Opinion

Bright hopes for India-Israel relations

Martand Jha | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on January 12, 2018

New horizons Could lead to a rejigged relationship   -  HANDOUT

Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit comes despite New Delhi opposing Israel’s move to make Jerusalem its capital. This is good news

India is all set to set to host Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his delegation; their four-day visit starts January 14.

This is only the second visit by an Israeli prime minister after a gap of 15 years since Ariel Sharon in 2003. The visit is significant especially after India voted in the UN General Assembly last month against recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The impending visit clears apprehensions of a road block in India-Israel relations. The two prime ministers are expected to discuss various issues ranging from agriculture and water, to cyber security, healthcare and security.

Big delegation

A 130-member delegation is accompanying the Israeli prime minister, constituting businessmen from 102 Israeli companies. The primary focus of this delegation would be to boost economic ties between the two countries.

Over the last 25 years, bilateral trade between the two countries has increased from $200 million to more than $4 billion (excluding defence) in 2016-17. Still, given India’s large market and huge consumer base, the numbers are low compared to India’s economic relations with other countries.

The businessmen from Israel would certainly be looking to tap the existing potential within Indian markets and increase trade numbers. Several MoUs are expected to be signed in the fields of oil, gas, renewable energy and cyber security, among others.

Special emphasis would be given to boost the tourism sector so as to make both India and Israel a lucrative destination for tourists from both sides.

Apart from that, cooperation in the technology sector would be a key area to look for, especially after the Cabinet approved the MoU between India and Israel on the “India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund” which was concluded in July 2017 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel.

With this, the techno-economic collaborationis expected to increase significantly. Other than the warmth shared between the leaders, this visit may be a good opportunity for businessmen from both sides to interact with and understand each other, and bridge the cultural gap that exists, and which often proves to be a hindrance in setting up good business relations.

Trade, technology and tourism would be the three key areas in India-Israel economic relations in times to come. India already has robust defence ties with Israel; this is expected to strengthen further. Currently, India is the largest arms buyer from Israel; trade is to the tune of approximately $600 million.

If defence ties keep increasing at the same rate, Israel may replace Russia as India’s largest arms supplier. Last year, India signed the biggest weapons deal in Israeli defence history, which is nearly $2 billion. This mega deal will provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology.

Ultimate hospitality

The Indian government is all set to reciprocate the red carpet welcome extended to Narendra Modi when he visited Israel last year.

Other than economics, the Palestine issue is likely to be discussed between Modi and Netanyahu. India has been trying hard to balance its current relationship with Israel with its historical support to the Palestinian cause. This delicate balancing by New Delhi is very necessary and is in India’s best interest. Any significant change from India’s current stance seems improbable right now.

The good thing is that Israel seems to understand India’s position, which is a sign of maturity. This could lead to a healthy and strong relationship between these two major powers in the international system.

What Israel means to India would be clearer when Modi and Netanyahu jointly address the inaugural session of the 3rd Annual Raisina Dialogue (which is India’s premiere foreign policy conference) on January 16. This will be the first time a foreign head of government will speak at the Raisina Dialogue.

To conclude, this visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu could prove to be a significant landmark in India-Israel relations.

With expectations running very high among the supporters of Indo-Israeli relations for a fruitful dialogue to be conducted between the two sides, the picture would be much clearer over the next week.

The writer is junior research fellow at the School of International Studies, JNU

Published on January 12, 2018
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