Israel and India, two highly innovative nations, are navigating a challenging geopolitical landscape characterized by regional rivalries while emphasizing the paramount importance of cybersecurity within their respective domains. Both countries have emerged as major centers for tech start-ups, home to a growing number of so-called “unicorns" — companies with a valuation surpassing $1 billion. This success has attracted substantial external investment, further invigorating their cyber markets and solidifying their global significance.
India and Israel have embarked on a shared mission to enhance their bilateral strategic cyber partnership, while also forming alliances with common collaborators, such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Israel has a well-established cyber alliance with the United States, and India is looking toward Washington with renewed vigor, employing new frameworks to revitalize their engagement. These emerging dynamics necessitate a comprehensive examination of recent developments in the cyber arena for both India and Israel, emphasizing the potential for a promising future in the realm of multilateral cyber partnerships.
The Indo-Israeli cyber scenario
The 2017 visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — the first visit by an Indian PM to Israel — identified cybersecurity as an important area of cooperation for the two nations. The interest in formalizing a partnership was taken forward the following year during Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to India, resulting in the signing of a cybersecurity cooperation agreement.
Nevertheless, even before the partnership started taking shape on the government level, Indo-Israeli cyber cooperation was steadily deepening through private sector collaboration and investment. In 2015, one of India's biggest IT firms, Infosys, invested in several Israeli tech start-ups, while another major Indian IT firm, Wipro, followed suit the next year with an investment in Israeli cybersecurity start-up IntSights Cyber Intelligence. By 2016, Israeli organizations were “eyeing” the development of a billion-dollar cybersecurity market in India within the next five years. The Indian cybersecurity market now stands at around $4 billion, and is expected to more than double by 2028. Between 2000 and 2022, Israeli foreign direct investment (FDI) in India amounted to $270.91 million. This comprised over 300 investments, mainly in the high-tech domain and in agriculture. As India becomes an increasingly attractive destination for FDI, the growing Israeli investment in the country will serve as a distinct feature of the bilateral partnership.
On other levels, pioneers from the Israeli cyber ecosystem and organizations like “CyberSpark” — an industry initiative designed to bring together the Israeli government, private sector, and academic resources — were looking to develop a joint start-up ecosystem with India and began discussions with Indian companies like Tata and Reliance, as well as with premier Indian technology institutions, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), to collaborate on start-up incubators.
This has been further complemented by growing investments from Israel-based start-ups, several of which are engaging with Indian firms through joint ventures or acquisitions. The pace of Indo-Israeli private sector collaboration has sped up in the past few years, aimed at benefiting from the huge talent pool in Israel and the presence of massive market demand and potential in India. By 2019, cumulative Indian investments in Israel totaled $118 million, with India’s tech giants like TCS, Infosys, Tech Mahindra, and Wipro beginning to expand their presence in the Israeli market. In 2020, an memorandum of understanding between Israel’s Start-Up Nation Central and India’s International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (iCreate) was signed to initiate a bilateral program to accelerate innovation and technology cooperation between start-ups and corporates in both countries, aiming to bring together Israeli and Indian entrepreneurs and start-ups to collaborate on innovative projects.
The results are visible and several recent collaborations in the start-up ecosystem are boosting the level of bilateral engagement. Some examples of the partnerships created last year include:
ThinkCyber India: Headquartered in the Indian National Capital Region (NCR), this is an initiative by the Tel Aviv-based firm ThinkCyber (focused on cybersecurity education and production solutions) and the India-based Deepview Consultancy. With an investment of $10 million and partnerships with 100 colleges, it seeks to train students and corporates in India and create over 4,000 “cyberologists.”
Cymulate: Israel’s market leader in cybersecurity solutions, which has top banks and insurance firms as clients, established a legal entity in India focused on expanding Indo-Israeli tech relations.
Coralogix: An Israel-based cybersecurity firm focused on securing cloud-native companies launched a venture in India, known as “Snowbit.”
Following the 2017 agreement, both governments continued to engage through meetings and discussions, resulting in the signing of a 2020 deal to expand cybersecurity cooperation. The agreement established a framework for Indo-Israeli cyber dialogue, cooperation in capacity building, facilitation of regular exchanges, and mutual exchanges of best practices. More recently, during his visit to India in May of this year, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen emphasized "re-accelerating" Indo-Israeli relations in various fields to strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership. His meeting with his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, discussed cooperation in the high-tech, digital, and innovation areas and expanding collaboration on artificial intelligence and cyber defense.
The partnership took a further step with the release of the June 2022 “Vision Statement,” aimed at deepening defense cooperation “in a manner that harnesses Israel’s ‘technological and operational experience,’ together with India’s ‘extraordinary development and production capabilities.’” With this, the two sides are now looking to increase trade in tech platforms, like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones, long-range surface-to-air missiles, and airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), beyond the defense partnership in conventional domains like small arms and military training.
In West Asia, India has long balanced ties with all the regional powers. While strengthening its partnership with Israel, New Delhi has neither abandoned its stance on Palestine nor its aspirations for a reset in ties with Iran. However, recent geopolitical developments, centered around China and the U.S., have resulted in growing urgency in New Delhi for greater outreach to the region. At a time when China is seeking to play the role of regional peacemaker, backed by its position as the leading business and trade partner for many countries, alternative frameworks like the U.S.-led I2U2 (comprising India, Israel, the UAE, and the U.S.) or the Saudi Arabia-India-U.S.-UAE format signal a desire and effort to counter the growing Chinese penetration in the region.
These efforts are bound to irritate Beijing, which has emerged as a persistent cyber adversary for both India and Israel. In August 2021, Israel saw its first coordinated China-linked cyberattack. According to the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm FireEye, the attack hit dozens of Israeli private and government organizations. Those investigating speculated that the cyberattack was aimed at stealing business information to influence future decisions. Given its growing concerns about Sino-Israeli partnership in the tech domain, the U.S. nudged Israel last year to monitor its trade relationship with China more closely. In this vein, establishing or expanding robust tech or trade partnerships with other players like India can reduce China’s access to the Israeli high-tech industry.
For India, strains in its relationship with China are only increasing. The border clashes in recent years, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the renaming of Indian-claimed territories as Chinese, and Beijing’s ever-growing ambitions for the Indian Ocean region have resulted in an increasing shift in New Delhi’s attitude toward relations with China. Tensions between the two neighbors are affected by the continuous Chinese cyberattacks and cyber espionage campaigns against India. An expanding India-Israel cyber partnership can thus redefine the current geostrategic dynamics, both regionally and globally.
The Indo-Israeli strategic cyber partnership has experienced significant growth and has great potential moving forward. Both countries, known for their strong focus on technology and cybersecurity, have recognized the importance of strengthening their ties in the cyber realm. Private-sector collaboration and investment have laid the foundation for this partnership, which has now expanded to government-level agreements and frameworks. Israel's expertise in cybersecurity, showcased through its well-developed policy and institutional frameworks, serves as a valuable model for India as it formulates its own national cybersecurity strategy. The two countries can exchange initiatives, processes, and best practices to enhance their capabilities in the cyber domain. By leveraging each other's strengths, such as policy frameworks, talent pools, market potential, and institutional resources, a multilateral cyber partnership can create a powerful alliance against cyber threats. The two countries have complementary capabilities and can benefit from shared knowledge and expertise in cyberspace governance, capacity building, and skill development.
Regular dialogue, information exchange, and collaborative research and development initiatives are essential to fully realizing the potential of a multilateral cyber partnership. By doing so, these countries can collectively enhance their cyber defenses, drive innovation in cybersecurity, and contribute to the stability and security of the global digital ecosystem. The multilateral approach amplifies the impact of the Indo-Israeli partnership, allowing for a wider network of collaboration and a more robust collective response to the evolving cyber landscape.
Divyanshu Jindal is a Non-Resident Scholar with MEI’s Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program and a Research Associate at NatStrat, India. His work focuses on the geopolitics of tech and cyber and India’s cyber diplomacy.
Mohammed Soliman is the director of MEI's Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program, and a Manager at McLarty Associates’ Middle East and North Africa Practice. His work focuses on the intersection of technology, geopolitics, and business in the Middle East and North Africa.
Photo by Indian Ministry of External Affairs/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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