Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded the historic three-day long visit to Israel on 6 June 2017. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the red-carpet welcome and had personally overseen and accompanied all the official engagements of Modi in Israel.
During the Modi’s visit, New Delhi and Tel Aviv signed seven bilateral agreements that cover a range of bilateral relations – water conservation, space, science and technology and agriculture. Besides, most significantly, both the leaders announced the stepping up of the bilateral relations to the level of – strategic partnership – status.
Apart from the signing of formal agreements and public display of solidarity with the host, Modi’s visit to Israel is of much significance due to the following reasons –
It is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. Moreover, the stand-alone visit to Israel is also symbolic in nature as it indicates India’s clear intention to de-hyphenate Indo-Israel bilateral relationship with Palestine issue and relations with the larger Arab World and Iran.
Secondly, though less in substance, the visit marks the 25 years of full diplomatic relations between the two nations. Though India recognised Israel way back in 1950, full fledged relations with the Jewish Nation were established only in 1992.
Thirdly, It is during this visit, both the countries explicitly announced their intent to expand their relations from the conventional defence and security related areas to the emerging and developing areas like agriculture, innovation, space and science and technology.
It is against this backdrop, let us understand the multitudinal nature of India-Israel bilateral relations and benefits India can reap in various sectors in the future.
Defence and Security Coopeation
Over the last two decades, Defence and Security Cooperation is at the heart of the Indo-Israel bilateral relations. Some of the significant facts related to this cooperation are -
• At present, Israel is one of India’s top defence partners with India. India has been importing unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance, surface-to-air missile systems, and radars and anti-tank missiles from Israel over the last two decades.
• As per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which analyses global defence sales, defence trade between India and Israel has averaged more than $ 1 billion annually.
• India is also seeking to buy a medium-range surface-to-air missile defence system from Israel. This deal would be worth of $2.5 billion.
• Over the past one year, New Delhi has inked three missile deals with Israel worth $2.6 billion.
• Both the countries established a Joint Working Group (JWG) to counter terrorism back in early 2000.
• India has been buying Isarel’s surveillance drones that include Heron -1, Searcher and Harpy since late 1990s’.
• Both the countries have been involved in developing advanced surface-to-air missiles BARAK.
Similar to Israel, India lives in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the world. Sandwiched by two nuclear-armed States (China & Pakistan), India has a lot to learn from Israel in terms of border protection and developing advanced defence technologies.
Indian Community in Israel
Agriculture and Water Conservation
A bilateral agreement for cooperation in agriculture is already in place. Accordingly, a bilateral Action Plan for 2015-18 is currently operational. The agreement aims to expand cooperation into new sectors such as dairy and water.
India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanization, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro-irrigation and post-harvest management particularly in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Israeli drip irrigation technologies and products are now widely used in India. Some Israeli companies and experts are providing expertise to manage and improve dairy farming in India through their expertise in high milk yield.
Since 1992, drip irrigation projects launched by various private companies of Israel in India have grown from $1 million worth to more than $1 billion. At present, Israeli companies represent around 75% of the Indian market.
During the recent visit, two MoUs and one Agreement was signed in this area of cooperation. One among them, seeks to extend the existing Cooperation Framework Agreement till 2020. All these agreements will help the Indian farming community, especially in water depressed areas.
Geo-Strategic and Multilateral Cooperation
The Indo-Israel strategic cooperation and multilateral cooperation (India-USA-Israel) can be understood from the following facts -
• Israel’s support for India during the 1971 war and the 1999 Kargil conflict had long laid the foundation for a strategic partnership between the two countries.
• It is tacitly understood that the shortest route to Washington DC is via Tel Aviv. As India’s recent rapprochement with the USA has been nurtured by growing bilateral relations with Israel and convergence of political interest at the global fora. For instance, India’s abstention during a UNHRC vote against Israel’s “alleged war crimes” in 2016 is a clear signal from the Indian Government about its intention to de-hyphenate the relations from the Palestine issue.
• The reach of strong Jewish lobby in the power corridors of the Capitol Hill and the connections Donald Trump holds with the Jewish community in the USA should be always kept in mind.
• Moreover, a trusted ally in the West Asian region will be always beneficial for India.
Science, Technology, Innovation and Industry
Israel’s key to prosperity lies in its strong R&D culture which is at the heart of the industry that achieves multi-fold growth based on constant innovations in science and technology. Israel is the global leader in various branches of science and technology like – aerospace engineering, agricultural engineering, bio-technology and military engineering. The announcement of $ 40 million joint innovation fund (India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund – I4F) by both the leaders is expected to boost this cooperation. Besides, the announcement of India’s ‘Make In India’ with Israel’s ‘Make with India’ strongly echoes India’s interests in this area of cooperation.
Apart from the agreement on I4F, three other agreements were signed in ‘Space Technology’ to further boost the cooperation. Israel is home to second largest number of startups in the world. At present, many startups in Hyderabad and Bengaluru are already functioning with the help of cooperation from Israel. To make the StartupIndia campaign successful, Israel’s expertise will be of much help for India.
Challenges before India-Israel bilateral relations
India has historically supported the independence cause of Palestina. Some experts argue that the recent stand-alone visit would seriously jeopardize India’s traditional stance. Till now, India has managed to preserve a pragmatic balancing act between regional players in the West Asian region.
Moreover, it is difficult for India to ignore its crucial energy ties with Iran and the Gulf states. And, one could also wonder that whether the Modi’s visit would be able to achieve the expected results.
Another challenge in front of India is New Delhi’s bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. India requires a firm endorsement of its candidature from the Arab countries. Those Arab countries form a large group in the UN General Assembly and they might not like to see India distancing itself from the Palestinian cause.
No doubt, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stand-alone visit to Israel is an indication of tectonic shift in the India-Israel bilateral relations. In a nut shell Indo-Israel future relations can be rightly described in Israel PM Netanyahu’s friendship theorem “I-square T-square” which is translated as - Indian Talent and Israeli Technology; India-Israel Ties for Tomorrow.
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