Is­rael fetes Modi af­ter arms deal

In­dian PM fails to meet Pales­tini­ans

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

IN­DIA’S Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Tues­day started a high-pro­file visit to Is­rael aimed at strengthening his coun­try’s al­ready close ties with the Jewish state.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu greeted Modi at Is­rael’s in­ter­na­tional air­port near Tel Aviv and will ac­com­pany the In­dian leader through­out the three-day visit.

Is­raeli of­fi­cials said the warm treat­ment goes well be­yond diplo­matic pro­to­col.

Modi, who will not be meet­ing Pales­tinian of­fi­cials while he is in town, was wel­comed with an hon­our guard and hugged Ne­tanyahu as he de­scended from the air­craft.

Modi said it was a “sin­gu­lar hon­our” to be the first sit­ting prime min­is­ter of In­dia to visit Is­rael.

In­dia is a ma­jor pur­chaser of Is­raeli arms.

This year, Is­rael’s state-owned Is­rael Aerospace In­dus­tries has an­nounced over $2 bil­lion (R26.6bn) in con­tracts to pro­vide air and missile-de­fence sys­tems to In­dia.

Rafael, an­other state-owned de­fence con­trac­tor, is try­ing to fi­nalise a deal to sell 8 000 “Spike” an­ti­tank missiles to In­dia in a deal that is re­port­edly valued at some $1bn, ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try ex­pert fa­mil­iar with the deal.

Dur­ing the Cold War, In­dia was a lead­ing mem­ber of the Non-Aligned Move­ment of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and sided staunchly with the Pales­tini­ans in their con­flict with Is­rael.

Be­fore ties were es­tab­lished in 1992, In­dia would not al­low its cit­i­zens to en­ter Is­rael on an In­dian pass­port.

But over the past 25 years, the two coun­tries have cul­ti­vated close ties, par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of tech­nol­ogy and de­fence co-op­er­a­tion.

In­dia is the world’s big­gest im­porter of de­fence equip­ment and Is­rael has be­come one of its ma­jor sup­pli­ers.

In re­cent years, the two na­tions have strate­gised on “coun­tert­er­ror­ism” ef­forts.

In a de­par­ture from stan­dard pro­to­col, Modi will not be vis­it­ing the Pales­tini­ans.

Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas vis­ited Modi in In­dia in May, and In­dian of­fi­cials say they han­dled all their busi­ness at the time.

Ne­tanyahu will join Modi at vir­tu­ally ev­ery stop of a packed sched­ule that in­cludes work­ing meet­ings, a trip to Is­rael’s Yad Vashem Holo­caust memo­rial and meet­ings with hi-tech ex­ec­u­tives.

Yu­val Rotem, the di­rec­tor gen­eral of Is­rael’s For­eign Min­istry, said the de­ci­sion for Ne­tanyahu to spend so much time with Modi is not a stan­dard prac­tice for vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries and in­di­cated “the high­est level of im­por­tance” at­tached to the visit.

Mark Sofer, the min­istry’s deputy di­rec­tor for Asia and the Pa­cific, said the meet­ings would fo­cus on var­i­ous ar­eas of tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing cy­ber­se­cu­rity and space re­search.

When Ne­tanyahu vis­ited In­dia in Novem­ber, he was greeted by protests in the cap­i­tal New Delhi, or­gan­ised by groups who de­nounced what they de­scribed as the “Is­raeli op­pres­sion of the Pales­tinian peo­ple”.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, left, hugs his Is­raeli coun­ter­part Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in Jerusalem.

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