Aapka swagat hai, mere dost” (welcome, my friend), said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Breaking protocol, he personally received the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, an honour previously accorded only to the US President and the Pope and that too with Israel’s entire Cabinet present at the airport. “It is truly a historic visit,” said Netanyahu, who termed the friendship between their two countries as “natural”. Soon after, he announced that a USD 40 million innovation fund was being set up for cooperation between India and Israel. In his comments, Prime Minister Modi said India counts Israel as an important partner in its path to development and a strong resilient partnership with it will be his focus.
“You said when it comes to India-Israel relationship, sky is the limit. But actually my friend, the sky isn’t the limit because today our space programmes are working towards reaching even greater heights,” Mr. Netanyahu said with a smile Israeli Prime Minister said. “The tie between our talented, innovative people is natural. It is so natural that we can ask what took so long for them to blossom… We love India… We have been waiting for the last 70 years for a visit by an Indian Prime Minister,” said Mr Netanyahu and hailed Mr. Modi as “a great leader of India and a great world leader”.
The significance of these statements is borne by the fact that the Jewish people, often persecuted in history, found India a friendly country to be in and the many synagogues they built stand as a testament to the Indian spirit of inclusiveness. Maharashtra has sixteen synagogues, including six in Mumbai itself. Gujarat has one in Ahmedabad. Pune has two, New Delhi has one and Kerala has at least five in three of its districts. The earliest synagogue in Kerala dates back to as early as 1130, while all others were built in 1800s to early 1900s.
Following in-depth talks between PMs Modi and Netanyahu, India and Israel signed seven agreements to step-up cooperation in key sectors like space, agriculture and water conservation. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Department of Science and Technology and Israel’s National Technological Innovation Authority for setting up of USD 40 million worth India-Israel Industrial Research and Development (R&D) and Technical Innovation Fund. Mr. Modi said, “we are of one view that together our scientists and researchers would develop, build and implement mutually beneficial solutions in the field”.
Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre is reported to have stated that over the past two years, contracts signed by India for the procurement of weapons and military platforms with Israel, make it India’s second largest source for weapons after the United States. Israel has signed several major agreements with India in recent months itself, including a whopping USD 1.6 billion deal with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the Indian Army.
Having begun diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, India’s first defence attaché, former Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne disclosed during a recent seminar at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses that missile pods timely provided by Israel were of great help in capturing Tiger Hill from Pak army in the 1999 heightened confrontation in area Kargil.Personnel of Indian Army’s regiments equipped with Centurion tanks, deeply regretted India turning down Israel’s generous offer of refurbishing them in 1973 or so. By 1974, all Centurion equipped regiments, which had destroyed disproportionately large number of Pakistan Army’s then comparatively newer Patton tanks in the 1965 and 1971 Indo- Pak wars, were replaced with a new indigenous tank, which hardly saw any battle and was eventually replaced.
Inviting Israeli youth to visit India in large numbers, PM Modi announced that Delhi-Mumbai-Tel Aviv flights will start soon. To the Indian diaspora in Israel, he informed that India will soon open an Indian Cultural Centre in Israel and assured that Indians in Israel will never face difficulty in obtaining OCI and PIO cards, clarifying that even those who have completed compulsory service in Israeli Army will not face any trouble in obtaining an OCI card.
The combo of PM Modi’s visits to the US and Israel one after the other has caused severe indigestion to both China and Pakistan.