A New Era for India-Israel
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State visit to Israel has heralded a new era in the political ties between the two nations. Steadily over the years, Israel has become India’s most trusted national security partner and defence supplier and this visit has been qualified as elevating the bilateral relationship to ‘new heights’. A slew of India-Israel joint ventures have followed the visit.
On4 July 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Israel on a State visit and was received by his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. This has certainly heralded a new era in the political ties between the two nations, exemplified by the manner in which Israel rolled out the red carpet for the Indian Prime Minister. Only a select few world leaders have received such a grand reception at Ben Gurion International Airport, the others being President of the United States and the Pope. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet were on the tarmac to greet Modi as he exited his Air India Boeing 747 in Tel Aviv.
As political observers opined, “If diplomacy can generate national catharsis, then Prime Minister Narendra Modi has achieved it with his epic visit to Israel. By treading with aplomb in a country where not one of his 13 predecessors dared set foot, he has simultaneously redefined India’s external self, and vindicated Israel’s identity. Gone are the diffidence and the gingerliness that previously defined how India interacted with Israel. In their place, Modi has injected confidence and certitude about wearing India’s choices and national interests on its sleeves. Banished are the overcautious, hypocritical and domestically poisoned lenses for approaching Israel, and ushered in are bold, dispassionate and objective ways of handling this key West Asian power.”
Prime Minister Modi’s crossing of the ‘Rubicon’(as it were) by visiting Israel is the finishing touch to a saga of 25 years of progressively warming bilateral relations. From that day when India’s then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao decided to end the Cold War-era estrangement and launch full diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992, the two countries have never looked back. Steadily over the years, Israel climbed up the ranks as India’s most trusted national security partner and defence supplier. The latter was forged virtually on the frontlines
during the Kargil conflict in 1999 when Israel pulled out all stops to provide the Indian Air Force with advanced systems enabling laser-guided bombs to be launched against key targets in the high mountains.
Ties between India and Israel have accumulated and remain unaffected by New Delhi’s continued support for Palestinian statehood and its strategic equation with Israel’s bête noire, Iran. The Indian PM has accomplished far more with Israel than merely flying the flag in the country. Under his leadership, India has signed with Israel one of its most vital defence deals, for surface-to-air missiles, while opening up a number of new vistas for cooperation including innovative technology transfer.
As per commentators, “Modi has also twinned his ‘Make in India’ with Israel’s ‘Make with India’, positing Israel as a core partner for India’s economic modernisation. Geopolitically, Modi has completed a full circle with his much-awaited Israel trip. His personal diplomacy with Gulf Arab nations, Turkey and Iran in the past three years have yielded material benefits for India. But there was this little chink in his ‘Look West’ policy armour — the most powerful West Asian state, Israel, was eagerly awaiting his presence. Now that Modi has done that, been there, the natural partnership has been freed from a sense of incompleteness and will gallop exponentially.”
PM Modi’s three-day trip covered the breadth of Israeli industry from agricultural and water management to tech startups and commerce. Seven major agreements were signed, dealing with water, agriculture and space technology, the two countries also creating a $40 million dollar research and development fund for joint innovation.
Amongst the historical – or sentimental – programmes for Modi and Netanyahu was to visit the Indian Army Memorial, which commemorates the role played by Indian Cavalry in the Palestine campaign of 1917-18. This was at the battle of Haifa in September 1918, perhaps the only time that a fortified city had fallen to action by horsed Cavalry. The two leaders also spent time with members of India’s Jewish diaspora, a community of more than eighty thousand Jews now living in Israel who can trace their roots back to the subcontinent. A poignant meeting was with 11-year old Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were victims of the Pak- sponsored terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
During their formal press conference, Modi and Netanyahu reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in areas of defence and security. Israel has provided weaponry to India even before the establishment of diplomatic relations and today, about 40 percent of Israel’s defense exports go to India making Israel its third largest defense supplier.
Just a few months earlier, in April 2017, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced a deal worth nearly $2 billion making it the largest defense contract in Israel’s history, the package being for sophisticated air and missile defense systems for the Indian Army.
Looking to deepen ties beyond highdollar defense deals, the two leaders presented a series of agreements between India and Israel for cooperation on satellite technology, water and agriculture, as well as the creation of a $40 million innovation fund. Modi vowed to increase cooperation with Israel on a wide range of fields, notably water technology, agriculture and counter-terrorism. “Israel and India live in complex geographics,” Modi said. “We are aware of strategic threats to regional peace and stability. We have witnessed terror, so has Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu and I agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also combat growing radicalisation, including in cyberspace”.
According to the joint statement, both prime ministers reiterated their strong commitment to combat global terror. “They stressed that there can be no justification of acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever”. The statement also hailed bilateral defence cooperation, nothing that India and Israel agreed that “future developments in this sphere should focus on joint development of defence products, including transfer of technology from Israel, with a special emphasis on the ‘Make in India’ initiative”. India is the world’s biggest importer of defence equipment and Israel has become one of its major suppliers.
The two leaders inspect the Israeli Guard of Honour
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Indian Army Memorial
Flash back to 1918 : Indian Army Cavalry entering Haifa city