In what amounts to a significant policy shift, Indian public sector companies are bidding for Israeli offshore oil and gas fields. A consortium led by India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is seeking drilling rights in 24 offshore blocks in Israel’s Mediterranean waters, Indian and Israeli newspapers reported on Wednesday.

Last month, India’s Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan indicated his country’s intention to bid for Israeli oil-and-gas blocks. According to Israeli media reports, a high-ranking Indian delegation visited Israel in September “to discuss taking part in the tender for blocks in the Mediterranean Sea and Israeli officials said they were pleased with the visit.”

Regardless of the outcome, the latest move by Indian state-owned companies marks a significant change, not just in Israel-India bilateral ties, but in India’s geopolitical positioning in the Middle East. Nearly 85 percent of the country’s crude oil demand is met by the oil-producing Arab Gulf states. This dependence, more than anything else, has dictated India’s adversarial foreign policy in the past, signified by its voting pattern at the UN. That pattern was broken only recently after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office three year ago.

Israeli financial newspaper Globes reported details of the Indian bid:

The Energy Ministry has received bids from Energean and an Indian energy consortium for its new round of 24 offshore blocks.

Israel’s Ministry of Energy said it had received two bids from overseas companies for licenses to explore for gas and oil in its economic waters.The first bid for the 24 offshore blocks is from Greece’s Energean and the second is from a consortium of Indian firms including ONGC Videsh, Bharat PetroResources, Indian Oil Corp and Oil India.

The Indian economy is expected to grow by 7-8 percent in the next two years. Increased urban demand and industrial growth is driving India’s energy bill. The country imported an estimated $56 billion worth of oil in the first seven months of the current fiscal year and that bill is likely to rise up to $90 billion by 2018. Indian oil firms seeking to drill in Israeli waters is a sound commercial move on India’s part.

Indian companies venturing into oil exploration in Israel is a testament to the successful personal diplomacy undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.

The muted response by Arab countries to Prime Minister Modi’s historic visit to Israel this year, the first ever visit by an Indian premier to the Jewish State, and to growing Israel-India trade and defense ties, show the level of insignificance the “Palestinian Cause” has now been downgraded to in the Arab world.


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