politicians and diplomats have been often very candid about their country’s close ties with India, but their Indian counterparts have been quite reticent about it.