“Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace; thereby shall thine increase be good.” (The Israel Bible™)
By: Ilan Evyatar
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins a three-day visit to Israel Tuesday to mark 25 years of full diplomatic ties between the countries in what officials in Jerusalem are describing as a trip of “historic” importance.
Mark Sofer, Israel’s former ambassador to Delhi, told a press conference at the Foreign Ministry ahead of the visit that it was “difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the trip,” adding that it was generating “enormous excitement and expectations on both sides.”
In an indication of the importance Israel attaches to the visit, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will escort Modi, the first Indian prime minister to come to Israel, throughout his trip – an unprecedented gesture for visiting VIPs, with the exception of sitting United States presidents.
Israel and India are expected to sign a “Strategic Partnership” with agreements in a number of fields including water and agriculture, innovation, technology, space cooperation and culture. The Israeli Cabinet last week allocated NIS 280m for Israel-India cooperation.
India is Israel’s second-largest trading partner in Asia, second only to China. Bilateral trade between the countries currently stands at $4.16 billion, excluding military sales, with the scales tipped $300 million in Israel’s favor. Israeli exports to India have risen by 60 percent in the last decade, but have fallen back sharply since 2012 and attempts to sign a Free Trade Agreement have so far not borne fruit as New Delhi reviews its FTA policies.
While foreign ministry officials declined to comment on defense ties, several major deals could be signed during the visit. Israel is India’s third largest military supplier.
Sofer and current ambassador to India Daniel Carmon said the visit would set a roadmap for the next 25 years of Israel-India ties.
“We are celebrating 25 years of our relationship and the trajectory of these relations has been remarkable, culminating in a peak over the last three years [since Modi’s election], ” Carmon said. “But we should be looking forward to the next 25 years.”
In an interview with the Yisrael Hayom daily ahead of his visit, Modi recalled how he had first been to the country while chief minister of the Indian State of Gujarat in 2006.
“In India, Israel is perceived as a technological powerhouse, and a country that has braved many odds,” Modi said. “Many tech-based inventions have their roots in Israeli universities and laboratories and have benefited humankind. … The way you transformed yourself from being a water-deficient country to a water-surplus country; the manner in which you made your deserts bloom, are all amazing accomplishments. All these images have made a deep imprint on my mind.”
During his three-day visit, Modi will hold talks with Netanyahu, meet with President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin and meet with opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Modi will also address members of Israel’s Indian community and with Israeli business leaders, attend a showcase exhibit of Israeli technology and innovation, pay homage to Indian soldiers killed in the battle for Haifa in World War I, as well as meeting with Moshe Holtzberg whose parents were killed in the terror attack on Mumbai’s Chabad House in 2008.