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Israel-Hamas War : India's Diplomatic Position

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi swiftly responded to the Hamas attack on Israel citizens with two tweets, condemning terrorism and showcasing solidarity with Israel. On October 7, following the Hamas attack, Indian PM Modi in his first reaction expressed support for Israel on the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter. He conveyed solidarity with Israel during this challenging time, stating, "We stand with Israel amidst the recent tragic events." 


Modi further conveyed his deep shock by the attack, which he swiftly identified as a "terrorist" action in Israel and offered thoughts and prayers for the innocent victims and their families. He emphasised India's firm condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and assured the support of the Indian people for Israel during this difficult hour. The Israel-Hamas war, as indicated by Modi's tweets, might further strengthen the bond between India and Israel.


In a careful balancing act, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) finally addressed the situation, reaffirming India's backing for a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi also emphasized India's awareness of the universal responsibility to uphold international humanitarian law. Mr. Bagchi reiterated India's commitment to a secure, recognized Palestine state coexisting peacefully alongside Israel within defined borders, emphasizing the necessity of negotiations to achieve this goal.


Simultaneously, When questioned about India's stance on Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US, the foreign ministry of India reiterated India's clear position that the assault by Hamas on Israel is regarded as a terrorist attack. This highlights India's stance on addressing acts of terrorism in the middle eastern region.


Background of India-Israel relations


In the initial decades following its independence, India maintained strong ties with the Palestinians. However, relations with Israel saw significant improvement post the Cold War. Formal relations were established in 1992 initiated by India due to the growing domestic challenge of terrorism, and a keen interest in accessing Israeli defence technology, followed by advancement of strong defence and trade relations ultimately leading Israel to swiftly become India's second-largest defence partner. A crucial turning point occurred in 1999 when Israel provided military support to India during a short-lived conflict with Pakistan. 


Over the decades that followed, India-Israel relations have expanded significantly. The two nations actively collaborate on counterterrorism efforts and share intelligence. India consistently procures Israeli military equipment, with an annual value surpassing $1 billion. India has undeniably benefited from its collaboration with Israel, particularly through the utilisation of Israeli surveillance technology to monitor critical borders, notably in Kashmir. 


During Modi's tenure, the relationship between India and Israel has flourished. In 2017, he made history to become the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. Subsequently, there has been a substantial increase in trade, arms transactions, and technological collaboration particularly in agriculture and surveillance. In the present day, this relationship encompasses a wide range of aspects, including tourism and defence.


Modi maintains a close relationship with Netanyahu, often referring to him as a friend. He holds admiration for Israel's counterterrorism strategies. It's worth noting that in 2016, when India conducted "surgical strikes" on terrorist camps across the Line of Control in Kashmir, Modi drew comparisons between India's actions and Israel's periodic operations in the Occupied Territories.


There are arguments suggesting that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, characterized by Hindu nationalism, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud, which aligns with far-right ultranationalists, share a common ethnonational, anti-Muslim ideology. This alignment has played a role in strengthening the ties between the two nations.


Recent geopolitical shifts in the Middle East have strengthened the partnership between India and Israel while creating some distance between India and the Palestinians. India took a proactive step by endorsing the 2020 Abraham Accords, normalizing Israel's relations with few Arab nations. This move has led to the formation of fresh initiatives like the I2U2 quad and a new transport corridor, all of which involve India. 


Background of India - Palestine relations


India officially recognized Israel as a state in 1950, but formal diplomatic relations were established much later, in the early 1990s. During the intervening years, India maintained a strong pro-Palestine stance in the Israel-Palestine conflict, actively advocating for the Palestinian national cause. Notably, India was a the first non-Arab nation to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974 and was among the earliest countries to acknowledge the state of Palestine in 1988.


India's solidarity with the Palestinians, rooted in its dedication to oppressed communities, was also influenced by strategic considerations. The nation aimed to preserve friendly ties with the Arab world due to its reliance on Gulf oil. Moreover, seeking support from Muslim-majority countries regarding the Kashmir issue further underscored India's approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict, aligning with its geopolitical and economic interests.


India maintained a neutral stance during critical conflicts such as the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the 1956 Suez crisis, the Six-Day war in 1967, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the 2006 Lebanon war, refraining from taking sides. Despite this, India cultivated strong relationships with nations like Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East. Publicly, India continues to show support for the Palestinian cause, exemplified by hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in 2018.

Balanced view?

In the past, particularly under Congress-led governments, India firmly supported United Nations resolutions that censured Israel for significant breaches of international human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, there has been a shift towards a more balanced stance, emphasizing even-handed treatment of both Israelis and Palestinians in recent times. 


For instance, India has refrained from calling for a ceasefire because it doesn’t want to seem disapproving of Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Hamas terrorists given India’s own experience with cross-border terrorism. However, it also doesn’t want to endorse any action that might be seen as a collective punishment for the Palestinians.


Moreover, India, while offering developmental support to Palestine and contributing annually to the UN with $5 million to aid Palestinian refugees, has not yet made any public announcement regarding humanitarian aid specifically for Palestinians affected by the Gaza siege. The situation highlights the delicate balance India maintains in its approach to the conflict and humanitarian assistance.


However, India's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as many speculate have been more leanient towards Israel as its ties with Israel have experienced rapid growth in recent years. Prime Minister Modi's support for Israel during the ongoing conflict represents a significant departure from India's long-standing policy of cautious diplomacy regarding the Middle East. 


Despite this, India is cautious not to appear unequivocally aligned with Israel. It remains committed to the two-state solution and has consistently voted against Israel in multiple United Nations resolutions. Additionally, India has authorized humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees, aiming to strike a balance and avoid alienating crucial Middle Eastern partners deeply concerned about Israel's response in Gaza following Hamas attacks. India has emphasized adherence to international humanitarian law while urging global efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms.


In conclusion, It's probable that India will maintain a reserved public stance during the war, indicating private support for Israel while assuring Palestine that India is in solidarity with Israel to express their  opposition to Hamas terrorism, not a denial of the Palestinian cause. 

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