Modi be­comes first In­dian PM to visit Is­rael

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


Naren­dra Modi be­gins a first visit to Is­rael by an In­dian prime min­is­ter to­day, in a pub­lic em­brace of a coun­try that he has long ad­mired for its mil­i­tary and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise but which his pre­de­ces­sors kept at arm’s length. In­dia has tra­di­tion­ally trod­den a care­ful diplo­matic line in the re­gion, an­a­lysts say, wary of up­set­ting Arab states and Iran - upon whom it re­lies for its vast im­ports of oil - and its large Mus­lim mi­nor­ity. It has been a vo­cal sup­porter of the Pales­tinian cause, even as it qui­etly pur­sued ties with Is­rael.

But now Modi is lift­ing the cur­tain on a thriv­ing mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship. He will hold three days of talks with his Is­raeli coun­ter­part, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, to ad­vance sales and pro­duc­tion of mis­siles, drones and radar sys­tems un­der his sig­na­ture “Make in In­dia” drive, of­fi­cials in Delhi and Tel Aviv said. Ne­tanyahu, hail­ing what he de­scribed as Modi’s “his­toric visit”, said yes­ter­day he and the In­dian leader have worked to­gether over the past few years to build a “stead­fast friend­ship” be­tween Is­rael and In­dia. “This visit will deepen co­op­er­a­tion in a wide range of fields - se­cu­rity, agri­cul­ture, wa­ter, en­ergy - ba­si­cally in al­most ev­ery field Is­rael is in­volved in,” Ne­tanyahu told his cab­i­net in pub­lic re­marks.

Modi will not travel to Ra­mal­lah, the seat of the Pales­tinian Author­ity and a cus­tom­ary stop for vis­it­ing lead­ers try­ing to main­tain a bal­ance in po­lit­i­cal ties. At home, the ap­par­ent shift in what has long been a be­drock of In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy risks sharp­en­ing crit­i­cism that the coun­try’s 180 mil­lion Mus­lims are in­creas­ingly be­ing marginal­ized un­der Modi’s Hindu-na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gov­ern­ment, which swept to power in 2014. “Naren­dra Modi’s visit to Is­rael will only strengthen its oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine,” said Asadud­din Owaisi, a mem­ber of In­dia’s fed­eral par­lia­ment from a re­gional group that pro­motes Mus­lim rights.

Bur­geon­ing re­la­tion­ship

In pre­vi­ous decades, un­der the left-lean­ing Congress Party, for­mer Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat was a reg­u­lar visitor to New Delhi, pic­tured hug­ging then In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi when the two were cham­pi­oning the Non-Align­ment Move­ment. In May, Modi hosted Arafat’s suc­ces­sor, Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, and of­fered help in health and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, but the trip was low-key. The scale of the on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with Is­rael dwarfs any­thing In­dia is at­tempt­ing with the Pales­tini­ans, of­fi­cials say.

“We have a wide rang­ing part­ner­ship with Is­rael that ranges from agri­cul­ture co­op­er­a­tion to home­land se­cu­rity,” said Bala Bhaskar, head of the for­eign min­istry’s West Asia di­vi­sion. He said In­dia’s ties with Is­rael and Pales­tine were im­por­tant in their own right and nei­ther should viewed through the prism of the other. But an Is­raeli diplo­mat said Modi’s stand­alone trip to Is­rael was an im­por­tant sig­nal.

The two sides are ex­pected to an­nounce strate­gic part­ner­ships in ar­eas in­clud­ing wa­ter, agri­cul­ture and space tech­nol­ogy dur­ing Modi’s visit. But it is the de­fense re­la­tion­ship that is most ad­vanced - In­dia is now Is­rael’s big­gest arms mar­ket, buy­ing weapons at an av­er­age of $1 bil­lion each year. Eli Al­fassi, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing at state-owned Is­rael Aerospace In­dus­tries (IAI), the coun­try’s big­gest de­fence firm, said it was sup­ply­ing In­dia with drones, radar, com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems and cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

Mis­siles, food se­cu­rity

The cen­tre­piece of the col­lab­o­ra­tion is the Barack 8 air de­fence sys­tem, built jointly by the two coun­tries in a boost for Modi’s cam­paign to de­velop a do­mes­tic de­fence in­dus­try. “We are ad­just­ing to the ‘Make in In­dia’ pol­icy which says only lo­cal com­pa­nies will win ten­ders, so we are set­ting up three joint projects in In­dia with lo­cal com­pa­nies,” Al­fassi said. IAI has signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing to build mis­siles with In­dia’s state-run Bharat Elec­tron­ics Lim­ited, launched a joint project with Dy­na­matic Tech­nolo­gies to make drones and is scout­ing for a part­ner for a joint ven­ture for its sub­sidiary Elta, which spe­cial­izes in elec­tronic war­fare and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems, he said.

In­dia is in the midst of a mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram worth more than $100 bil­lion to help counter ri­vals Pak­istan and China. Is­rael, the United States and Russia are In­dia’s top mil­i­tary sup­pli­ers, and Modi’s gov­ern­ment has said it will fa­vor coun­tries that are ready to share tech­nol­ogy. Avi Mizrachi, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness devel­op­ment for Is­rael and South­east Asia at El­bit Sys­tems , which sup­plies elec­tro-op­tic sys­tems and up­grades of he­li­copters and com­bat ve­hi­cles, said it would be bid­ding for a ten­der to sup­ply drones in part­ner­ship with In­dia’s Adani group.

The two coun­tries stress, though, that there is more to the re­la­tion­ship than arms deals. Modi will be dis­cussing a plan for Is­raeli help in boost­ing In­dia’s food se­cu­rity, of­fi­cials said. The plan is to ex­pand 26 agri­cul­ture ex­per­tise cen­ters that Is­rael has set up in 15 In­dian states to help in­crease out­put of ev­ery­thing from veg­eta­bles to man­goes and pomegranates. Modi wants In­dian com­pa­nies in­volved in turn­ing these small cen­ters into com­mer­cial en­ti­ties that would help tens of thou­sands of farmers to boost pro­duc­tiv­ity. —Reuters

MUM­BAI: In­dian demon­stra­tors take part in a protest against a spate of mur­ders tar­get­ing mi­nori­ties un­der the pre­text of pro­tect­ing cows in Mum­bai yes­ter­day. In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi con­demned a string of mur­ders tar­get­ing mi­nori­ties un­der the pre­text of pro­tect­ing cows, which are con­sid­ered sa­cred by many Hin­dus, af­ter crit­ics ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of turn­ing a blind eye. —AFP

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