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Talk by Ambassador Naor Gilon, Ambassador of Israel to India

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  • September 21, 2022
    Only by Invitation

    Executive Summary

    The interactive discussion primarily centred around the following issues: India-Israel bilateral relations, critical areas of cooperation between the two countries, regional geopolitics in West Asia, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Abraham Accords and the IU2U (India-Israel-UAE-USA). Furthermore, Iran’s role in West Asia, differences in how India and Israel perceive it, the Make in India initiative, and the relationship that Israel shares with Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, the USA and Africa were also discussed. 

    Detailed Report

    A delegation led by Mr. Naor Gilon, Ambassador of Israel to India, visited the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) on September 21, 2022, for an interaction with the scholars. Ambassador Gilon was accompanied by Mr. Ohad Nakash Kaynar, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Israeli Embassy, Ms. Hagar Spiro-Tal, Political Advisor, and Ms. Sameeksha Chouhan, Assistant, Political Affairs, Embassy of Israel, New Delhi.

    The interaction started with the Director General’s introductory remarks where he recalled his visit to Israel in 2019. He highlighted the significance of the India-Israel bilateral relationship and how it has gathered strength in recent years. He underlined how the key elements of the multifaceted relationship between India and Israel, have moved from cooperation in agricultural to high-tech and defence sectors. Finally, he called for the bilateral ties to be further enhanced before inviting Amb. Gilon to deliver his remarks.

    Amb. Gilon thanked Amb. Chinoy for hosting him and his colleagues. He began his remarks by reflecting on the unique and special sentiments each Indian has expressed towards Israel. He further emphasised that ties between the two countries reached new heights after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in 2017, which saw India de-hyphenating the Israel-Palestine issue.

    He stated that Iran is the biggest destabiliser in the region. Iran has links with several non-state organisations in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. He also accused Iran of supporting terrorism in the region and made a mention of Iran’s support for ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Israel perceives Iran’s destabilising role in the region through its alliance with Shia and Sunni proxy groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Houthis. He expressed Israeli reservations about the revival of the JCPOA agreement as it would give financial advantages to Iran as the sanctions would be lifted after the agreement is reached.   

    He further stated that Israel’s normalisation of relationship with the Arab countries, known as the “Abraham Accords”, is a game changer in the region’s politics and security. He stated that although the Gulf countries have maintained secret relations with Israel for many years, they have now come out in the open to normalise their relationship. He mentioned that Israel has helped the Gulf countries over many issues in the past, the most prominent being Israeli technology used in desalination projects in the Gulf. Underscoring the gradual normalisation of the relationship between Israel and the Gulf countries, Amb. Gilon stated that Iran has acted as an adhesive in bringing them together as the Gulf countries realise that Israel is the biggest fighter against Iran.

    On the other hand, he explained that India and Israel’s differing perceptions of Iran have not impacted their strategic bilateral ties. He stated that India-Israel bilateral relations are growing stronger and stronger. The I2U2 summit is an example of a broader and progressive state of mind visible among participating countries. He argued that the I2U2 has the potential to change the situation in West Asia as the UAE is close to both India and Israel.

    The following key points emerged from the floor during the discussion:

    • There is a correlation between the enhancement of Israel’s credibility and Iran’s reduced ability to overtly act against it in forums like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Today, according to Israeli authorities, Iran considers both high and low-profile Israeli citizens as legitimate targets.
    • There is no scope for improvement in Israel-Pakistan ties in the foreseeable future. There is potential for India and Israel to collectively take the question of the role played by the deep state in Pakistan and its support for Islamist groups. Israel has deep-seated concerns about Iran following in Pakistan’s footsteps and adopting nuclear proliferation.
    • In 1984, India's elite commando counter-terrorism unit, the National Security Guard, was initially raised and was provided military training by Israeli forces. It has evolved with the establishment of the Joint Steering Committee, whose first meeting was held in 2014.
    • Iran’s destabilising role and fear regarding the ascendency of Shia extremism and radicalisation have spurred Gulf countries and Israel to normalise diplomatic ties. Normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel will be a long and gradual process, despite the transformative change the Kingdom is undergoing due to the change in leadership. This is because of the royal family’s symbolic role in the Islamic world.
    • Israel faces security threats due to the Palestinian Authority’s inability to maintain absolute control over cities under its jurisdiction and rising tensions among the people. On the other hand, the threats posed by Hezbollah have been contained for the moment. Nevertheless, Israel has made it clear that any provocation on its part would mean a war against Lebanon and not merely against the organisation since it is, de facto, part of the Lebanese government. Incidentally, Hezbollah is trying to create an alternative front against Israel in Syria.
    • There is significant support within Israel to cooperate with India in its Make in India initiative. Any prospects for cooperation between India and Israel in the field of innovation will depend on the scope of government involvement on both ends and requisite financial investments in appropriate projects. Israel can provide India advisory and technological integration-based support to advance its quest for innovation in water irrigation systems.
    • Despite the ebbs and flows in Turkey’s approach, it has never disrupted the oil flows into Israel via the pipelines that are laid across the country.
    • Israel does not supply any military equipment to China. However, the export of semiconductors cannot be included in this explanation since they also have civilian use.
    • Africa has played a critically important role for Israel, mainly during the 1950s and due to widespread African immigration in the past. There is huge economic potential for Israel in Africa. There are excellent prospects for Israel and India to cooperate across Africa and Sri Lanka.

    The session concluded with the Director General’s concluding remarks and exchanging mementoes and books with the Israeli delegation.

    This report was prepared by Ms. Saman Ayesha Kidwai, Research Analyst, Counter-Terrorism Centre.