Modi in Israel: 7 agreements part of the story, recasting ties was real highlight
India and Israel have signed seven agreements to bolster cooperation in space, agriculture and water conservation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his audacious visit was an occasion to “compose a new chapter” in the ties between both countries and to “jointly venture towards new horizons of engagement.”
The Joint Statement issued by both leaders notes how this “historic first-ever visit” raised the “bilateral relationship to that of a strategic partnership.”
India’s long stated but evolving position on Palestine has been one of the reasons for the reluctance of the Indian leadership to come out of the closet about their ties with Israel. PM Modi, however, does not seem to be tied down by those compulsions when it comes to the India-Israel relationship. The joint statement says that both leaders discussed the Israel-Palestine peace process and “underlined the need for a just and durable peace in the region” and “reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution based on mutual recognition and security arrangements.”
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar described the visit as a celebration of 25 years of relationship, heritage and bonding. And PM Modi spoke of the how people of both countries hold natural affinity and warmth and how "Indian origin Jewish community reminds of those bonds." He later visited Moshe Holtzberg the 11-year-old survivor of the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai and invited him to visit India.
With combating terrorism an important part of the bilateral relationship, in his meeting with Netanyahu, both leaders “agreed to do much more” to protect each other's strategic interests and to cooperate to combat terrorism and growing radicalisation including in cyberspace. The joint statement notes that Modi and Netanyahu sought efficient and effective implementation of the agreement on homeland and public security and institutionalising the broad based cooperation on cyber issues through a framework of cooperation.
In the field of defence, the joint statement speaks of joint development and transfer of technology with an emphasis on Make in India, PM Modi’s flagship programme.
Although it is the cooperation in other fields which took centrestage, including the agreement on establishing a “strategic partnership in water and agriculture” which will focus on water conservation, waste-water treatment, cleaning up of the Ganga, transfer of post-harvest know-how, among others. "We agreed that efficiency of water and resource use; water conservation and its purification; productivity increases in agriculture are key areas in deepening our bilateral cooperation," PM Modi said.
Modi and Netanyahu also called for more cooperation between startups besides tasking the India-Israel CEO forum to come up with recommendations to bolster trade and investments.
Both countries signed an MoU for setting up of USD 40 million fund christened the India-Israel Industrial Research and Development (R&D) and Technical Innovation Fund.
"We are of one view that together our scientists and researchers would develop, build and implement mutually beneficial solutions in the field," PM Modi said.
"Our decision to establish a bilateral Technology Innovation Fund worth USD 40 million for research in industrial development will help us in achieving this goal,” he said.
"We regard thriving two-way trade and investment flows as the bedrock of a strong partnership. Prime Minister Netanyahu and I agreed on the need to do more in this direction.
Shift in policy?
Prime Minister Modi is on a three day “ground breaking” visit to Tel Aviv which comes fourteen years after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited New Delhi.
The visit assumes significance for it officially pushes aside the reluctance on the part of India to recognise Israel as an important partner openly. While India recognised Israel in 1950, diplomatic ties were established only in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union despite cooperation between both the countries which remained largely under the radar. A joint working group on counter terrorism has been in place for more than a decade now with robust intelligence sharing and Israel has emerged as India’s top defence supplier.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made no secret of his admiration of Israel, a country which he even visited in 2006 as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. That he would visit Israel was only a matter of time. The visit has been in the works since 2015.
"We agreed to break down the remaining walls between India and Israel. We shook each other's hands and we agreed to forge a historic partnership for progress. We then met again in Paris and since then we've spoken many times on the phone. But I remember my friend what you said in that first meeting. You said that when it comes to India-Israel's relations, the sky is the limit," Netanyahu recalled in his earlier statement after PM Modi arrived in Tel Aviv.
India has been trying to detach its ties with Israel with how it conduct business with other Gulf states and even Palestine, which it has supported openly since Nehru’s days. India position on Palestine has evolved since with India taking a more neutral stand over the issue Albeit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came visiting New Delhi recently before Modi went to Tel Aviv, in a suggestion that India was not abandoning the Palestinian cause. Before visiting Israel, Modi visited Gulf States including Saudi Arabia and the UAE and even Iran.