Narendra Modi (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in Jerusalem in July 2017. Hindu nationalists see in Israel a model for India – an ethnonationalist democracy that treats Muslims as subordinate and maintains international support regardless. Photo: IMAGO / agefotostock 
Narendra Modi (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in Jerusalem in July 2017. Hindu nationalists see in Israel a model for India – an ethnonationalist democracy that treats Muslims as subordinate and maintains international support regardless. Photo: IMAGO / agefotostock 

India’s slow-burn affair with Israel heats up

Azad Essa’s 'Hostile Homelands' explores the ideological convergence of Hindutva and Zionism, and the consequences for Kashmir and Palestine – but there is much more driving India and Israel’s deepening ties

Rohan Venkat is a Non-Resident Visiting Scholar and Consulting Editor at the Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania. He writes India Inside Out, a newsletter on Indian politics, foreign policy and history.

Two post-partition democratic states, both products of British colonialism. Each featuring within their territories sizeable Muslim minority populations, which are frequently depicted by majoritarian forces as "the enemy". Both ruled by right-wing governments that deploy surveillance technology with impunity and brazenly seek to undermine democratic institutions that might otherwise act as a check on their power. And both currently dominated by social and political movements that assert claims of civilisational superiority, predicated on the idea that this sets them apart from "barbaric" neighbours.

As many have observed, the India and Israel of today bear striking similarities – a fact reflected and amplified by the wholehearted recent embrace of Israel by Indian Hindu nationalists. Ever since Israel began bombing Gaza and invaded the territory in response to the brutal Hamas attack on its soil on 7 October, Hindu nationalists have been out in force online – and sometimes in person – advertising their support for and solidarity with Israel. 

At least some of that online support comes from Islamophobic Indians simply attempting to take advantage of a conflict elsewhere to push their own communal domestic agenda. But much of the support indicates some deeper current of genuine affinity with Israel.  

"Look at the social media of the [Israeli] embassy," Israel's ambassador to India, Naor Gilon, said in October. "It's amazing, I think I could have another IDF with the volunteers. Everyone is telling me, I want to volunteer, I want to fight for Israel." The IDF, or Israel Defence Forces, is the Israeli military, currently deployed on operations in the Gaza Strip.

On the surface, it would seem that this unconditional Hindu nationalist embrace of the Israeli right wing isn't being replicated by the Indian state, currently under the rule of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). India's ministry of external affairs has reiterated its "long-standing and consistent" support for "direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine, living within secure and recognized borders side by side at peace with Israel." The government has sent medical aid and disaster-relief materials to Gaza via Egypt, and Modi has spoken with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to convey condolences over the "loss of civilian lives." All of this is anathema to the current government in Israel, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, which has railed against international support for Palestine and undermined any possibility of Palestinian statehood. On top of this, India recently voted in favour of a number of draft resolutions in the United Nations that criticised Israel's conduct in Gaza – which has already claimed more than 10,000 Palestinian lives – and supported aid for Palestinian civilians. 

But the carefully constructed language of these reactions obscures deeper shifts that have taken place in India's approach to Israel. The shifts are easier to see in the chronology of New Delhi's response to the 7 October attack. Modi put out a statement in the immediate aftermath saying "we stand with Israel," and repeated his comments two days later in a phone call with Netanyahu. It wasn't until five days after the attack, in response to media queries, that the ministry of external affairs made mention of India's wider position on the Israel-Palestine issue – a delay that raised eyebrows in the capitals of Arab states that have been close partners with India. 

Many in Israel’s current far-right government would be full-throated supporters of the Hindutva worldview, at least when it comes to Muslims.

This shift was even more apparent in India's decision to abstain in the vote on a United Nations General Assembly resolution, drafted by Arab nations, calling for an immediate humanitarian truce in Gaza. This put India at odds with all of its Southasian neighbours and much of the Global South, and even some Western partners like France, all of which voted in favour. New Delhi has also insisted that its support for UN resolutions critical of Israel was simply "routine," as opposed to its notable choice to support Tel Aviv by abstaining on the ceasefire vote.  

Some have depicted Modi's initial response as simply being of a piece with India's stance against Islamist terrorism, one of the issues on which the current government has sought to mobilise the international community. Others, however, see in it further evidence of India's deepening ties with Tel Aviv. "India is not a country known to be quick to choose sides in a crisis," Manjari Chatterjee Miller, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in response. "Modi's statement shows how far the India-Israel relationship has come." Or as Naor Gilon, the Israeli ambassador to India, put it, "The closeness between Israel and India is something I cannot even explain … it's very emotional, very deep … it is something very unique." 


This "closeness" is the subject of Azad Essa's Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance between India and Israel, published around the start of this year. Essa is a South African journalist of Indian origin, currently based in New York, who reported on India for Al Jazeera English and worked on a documentary about Kashmiri protesters blinded by Indian forces, which was released shortly after the Modi government unilaterally revoked Jammu and Kashmir's statehood and limited autonomy in 2019.

'Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel' by Azad Essa. Pluto Press (February 2023)
'Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel' by Azad Essa. Pluto Press (February 2023)

Essa's book takes a whirlwind look at the whole gamut of Indo-Israeli relations, from the opinions of historical actors like Mohandas Gandhi – whose 1938 editorial insisting "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English" has been both a crucial and controversial element of Indian foreign-policy thinking since it was first printed – all the way to Modi and the Hindu nationalists' more recent embrace of Netanyahu and Israel. There is much to tell, and Essa's concise and polemical book attempts to tackle a wide swath of it, interspersing valuable bits of research and well-sourced information with, on occasion, tendentious readings of the past.

Among the key aspects that Hostile Homelands tracks are the military ties that undergird the Tel Aviv–New Delhi relationship, and which have given it substance and momentum even when political leaderships in the two countries have seemed to be at odds or simply distant – as has been the case for much of their independent histories. 

India voted against the partition of Palestine at the United Nations in 1947, when a resolution to create separate Jewish and Arab states in the territory was passed. Though New Delhi officially recognised the nation of Israel in 1950, it did not establish full diplomatic ties with it for another 42 years. 

Any early ideas of a closer relationship appeared to disappear in 1956, when Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian prime minister at the time, attacked what he termed Tel Aviv's "foolish gamble" in going to war with Egypt over the latter's decision to nationalise the Suez Canal. In Nehru's eyes – and by extension in India's – this placed Israel firmly in the imperial, colonial camp alongside England and France, which also attacked Egypt. Nehru's bonhomie with the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, a pan-Arab leader with whom he would found the Non-Aligned Movement, also played a big role in directing Indian policy in this region at the time. 

India wasn't alone in making this calculation. While Pakistan, as an explicitly Islamic state, took an expectedly hostile stance towards Israel from its very inception, neighbouring Sri Lanka also drifted away from it following the 1956 war. The regional – and indeed global – outliers at the time were Myanmar (then Burma), which established ties with Israel almost immediately after its independence in 1948, and Nepal, which formally recognised Israel in 1960. 

Yet just a few years later, as India and China went to war in 1962 along what is now the Line of Actual Control, Nehru would accept military support from Israel in the form of heavy mortars and ammunition – only to reportedly halt the purchases when Nasser objected. Despite Nehru and India never openly acknowledging this Israeli support, limited military sales appear to have opened a backchannel that would lay the foundation for ties between the two countries for the coming decades. India again received military support from Israel during its wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, and again made little mention of this in public. 

‘Hostile Homelands’ draws attention to another outcome: the Indian diaspora in the United States is increasingly drawing lessons from the American pro-Israel lobby to suppress criticism of Hindu nationalism.

After Israel's comprehensive victory over Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Indian prime minister at the time, Indira Gandhi – who was otherwise very publicly hostile to Israel during her tenure – permitted the director of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's primary external intelligence agency, to open communications with Mossad, its Israel counterpart. 

Relying on defence and intelligence ties to expand its global acceptance was a deliberate part of Israel's foreign policy – including in the Southasian region. In the 1980s, as Sri Lanka was in the early throes of its civil war, Israel carried out training programmes for and enabled military hardware sales to Colombo's forces – an intervention that both prompted an alarmed New Delhi to take a more active role in the conflict, and also gave it an idea of what Israeli intelligence and equipment was capable of. 


In 1992, following the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the American unipolar moment in global geopolitics, India formally exchanged diplomatic missions with Israel, more than four decades after New Delhi first recognised the Jewish state. Today, this big shift in Indian policy is seen as the act that turned India and Israel into rock-solid partners overnight. Essa describes the decision as heralding a new era, a "culmination of late twentieth century capitalism meets religious fundamentalism and the aggressive militarism that inevitably accompanied the end of the Cold War." 

In reality, the Indian government remained reluctant to openly discuss its defence ties with Israel for years after the diplomatic normalisation. The real shift would come at the end of the decade: first when Israel refused to join the United States and other Western nations in condemning and sanctioning India following its nuclear tests in 1998; then when Israel became one of the few countries to support New Delhi after the Kargil War between India and Pakistan broke out in 1999. 

Though India was victorious in that war, its official establishment saw the conflict as a reminder of the need to overhaul the country's military systems and intelligence – and for this it turned to Tel Aviv. Essa writes,

The war ushered in a paradigm shift in India's approach toward Israel. Even if Delhi had already started purchasing more Israeli weapons since the early 1990s, it had still seen Israel as a competitor to its domestic manufacturing. But the events of 1998/9 changed this. Israel's willingness to support India following the imposing of sanctions both before and during the Kargil War turned India and Israel into partners and co-developers. 

India has bought more Israeli arms than any other country over the last decade and a half, at times representing nearly a third of all Israeli weapons exports. India has sought to draw from Israel's experiences not just on its contested borders with Arab states, but also in the occupied Palestinian territories, where its forces have developed techniques to hold down a defiant population. Essa points to moves by state governments in India to learn from Israel – for instance, Maharashtra sought out Israeli training for its commando units in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks – as well as the deployment of Israeli drones in Indian territories where Maoist insurgents continue to operate.

From “Israel’s Arms Sales to India: Bedrock of a Strategic Partnership” by Harsh V Pant and Ambuj Sahu. Observer Research Foundation, September 2019.
From “Israel’s Arms Sales to India: Bedrock of a Strategic Partnership” by Harsh V Pant and Ambuj Sahu. Observer Research Foundation, September 2019.

An initial focus on hardware has grown to cover much more, with India particularly interested in Israel's cyber and surveillance weapons. New Delhi reportedly purchased Pegasus, a tool often described as the "world's most powerful cyberweapon", as part of a "package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion" following Modi's stroll with Netanyahu on a beach in northern Israel in 2017. Traces of the cyberweapon have been found on the personal devices of the Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi as well as a number of Indian journalists and activists – a clear sign of Israeli technology being used by the Indian government in its efforts at cracking down on dissent. 

Essa notes that, in part because of US restrictions on exporting defence material to China – ruling out a big potential client for Tel Aviv – the Israel-India military relationship has become vital and "symbiotic" for both nations. It gives Israel access to the huge market of what will continue to be one of the world's largest arms importers for years to come, and provides India, which has long sought to diversify its military supplies away from Russia, with a supply of weapons and technologies not involving the bureaucratic wrangling that defence purchases from US companies often bring. 

Alongside this burgeoning defence partnership are growing agricultural and economic ties, with investments flowing both ways. The most high-profile of these was the sale of the Haifa seaport in northern Israel to a consortium led by India's Adani Group – the Modi government's favourite corporate house. The port would later be cited as a crucial element in the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEEC) announced on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders' Summit in New Delhi in September 2023. 

The IMEEEC – a US-backed connectivity project that would allow goods setting off from India to traverse the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel before making their way to European shores – has been touted by Indian government-backed observers as representing "a new model of global interconnectedness and a new ethic for globalisation itself", even as some have questioned the viability and efficiency of a multi-modal corridor that would require goods to be loaded onto ships, unloaded and moved onto trains for transport across the Arabian desert, and then be put on ships again in Israel. 

The IMEEEC was meant to be a US response to China's Belt and Road Initiative, and one that would reap the benefits of the "peace dividend" engendered by the Abraham Accords of 2020 – which saw the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain establish relations with Israel – as well as the normalisation of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a process which was seen as the likeliest next step following the accords. The participation of India, a key economic and geopolitical actor, was meant to be a symbol of the potential that could be unlocked through this newfound Gulf–Israel cooperation. 

Yet this "new ethic" has now run up against the much older ethical questions thrown up by Israel's occupation of Palestine. Already, with the public across the Arab world aghast at events in Gaza, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have been taking positions critical of Israel. The invasion of Gaza may not entirely derail the Saudi Arabia–Israel normalisation plans, but it makes any deal on normalising ties much harder to achieve. Crucially for India, it will make businesses think twice about investing in a connectivity route that might be subject to immense political volatility.  


The most potent commonality between India and Israel isn't in the trade and defence ties that the two nations have been building over the past three decades. Instead, it is in the movements that lie at the core of their political leaderships today – and the weaponising of civilisational imagery that serves to justify the excesses of both states. 

Members of India's Hindu nationalist ecosystem have long been enamoured by the idea of Israel, despite their movement originally being inspired by European fascism and admiring Adolf Hitler's efforts to "maintain the purity" of the German nation, in the phrase of the Hindu nationalist icon M S Golwalkar. V D Savarkar, who in the 1920s developed the ideology of Hindutva – literally, "Hindu-ness" – wrote that "if Palestine became a Jewish state, it would gladden us almost as much as our Jewish friends." Golwalkar, who from 1940 to 1973 headed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the parent body of the BJP – spelled out what he found admirable about Zionism. "The Jews had maintained their race, religion, culture and language," he wrote, "and all they wanted was their natural territory to complete their nationality" – even if it meant evicting the people who then lived in that territory. On this logic, the seeming contradiction in supporting both Nazism and Zionism was no contradiction at all.  

The Indian state and the Hindu Right have proven quite capable of “indigenously” evolving their own approach to Kashmir – and, indeed, to Muslims around the country.

Golwalkar believed these five elements – race, religion, culture, language and territory – were key to any nation. Anyone "outside the five-fold limits of that idea" – an obvious reference to Indian Muslims, whom he declared an "internal enemy" of the nation – "can have no place in the national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the Nation and completely merge themselves in the National Race." 

Especially over the last decade this ideology has taken centre stage in India, with members of Modi's government and the wider RSS-led Hindutva ecosystem making clear that in their vision for India the country's Muslim minority will have to accept second-class status – and be prepared to be attacked and ostracised even if it does that. 

There is no doubt that many in Israel's current far-right government would be full-throated supporters of the Hindutva worldview, at least when it comes to Muslims. Take the national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose party campaigned for the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and occupied Palestine, and who has more recently advocated for the deportation of any citizen "disloyal" to the state. Others, like the politician Miki Zohar, have made it clear that their Israel is explicitly a country where Palestinian rights are subordinate to Jewish ones. 

And then there is Netanyahu himself. Israel's longest-serving prime minister, who cobbled together the most far-right government in the country's history to remain in power, has long made his opinions clear: Israel is not a state of "all of its citizens". "The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel," he has tweeted. He has also not hidden his attitudes toward Arab citizens of Israel. Netanyahu has complained about "Arab [Israeli] voters voting in droves" in past election campaigns, and said that Israel's demographic problem – his concern that the Israeli Arab population of around 20 percent would increase and threaten a Jewish demographic majority – is not because of Palestinians but Israeli Arabs. 

Back in 1992, soon after India and Israel established diplomatic relations, it was Netanyahu who identified the narrative tropes that could unite the two countries, saying "both countries face similar threats, from terrorism and religious fundamentalism … This is a case of modernity versus medievalism." The difference is that Israel, unlike India, has institutionalised a system of discrimination in a manner that Amnesty International has categorically declared to be "apartheid". And it has done so with broad support from the West.

As a result, members of India's Hindu nationalist ecosystem see in Israel a model for the India they seek to build: an ethno-nationalist, illiberal democracy that treats its Muslim minority as subordinate to the majority, and maintains Western support regardless. As the researcher Angshuman Choudhury has written, "In the Zionist project, the modern Hindu nationalist elite sees a tangible conclusion of its own Hindu Rashtra blueprint. Israel shows that [this] isn't an abstract dream; that there is a step-by-step means to the end." 

This ideological affinity is reflected at the political level as well. In the long period when India had no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, Hindu nationalist politicians called consistently for an end to the "Arab veto" on India's foreign policy – the idea that New Delhi's relations with states like Egypt forced it to refuse recognition of Israel – and for closer ties with Tel Aviv. It was under a BJP government, in 2003, that an Israeli prime minister first visited New Delhi. Modi was the first Indian prime minister to make the reverse trip, in 2017– without including a stop in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the West Bank, as has been customary for most world leaders on the same itinerary. He would visit Palestine later, in 2018, also becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so, and received the "Grand Collar of the State of Palestine". Essa describes this move as the Palestinian leadership trying to "hold on to what India represented in the past."

How will India’s closer ties with Israel impact its effort to be seen as the voice of the Global South, especially if most countries within that category find themselves on the other side of the Israel–Palestine?

The narrative is not singularly focussed on Hindu nationalism and the BJP – it was an Indian National Congress government, after all, that normalised relations between the two states in 1992. But the BJP, and in particular Modi, have undoubtedly supercharged ties and been more willing than ever to openly discuss India–Israel relations. The party has also sought to cast India's earlier foreign policy calculations under its predecessors in power as yet another example of Muslim appeasement that ends up hurting the nation. This complements its messaging on domestic policy, where it berates its opponents for supposedly favouring Muslim interests over national – which is to say, Hindu – ones. 

"We have some political reasons owing to which we did not further our ties with Israel. We restricted ourselves," S Jaishankar, India's minister of external affairs, said in 2022. "The entire country knows that we could have benefitted from the ties. But once you come out of vote bank politics, your foreign policies also get impacted. Gone are those days when vote bank politics dominated national interest." 

Of course this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black: the BJP has gladly lit international fires to please its voter base, not least on the issues of Kashmir, whether by referring to Bangladeshi migrants as "termites" or in the RSS' conception of Akhand Bharat, or undivided India, which ignores the sovereignty of a number of other Southasian states. And Modi's BJP has been exceedingly successful at weaving international issues into its domestic messaging, with the Israel partnership being no exception. Casting Israel as a reflection of the longed-for domestic Hindu Zion has meant portraying Indian critics of Israel as enemies of the Indian nation. This is why pro-Palestine protesters are repeatedly facing police action in India – even though many of their demands overlap with the official Indian position on a Palestinian state.

Hostile Homelands also draws attention to another important outcome of this growing ideological affinity: the Indian diaspora in the United States increasingly drawing lessons from the American pro-Israel lobby to suppress criticism of Hindu nationalism. Essa points to efforts by right-wing diaspora Hindu groups to popularise the idea of "Hinduphobia" – a catchall that deliberately lumps together genuine hate speech against Hindus, any criticism of Modi and the RSS, and all efforts to combat caste discrimination. This is inspired by the proven tactics of pro-Israel groups in the United States, who undermine their opponents by reflexively declaring all criticism of Israel or Zionism to be anti-semitic. 


The disputed territory of India-administered Jammu and Kashmir may once have presented the most obvious platform on which to compare the trajectories of Israel and India. Both Palestine and Kashmir represent unresolved conflicts that emerged out of British colonial machinations, each throwing up complex questions of self-determination and the contest between majority and minority rights. Kashmir and the West Bank, in particular, are ripe for comparison for the sheer level of securitisation in both territories, as well as for the impunity with which armed forces can operate within them, with the Indian and Israeli states regularly using terrorism concerns as a fig leaf to justify their own unchecked actions – including enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and disproportionate violence against protesters. 

Essa, however, doesn't argue that the situations faced by the people of Kashmir and Palestine are the same. "They aren't," he writes. "Instead, the comparison between India and Israel is meant to illustrate the ways in which oppressive methods are shared and duplicated and crucially, justified." 

Even if not directly "duplicated", the parallels are evident. At a broad level, India's Hindu nationalists have frequently sought to demonise Kashmiri Muslims and to paint legitimate critiques of the actions of the Indian state as being akin to terrorism – in the same way that Israel has portrayed peaceful protests like the Palestine-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or the Great March of Return as existential threats that merit violent responses. 

A Palestine solidarity protest in Sopore, in India-administered Kashmir, in April 2023. The West Bank and Kashmir are ripe for comparison for the sheer level of securitisation in both territories, as well as for the impunity with which armed forces can operate in them. Photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto
A Palestine solidarity protest in Sopore, in India-administered Kashmir, in April 2023. The West Bank and Kashmir are ripe for comparison for the sheer level of securitisation in both territories, as well as for the impunity with which armed forces can operate in them. Photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto

At a more granular level, Indian officials have on occasion directly referred to Israel as a model for New Delhi's policies in the Kashmir Valley. The idea would be to draw from Israeli settler colonies in the West Bank to form heavily fortified enclaves – replete with "schools, shopping malls, hospitals and playgrounds" – that could host resettled Kashmiri Hindus. As India's consul-general to the United States said in 2019, "if the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it."

This analogy is inexact because the BJP's argument is premised on helping the return of Kashmir Hindus – who fled the valley in the tens of thousands in 1990 amid communal violence and an insurgency. In the West Bank, the Israeli settlements, which exist in contravention of international law, are actively pushing Palestinians out of their homes. Hostile Homelands mostly elides the complications raised by the history of Kashmiri Hindus, preferring instead a more straightforward narrative that also wholly ignores the actions and interventions of Pakistan in this disputed border area. 

While Essa would like to draw attention to "the import of Israeli methods" in Kashmir and elsewhere, others have argued that it is important not to read too much into the ties between India and Israel or to designate "Israel as a unique source of learning for oppression" because the Indian state and the Hindu Right have proven quite capable of "indigenously" evolving their own approach to Kashmir – and, indeed, to Muslims around the country. 


Naor Gilon, the Israeli ambassador, spoke not just of closeness between the two countries but also of a relationship that is "unique". This it undoubtedly has been – though not necessarily in terms Hostile Homelands appears prepared to examine or engage with. 

Essa makes it seem as if the India–Israel relationship of today was inevitable, with the forces of majoritarianism and history inexorably driving the two states towards this "alliance". Yet scholars of international relations are more likely to point to the exact opposite trend as the most fundamentally unique aspect of the India–Israel relationship: for 42 years, between 1950 and 1992, India had no official diplomatic relations with Israel, despite having recognised it as a state. 

"India's decision to recognize Israel without establishing formal diplomatic links in the early 1950s remains a unique political move with no parallel in its diplomatic history," writes the political scientist Nicolas Blarel in his 2015 book The Evolution of India's Israel Policy: Continuity, Change, and Compromise since 1922. "As a point of comparison, over the same time period, India kept or re-established diplomatic relations with Pakistan and China, two countries with which it has had armed conflicts and with which it has ongoing border disputes." 

Put simply, why were India and Israel diplomatically estranged for most of their independent histories? Why did India stick to its pro-Arab states approach, even when the same states rarely reciprocated with support on issues like Kashmir? How does talk of a majoritarian right-wing alliance between India and Israel explain the decision of a Congress government in the 1990s to normalise ties with Israel? Why did the first BJP-led national government, in the late 1990s, not make a clean break with India's previous support to Palestine? Why does Modi's government, even today, pay lip service to the Palestinian cause and the suggested creation of a Palestinian state as a solution to the Israel–Palestine conflict? 

If the Israeli response in Gaza definitively halts the move towards normalisation between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, New Delhi may again find itself having to carry out a tricky balancing act between crucial partners.

Without understanding the calculations that went into this singular history – an "anomaly" or "aberration" in some readings, an "embarrassment" in others – it is impossible to fully engage with the turn towards Tel Aviv that New Delhi has taken more recently. Essa attempts to tackle the matter, but dismisses India's decades-long ambivalence towards Israel as mostly having to do with "maintaining a self-image for the sake of realpolitik." 

Blarel's book, as well as India's Israel Policy (2010) by the Jawaharlal Nehru University professor P R Kumaraswamy and numerous other titles, cover this complicated question from different perspectives, albeit with a more academic audience in mind. The answers on offer are complex and continue to be debated. But any search for clarity has to examine how the Congress's jockeying with the Muslim League around the time of Independence turned into an international rivalry between India and Pakistan for the support of Muslim nations, and also engage with the legacy of pan-Islamic movements within the British Empire. It also has to grapple with the perceived role that the Indian Muslim vote bank has played in directing foreign policy calculations, as well as the vital economic and cultural ties that have long bound India to Arab countries, going beyond the moral, anti-imperial platform that Nehru built and shared with Nasser. And it has to look at pragmatic decisions made by New Delhi to get its hands on military technology in a world where access to such technology was often limited. 

More broadly, one can argue that India's approach towards Israel has generally tracked its stances in great-power competition: from the pro-Soviet Indira Gandhi's recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and expulsion of an Israeli consul during her tenure as prime minister in 1982, to Rajiv Gandhi's desire to expand relations with Tel Aviv as a signal to Washington DC in 1988 as her successor, and the more recent Indian participation in US-backed "minilaterals" like the India-Israel-US-United Arab Emirates gathering to reflect New Delhi's growing proximity to the United States. 

The other crucial element to understand is how India's Israel policy sits within its broader West Asian strategy, which has shifted from an overreliance on Nasser and Egypt in the early years to a more balanced approach after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s, and lately to taking cues from the influential Gulf states, which host millions of Indian citizens and are among India's most important international economic partners today. 

This is not to suggest that the ideological convergence between India and Israel's majoritarian, Islamophobic right wings is a mirage. Yet the transnational ideological affinity is not sufficient to explain the deeper ties that the two states are forging today, nor does it help to fully predict how things will play out. 

India's military and economic ties with Israel appear to have enough momentum to sustain the deepening relationship on their own, without needing ideological convergence. However, the opposition Congress party's equivocal response to the Hamas attack and Israel's subsequent operations in Gaza make it evident that all-out support for Tel Aviv is still a partisan issue in Indian politics, one that might become even more divisive as the Hindu right further embraces right-wing Israeli positions. 

If the Israeli response in Gaza definitively halts the move towards normalisation between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, New Delhi may again find itself having to carry out a tricky balancing act between crucial partners. And with the real possibility of Donald Trump returning to power in the US election next year, there is also the question of what a more transactional future US administration – one that sees less utility or interest in bringing its partners into the same geopolitical tent – might mean for nascent minilateral efforts in Asia. 

And how will India's closer ties with Israel impact its effort to be seen as the voice of the Global South, especially if most countries within that category find themselves on the other side of the Israel–Palestine divide? Were India to be seen as a key backer of Israel, how would that affect the treatment of its citizens and businesses operating in Arab and Muslim countries? New Delhi found itself alone in the Southasian region in abstaining on demands for a ceasefire at the UN General Assembly. Could its more visible embrace of Tel Aviv, and especially Netanyahu, become yet another reason for domestic constituents in places like Bangladesh or the Maldives to demand greater distance from India? 

Hostile Homelands musters an impressive set of anecdotes and information to document a rapidly deepening international relationship that has indeed lacked sustained examination. But in overstating its case and presenting the intensifying ties between the two states as the inevitable outcome of similar ethnonationalist movements drawing together, it struggles to shed light on the complex debates and calculations that have brought us to this moment – and which will influence how India–Israel ties go forward.

Himal Southasian