Explained: How Israel-Palestine war impacts India and its diplomacy
India's policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict has evolved, with recent perceptions of a pro-Israel stance. However, India supports a two-state solution and has voted differently from its allies at the UN. The war may affect India's relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, says Girish Linganna
Palestinian militants, in a wild-cat attack on Saturday (October 7, 2023), fired over 5000 rockets targeting Jerusalem and other Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip, setting off a new round of heavy fighting which has resulted in the death of more than 500 lives. Hundreds of Hamas militants infiltrated Israel in SUVs, motorcycles, paragliders and boats and fired on civilians in an early morning barrage that lasted over half an hour.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israelis living in the south were 'begging' the army to send security forces, saying they were being “slaughtered” and were desperate for help, even as the police and army seemed nowhere in sight for hours on end.
Media reports quoted Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri as having said in a statement that Hamas has enough captives for Israel to free 'all Palestinian prisoners in its jails'. Israel has declared a 'state of war' and retaliated with airstrikes and ground operations targeting Hamas infrastructure and operatives in the Gaza Strip. The conflict has resulted in widespread casualties and destruction. The international community has called for an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the long-standing dispute between Israel and Palestine.
In one of the most serious escalations in the Israel-Palestinian conflict in many years, the Palestinian militant group claimed to have taken dozens of Israeli soldiers and civilians captive, even as gunmen opened indiscriminate fire in the town of Sderot. Although Israel has asked its civilians staying near the borders to take refuge in shelters, in Kibbutz Be’eri, close to the Gaza Strip, residents said militants were forcing their way ino people’s homes -- and even shelters. All homes in Israel --and even public places -- are required by law to have bomb shelters.
How Does the War Affect India?
The war in Israel affected India in various ways, both directly and indirectly. As a first step, major airlines have imposed immediate restrictions on travel from and to Israel after Saturday morning’s violent clashes. Air India cancelled a flight from Delhi to Tel-Aviv on Saturday and its return trip from the city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
India, as a major regional power and a strategic partner of Israel, has been closely following the developments in the Middle East. India has expressed its solidarity with Israel and condemned the terrorist attacks by Hamas militants. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India stands with Israel at this difficult hour and offered his thoughts and prayers for the innocent victims and their families. He also spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and assured him of India’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the aggression.
India has been a recipient of Israel’s help in the past, especially during the Kargil war in 1999. Israel provided India with mortar, ammunition, laser-guided missiles and surveillance drones that helped India counter the Pakistani incursion. Since then, India and Israel have developed a strong defence and security cooperation, with Israel being one of India’s top suppliers of arms and military equipment. The two countries have also collaborated in various fields, such as agriculture, water management, innovation, education and culture.
Policy Evolution Over The Years
India’s policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict has evolved over the years, from being unequivocally pro-Palestine for the first four decades after its Independence to a tense balancing act with its three-decade-old friendly ties with Israel. In recent years, India’s position has also been perceived as pro-Israel, especially after Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel in 2017.
India has maintained that it supports a two-state solution based on mutual recognition and coexistence, but it has also abstained from, or voted against, several resolutions at the United Nations that were critical of Israel.
India’s trade and defence cooperation with Israel may be affected by the war, as well as its relations with other countries in the region, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
India has a complex and delicate relationship with Iran, which is a key source of oil and a partner in developing the Chabahar port that connects India to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Iran is also a staunch supporter of Palestine and an adversary of Israel. India has tried to balance its interests with both sides, but it may face challenges in maintaining its neutrality amid the current escalating tensions.
India also has cordial ties with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are important for its energy security and economic interests. However, both countries have condemned Israel’s actions and expressed their solidarity with Palestine. Saudi Arabia has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries to discuss the situation. Turkey has accused Israel of committing genocide and crimes against humanity. India may have to navigate these diplomatic differences carefully and avoid any adverse impact on its bilateral relations.
Handling Pressures from Within
India may also face pressure from its domestic Muslim population and international organizations to take a more active role in resolving the conflict. India is home to more than 200 million Muslims, who constitute about 14% of its population. Many of them have expressed their sympathy and support for Palestine through protests, social media campaigns and donations.
Some Muslim leaders have urged the government to take a stronger stance against Israel and use its influence to broker peace. India may also be expected to play a constructive role in the UN Security Council, where it is currently a non-permanent member.
India has shown its solidarity with Israel and condemned the terrorist attacks by Hamas militants. India’s policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict has changed over time, from being pro-Palestine to pro-Israel. India’s relations with other countries in the region -- such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- may affect India’s trade and defence cooperation with Israel. India may also face pressures from its domestic Muslim population and international organizations to take a more active role in resolving the conflict.
The author of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.