Why Israel’s courting India’s Prime Minister Modi

Why Israel's courting India's Prime Minister Modi

Only a select few world leaders receive Israel’s grand reception at Ben Gurion International Airport: people like the President of the United States, and the Pope. So it did not go unnoticed that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the same red carpet treatment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet were on the tarmac to greet Modi as he exited his Air India Boeing 747 in Tel Aviv.

Modi returned the gesture in trademark style.

“Netanyahu received Prime Minister Modi’s hugging diplomacy,” says Eliaz Dandeker, a historian and researcher of the Jewish-Indian community. “It was warm, like a couple of old friends that came together after so many years.”

The two countries aim to further that embrace in terms of economic, cultural and security ties. The trip marks the first visit to Israel by an Indian Prime Minister after 25 years of diplomatic relations. Many analysts see the visit as a clear diplomatic tilt toward Israel after years of India keeping its distance.

“Since 1992 there has been a growing relationship between Israel and India but it was under Prime Minister Modi that the relationship has really blossomed,” Ambassador Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry told CNN.

The three-day trip covers the breadth of Israeli industry from agricultural and water management to tech startups and commerce.

Netanyahu has ushered his Indian guest to meetings with business leaders and students from the two countries, and established an India-Israel CEO forum to create a hub for trade and commerce.

Seven major agreements have been signed, dealing with water, agriculture and space technology. The two countries have also created a $40 million dollar research and development fund for joint innovation.

“Israel is among the leading nations in the fields of innovation, water, and agriculture technologies – these are also among the priority areas in India’s development,” Modi told reporters, as he stood next to Netanyahu.

“We are making history together,” Netanyahu said. “I have a feeling that India and Israel are changing our world.”

Netanyahu quipped that Hebrew and Hindi are the two main languages in Silicon Valley, the United States’ high-tech hub, which made their two countries natural partners.
A partnership that has seen bilateral trade grow exponentially from $200 million in 1992 to $4.16 billion last year.
“We lead in robotics, precision agriculture, and everything having to do with water, dairy farming, drones, machine learning,” says Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, a platform for investors to provide venture capital funding for startups. “And as India modernizes in terms of moving ahead on digital payments and e-gov, Israel becomes a very strategic partner for India.”
One of the crucial meetings for Modi and Netanyahu will be with members of India’s Jewish diaspora, a community of more than 80 thousand Jews now living in Israel who can trace their roots back to the subcontinent. Dandeker, a fourth-generation immigrant, eagerly views the potential of future cooperation.
“Our connections are making more opportunities between the two countries,” Dandeker said. “We hope both leaders seize the broad connections created by the diaspora community.”
During a press conference on Wednesday, Modi and Netanyahu reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in areas of defense and security. Israel provided arms to India even before the establishment of diplomatic relations. Today, about 40 percent of Israel’s defense exports go to India making Israel its third largest defense supplier Medved told CNN.

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