Reports of arbitrary detentions and torture by the Indian military against Kashmiris are not uncommon in the Indian-occupied region. But Karim’s description of his interrogators was peculiar: They were not of Indian origin, he alleged, but white and spoke with US accents. They seemed to show little interest in his activities in Kashmir or his stances on domestic issues. They were instead curious about his views on global politics and especially the Palestinian struggle.
“I think they were trying to see if I associated myself with the struggles in Palestine and Afghanistan,” Karim testified, in the report. “One of the officers specifically asked me about Hamas, but I was shocked because they have nothing to do with Kashmir. I told them I have a problem with the Indian occupation of Kashmir, but they were trying to force me to say that I have a global agenda.”
According to Karim, the men were candid about their identities. They expressly told him they were working with the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, “on research” in Kashmir. Karim’s session of torture-laced interrogation continued for three days at Srinagar’s Sheikh Ul Alam International Airport, before he was moved to a different location, where he would remain for two and a half months.
Karim’s experience is the product of an evolving strategic partnership between India and Israel, where an increasingly overt convergence of interests and ideology has led to both states tangibly supporting one another in working towards their respective political and economic ambitions. Through this partnership, state repression in Indian-occupied territories is not an exclusively Indian project. It has become part of a broader network, linking India to the Israeli state and its own colonial project.
The Evolving Relationship between India and Israel
Although India and Israel only established formal relations in 1992, the link between the two states predates their respective establishments in 1947 and 1948. Both states were connected to one another by the British Empire, which previously ruled over both historic Palestine and the majority of South Asia. A striking example of this shared legacy can be found in their legal systems. For instance, both Israel and India adapted British wartime laws to take control over dispossessed refugees’ property through implementing the Israeli Absentee Property Law and the analogous Indian Evacuee Property Law.
In the early twentieth century, a fascination with Zionism emerged among Hindu nationalist figures such as V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. They regarded the settler colonial project in Palestine as a source of inspiration for Akhand Bharat, their vision of an undivided South Asia (and some surrounding regions) under Hindu supremacy. This affinity for Zionism still exists within the most powerful Hindu nationalist institutions, such as Modi’s ruling Indian People’s Party (BJP). Through these influential institutions, it continues to inform both India’s domestic and foreign policy today, as well as popular opinion in large parts of BJP’s stronghold states.
Beyond explicitly Hindu nationalist circles, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s purportedly secular first Prime Minister, also bore an admiration for the Zionist movement and its state-building project. Nehru believed, however, that establishing formal relations between his country and Israel would hinder his ability to gain international support for India’s policies in Kashmir and impede his ambition of gaining a leadership position in the decolonising world. Nonetheless, India officially recognised Israel in 1950, with an Israeli consulate in Bombay opening in 1953.
Prior to the establishment of formal relations in 1992, Indian-Israeli relations largely developed through backchannel communication between the Israeli Mossad and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the foreign intelligence agency created by Indira Gandhi in 1968. These secret defense relations, which ranged from the transfer of technology and expertise to covert diplomatic visits, were developed to counter Pakistan’s increasingly close relationship with China and North Korea. Between the establishment of the RAW-Mossad backchannel and the normalization of relations between the two states, India also laid the foundations for a strong defense partnership with the Soviet Union. At the time of its collapse in late 1991, the Soviet Union counted India as its largest purchaser of defense products.
The beginning of the 1990s represented a pivotal moment in the history of the Indian-Israeli relationship. The relationship transitioned from one rooted in a calculus of geopolitical defense considerations to one influenced by the entrenchment of authoritarian practices in India and its occupied territories. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant that India lost its largest supplier of arms. With pressure mounting from within and without to liberalize its economy, India sought a closer partnership with the United States. Significantly, this period also coincided with the breaking out of an armed insurgency in Kashmir in late 1989, catalyzed by a controversial election two years prior, allegedly rigged in favor of the pro-India National Conference party.
In June 1991, as Narasimha Rao assumed the Indian premiership following then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam one month earlier, Kashmiri militants kidnapped eight tourists in Srinagar. Seven of the hostages were Israelis—held on suspicion of being sent to stir dissent among militant organizations in Kashmir. As Indian and Israeli diplomats worked together to secure their release and evacuate the remaining Israeli tourists from the region, a growing chorus of voices in the Indian press called on their government to normalize relations with Israel. With the vocally pro-Israel BJP ascendent in Indian politics and the Palestinian leadership putting up little resistance to the strengthening relations between the two states, the Rao government decided to pursue normalization with Israel.
While India intensified its siege in Kashmir, Israel was in the midst of suppressing Palestinian resistance following the outbreak of the first Intifada. With growing challenges to the Israeli government, the state undertook its own project of economic liberalization. Part of this process entails what the Israeli economist Shir Hever has called “the privatization of Israeli security.” In this evolving, security-oriented economy, Israel and India moved beyond a relationship focused on defense toward a partnership forged around the constant preparation to preemptively prevent threats, whether real or imagined.
India, Israel and the Global War on Terror
Throughout the 1990s, Israel’s security industry began to emphasize the importance of what security companies and the government often referred to as the “Israeli experience.” The Israeli academic Neve Gordon identifies the “Israeli experience” as “a pervasive trope” used when marketing Israeli homeland security products and services globally. The September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 rendered Israel’s security sector all the more desirable for states like India, which sought to profit politically from the US-led “War on Terror” by casting itself as a powerful force against terrorism and extremism.
The Kashmiri scholar Mohamed Junaid has written that “the crude and one-dimensional polemic of ‘War on Terror’ gave the Indian state almost a carte blanche to crush the long-standing movement for self-determination” in Kashmir. According to Junaid, commentators, both Indian and foreign, were quick to reduce the Kashmiri liberation struggle to being part of a global jihad. Exploiting the War on Terror rhetoric, Indian officials linked their repression in Kashmir to efforts by other states to suppress national liberation struggles, such as those in Palestine and Chechnya. The Indian defense minister at the time, Jaswant Singh, claimed that the 1999 hijacking of an Indian plane was a “dress rehearsal” for the events of September 11, 2001.
Offering credibility to this perspective, a few months after September 11, individuals linked to the Pakistan-based groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out an attack on the Indian parliament building in New Delhi. Following this attack, the Indian government started working with an Israeli surveillance company, Nice Systems—a new partnership that underscored the shift in the India-Israel relationship toward a focus on homeland security threats.
Responding to calls from the Indian media for the country to adopt a more militarist approach to security, in July 2009, the government of the western Indian state of Maharashtra sent a delegation to Israel to learn from the so-called Israeli experience. The first tangible change that followed was the creation of Israeli-trained commando units and their deployment in Mumbai. The city’s police commissioner, Dhanushkodi Sivanandan, at the time stated publicly that India needed a more militarist approach and should emulate Israel’s “killer instinct” and its unapologetic attitude to external criticism. “Israel never keeps quiet. Israelis go on their flights, bombard the fellows (enemies), come back and keep quiet. But when we become aggressive, we face international pressure,” he remarked just six months after Israel’s deadly bombing campaign in Gaza in 2008–2009.  India, he complained, had “been passively witnessing terror attacks” for “thousands of years.”
In the years following the attack, a provisioning system known as the Central Monitoring System (CMS) was implemented throughout India. To set up this system—which facilitated mass surveillance over almost all electronic communications— India enlisted the help of Israeli security firms, such as Verint Systems. The CMS, marked a demonstrable shift in Indian security priorities from monitoring convicted criminals to surveilling all private communications based on the possibility of locating potential threats. The new surveillance system could operate without the use of court orders and allowed the state to access the communication data of practically any individual with access to a telephone or internet connection. Furthermore, the system did not include an appeals process whereby those erroneously targeted by it could defend themselves. Beyond the involvement of Israeli firms in the process, the introduction of the CMS also points to the Indian state’s valorization of Israeli security approaches.
A Strategic Partnership
India’s adoption of this so-called “hard” approach to internal security, influenced by public and institutional fascination with Israeli methods and technologies, predates the arrival of Narendra Modi and his BJP government. In fact, India’s usage of Israeli technology—such as the purchase of Israeli-manufactured drones to fly over areas in Chhatisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh held by Naxalite Maoist rebels—began under the supposed liberal government of Manmohan Singh and the Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance from 2004–2014.
The arrival of the BJP government in 2014 laid the groundwork for upgrading the Indian-Israeli bilateral relationship to the level of a “strategic partnership” –as the two states declared in a joint statement following a visit by Modi to Israel in 2017. During Modi’s visit, he and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, signed several agreements to facilitate cooperation in areas ranging from water management, agriculture and technological innovation.
Indeed, the morbidly fraternal relationship between the two leaders has contributed to Israel becoming one of India’s primary partners in Modi’s flagship Make in India campaign—launched in September 2014. This program invites foreign companies to manufacture goods in India. Unsurprisingly, Israeli security and defense products, such as missiles and drones, are among the most significant goods that commenced manufacturing in India. A handful of large Indian conglomerates, such as the Adani Group—headed up by the long-term Modi financier Gautam Adani—benefited from the new contracts with Israel. Other significant partners, particularly in defense manufacturing, included both Russia, which was involved in manufacturing Brahmos missiles and other defense products, and the United States, largely through the involvement of Lockheed Martin. Beyond military technology, Israeli firms have also committed to the Make in India campaign in other key areas, including renewable energy. Israel has also courted Indian investment into its own economy. In January of 2023, the Adani group purchased the Haifa Port for $1.2 billion. When the CEO announced the purchase alongside Netanyahu, he heralded the long relationship between the two countries and billed it as part of a larger effort to invest in Israel.
During this time, India also became the world’s biggest purchaser of Israeli military technology. The two states signed a defense deal worth approximately $2 billion during Modi’s 2017 trip to Israel. The deal, one of the largest in Israeli history, became a source of scrutiny in 2021, when reporting by The Wire revealed that around the BJP’s electoral victory in 2019, the Israeli company NSO’s Pegasus spyware was potentially installed on mobile phones belonging to opposition leader Rahul Gandhi. A New York Times report from January 2022 revealed that Pegasus was a central part of the 2017 deal. The Modi Government denies it ever purchased Pegasus. But import documents accessed by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project confirm that India has bought hardware from NSO that “matches the description of equipment used elsewhere to deploy the company’s flagship Pegasus software.”
Beyond targeting Modi and the BJP’s political challengers, a leak revealed by the Pegasus Project in 2021 suggests that hundreds of individuals were “selected for possible surveillance” with the Israeli software. Lending further weight to the scale of the surveillance, a report released by the Legal Forum for Kashmir in 2023 lists several important Kashmiri figures known to have been targeted by Pegasus.
Empowered by Israel’s repressive tactics, the BJP implemented a host of other measures and policies to confront dissent within the country. The journalist Swati Chaturvedi, for example, documents the development of a “digital army” of troll accounts loyal to the BJP that mobilizes against critical voices through social media. Beyond bearing a noticeable resemblance to a similar project undertaken by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs to “flood the internet” by targeting pro-BDS voices online, the BJP’s digital army routinely coordinates campaigns to express their admiration for Israel and dislike for Palestinians, often echoing Hindu Nationalist and Philo-Zionist tropes and rhetoric.
The Kashmir Valley has been under particularly intense surveillance since emerging from a seven-month-long media blackout in 2020. The Indian government imposed the blackout in August 2019 after revoking Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian Constitution, which guaranteed Kashmir’s semi-autonomous statehood under the Indian Union. The revocation included the bifurcation of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir into the two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Many Kashmiri activist groups, particularly those in exile, have accused India of imposing the “Israeli model” on Kashmir as a result of new laws that have opened the region up to Indian settlement in the wake of the revocation. Lending these accusations credibility are Indian state officials like Sandeep Chakravorty who, during his tenure as the Indian consul general in New York, called explicitly for the emulation of an “Israeli model” in Kashmir.
Israel’s position on India’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35a, articulated by its then-ambassador to India, Ron Malka, consisted of recycled rhetoric from its own oppression of Palestinians. In support of India’s actions, Malka stated that “as we see it, it’s within Indian borders, something that is internal in India, an Indian issue.” Malka also referred to India as the “biggest democracy in the world,” mirroring Israel’s invocation of its own status as a supposedly exceptional democracy when defending its transgressions. His statement concluded by affirming India as a “friend” of Israel.
Kashmir and Palestine, A Shared Struggle
In addition to Israel seeking to suppress pro-Palestine activism in countries near and far, India also has its own history of suppressing pro-Palestine and anti-Israel activism in Kashmir. While the PLO leadership, and especially Yasser Arafat, historically regarded India as a supporter of its cause, Kashmiris have long recognized parallels between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Indian occupation of their land. These shared struggles have led to the formation of a strong bond of solidarity between Kashmiris and Palestinians, who, at the grassroots level, have maintained a clear position of supporting the aspirations of the Kashmiri liberation struggle.
India and its security agencies have used this solidarity between Palestinians and Kashmiris as a pretext for authoritarian intervention, targeting pro-Palestine activism as if it were a form of anti-India dissent. In 2014, for example, the Indian police forces killed Kashmiri teen Suhail Ahmad at a demonstration in Kashmir against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. In May of 2021 during the “unity intifada,” as Palestinians protested widely against Israeli settler colonialism, authorities in Kashmir arrested 21 individuals for protesting in solidarity with Palestinians. Later, the Kashmir Zone Police took to social media to warn Kashmiris against “attempting to leverage the unfortunate situation in Palestine to disturb public peace and order in the Kashmir valley.”
Another example of Palestinian and Kashmiri activists organizing together can be seen in the response to India, in its capacity as president of the G20, electing to hold G20 and Y20 meetings in Kashmir in May 2023. A coalition of eight civil society organisations from around the world came together to call for a boycott of the meetings, including Within Our Lifetime, a Palestinian-led campaigning group based in New York City.
Like Karim’s interrogation at the hands of Israeli Mossad agents, the ever-increasing acts of co-resistance such as those undertaken by Palestinians and Kashmiris in their homelands and in exile speaks to the current nature of the India-Israel relationship. The convergence of interests and ideology between the two states has allowed a relationship between them to flourish. The flows of arms, capital and shared rhetoric across their respective borders further entrenches the growing repression and authoritarianism in each.
[Abdulla Moaswes is a PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.]
 “India’s War Crimes in Kashmir: Violence, Dissent and the War on Terror,” Stoke White Investigations Report, 2022, p.28.
 P.R. Kumaraswamy, “India’s Recognition of Israel, September 1950,” Middle Eastern Studies 31/1 (1995).
 Azad Essa. Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2023).
 Ibid, p. 34.
 Shir Hever. The Privatisation of Israeli Security (London: Pluto Press, 2018).
 Neve Gordon. “The Political Economy of Israel’s Homeland Security/Surveillance Industry,” The New Transparency Project, Working Paper III (2009), p.3.
 Mohamed Junaid, “From a Distant Shore to the War at Home: 9/11 and Kashmir,” South Asian Review 42/4 (2021), p. 417.
 Ibid, p. 419.
 Azad Essa, Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel (London: Pluto Press, 2023), p.47.
 Indrani Bagchi, “India, Israel elevate their ties to strategic partnership,” The Times of India, July 16, 2017.
 Sharad Vyas & Jurre van Burgen. “Indian Spy Agency Bought Hardware Matching Equipment Used for Pegasus”, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, October 20, 2022.
 S. Chaturvedi, I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army (New Delhi: Juggernaut Books, 2016).
 “India replicating Israeli model in Kashmir: speakers,” The Express Tribune, October 1, 2022.
 “Anger over India’s diplomat calling for ‘Israel model’ in Kashmir,” Al Jazeera, November, 28, 2019.
 “Religious Preacher Arrested Two Days After ‘Praying For Palestine’,” Outlook India, May 15, 2021.