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New Delhi: India and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992 and are currently marking the completion of 25 years of formal nation-to-nation ties. The opening of embassies in each other’s countries happened within months of each other—Israel opened its embassy in New Delhi in February and in May, India opened its embassy in Tel Aviv.

But it is a little-known fact that New Delhi was close to establishing diplomatic ties with Israel as far back as the 1950s.

According to former Indian ambassador to Israel Arun Singh, initially India was reluctant to open ties with a country created on the basis of religion mainly due to its own history of partition into two countries—India and Pakistan—on the basis of religion.

In 1950, India recognised Israel and “by the mid 1950s, the basic position was that we (India) are now in a position to move towards establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel," Singh said at an event on India Israel ties ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s six-day visit to India that began on Sunday.

“While that was being attempted, Israel joined the UK and France in attacking Egypt over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, and once that happened, then again the sentiment in India moved away from Israel and it became difficult to establish full diplomatic relations," Singh said.

Israeli foreign minister Moshe Sharett had in fact visited India during the Suez crisis in 1956 as Israeli armed forces pushed into Egypt after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal. Nasser and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru shared a good equation and were seen as two of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement.

“After that, several decades followed and eventually full diplomatic relations could be established only in the wake of the Oslo peace process which started in the late 1980s," Singh said, referring to peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the support of the US.

That a large number of countries established diplomatic relations with Israel also helped, said Singh.

“That enabled India to move forward with establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel. Once we established full diplomatic relations, we were then able to move forward in many areas where there was already certain amount of activity," he said.

Though India’s diplomatic ties with Israel may be just 25 years old, India’s links with the Jewish nation—despite its support for the Palestinian cause—go back decades. An example of this is the help extended to India by Israel in 1962 during the India-China war when Israeli prime minister Ben Gurion responded positively to Nehru’s request for arms. This laid the foundation for the now strong defence relationship between India and Israel. During the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, Israel supplied India with arms, though this was done under the radar. In 1971, Israel’s prime minister Golda Meir sent arms at the request of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

“In 1999, just as the Kargil conflict broke out, then Israeli director general in the Israeli defence ministry was in India within days, saying ‘tell us what you need and whatever we can supply, we are ready to supply. We can negotiate prices and other things later.’ Aside from the supplies, the psychological impact on the Indian political establishment and the Indian defence establishment of a partner who is ready to work with you was obviously very, very critical," Singh said.

Another strong link is in the area of diamond trade.

“Even before diplomatic relations were established there was a strong presence of the Indian diamond trading community in Israel and that has been there since the 1960s," said Singh. “Even today some estimates say that almost 10 % of the trade in the diamond bourse in Tel Aviv is managed by companies of Indian origin," he added.

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