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Editorial Articles


Volume-44, 27 January-2 February, 2017

 
India - Israel Relation Reach New Heights

Dr Vivek Kumar Mishra

"I believe the secret to Israel and India's successes are the same thing - a combination of traditional values and innovation. What also binds us together is the most important of all, that we have a special relationship with a commitment to democracy."
         Netanyahu
(Addressing Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi on 16 January, 2018)
Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the second Israeli Prime Minister after Ariel Sharon to visit India, arrived in New Delhi on 14th January, 2018 for a six-day state visit with the intention of strengthening bilateral relations. The importance of the visit can be measured from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke the protocol and received him at the Delhi airport. He welcomed PM Netanyahu with a warm hug.
Joint Press Conference on 15th January 2018
This visit of Israeli Prime Minister marks 25 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and takes place about six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to Israel, the first by any Indian Prime Minister to the Jewish state.
It is to be noted in the context of the Joint Statement that India is the Israel's biggest defense export destination, and Israel being India's third-biggest source of arms, this relationship seems more poised than ever for scaling fresh heights. The importance of the conference clearly stated by Israeli Prime Minister about Indian counterparts that "you are a revolutionary leader in the best sense of the word 'revolution." Netanyahu added that "something different is happening now because of your leadership and because of our partnership. You are catapulting this magnificent state into the future and you have revolutionized the relationship between Israel and India," Netanyahu statement clearly marks that today both countries are entering a new era of relations.
Prime Minister Modi also complimented Netanyahu's visit by saying that "it is a long-anticipated moment in the journey of friendship between India and Israel.” He added that in Netanyahu, he has "a counterpart who is equally committed to taking the India-Israel relationship to soaring new heights."
MoUs/Agreements signed during the visit of Prime Minister of Israel to India (January 15, 2018, Ministry of External Affairs)
India and Israel signed nine agreements following the talks, including two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on cooperation in the areas of oil and gas and cyber security, and two letters of intent between Indian Oil and two Israeli entities on metal-air batteries and solar thermal technologies.
 
Highlights of the Joint Statement
The two leaders issued a joint statement that reaffirmed the "strategic relationship" between the both countries. The joint statement states that the two Prime Ministers agreed that renewed efforts were required to realize the full potential for bilateral trade and investment and noted that the next round of bilateral discussions will be held next month in Israel. The Prime Ministers urged the private sector to actively explore investment opportunities in both countries, including through India's flagship programmes such as "Make in India", "Start-Up India" and "Digital India." The followingsectors got prominence in the Joint Statement.
Defense Sector:
The joint statement highlights that the readiness of Israeli companies to enter into joint ventures with Indian companies in the defense sector under the "Make in India" initiative. They consider it important to set the direction for developing more business models and partnerships for joint ventures and joint manufacturing including transfer of technology as well as research and development in defense security fields. They call on the Defense Ministries to hold discussions in 2018 with active involvement of the public and private sectors, in order to create the basis for viable, sustainable and long term cooperation in the defense industry.
Terrorism:
Prime Minister Modi and Netanyahu reiterated that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever and advocated strong measures against terrorists, terror organisations, those who sponsor, encourage or finance terrorism or provide sanctuary to terrorist and terror groups. They have recognized the terrorism as a grave threat to the peace and security of the both states. They also noted with satisfaction that the next meeting of the Joint Working Groups on Homeland and Public Security will be held in February 2018. They reiterated the importance of building comprehensive cooperation in counter-terrorism, including cyber-space, and welcome the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Cyber Security between India and Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu told in a security conference, "Our way of life is being challenged, most notably, the quest for modernity, the quest for innovation (are) being challenged by radical Islam and its terrorist offshoots from a variety of corners." He said that "Both Israel and India have long sought to counter militant Islamists - in Israel's case, mainly from Gaza and Egypt's Sinai region and, in India's case, mainly from Pakistan. He also stated that "We've discussed in this visit how we can strengthen our two nations in the civilian areas, in security areas, in every area". This reflects the concern on terrorism of the Prime Minister who is the equal victims of terror like India.
India-Israel Industrial  R&D and Technological Innovation Fund:
The both leaders also "welcomed the completion of all formalities for the launch of the India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund," launched when Modi visited Israel in July, 2017, the first Indian head of government to do so since diplomatic relations were established in 1992. The project is a $40 million fund initiative to foster tech innovation and R&D in industrial development, and build strategic partnerships between Israeli and Indian innovators in areas like water conservation, using wastewater for agriculture, and desalination.
Focus on Human Resource Development:
The India-Israel agreements focused on the Oil and Gas industry and cyber security cooperation.  It aims to promote cooperation in Human Resource Development (HRD) and cyber security resilience, as well as joint economic ventures in the energy sector. Furthermore, Memorandums of Understandings (MoUs) were signed between the higher educational institutions of the two countries to facilitate exchange of knowledge.
The bilateral partnership is based on three ways, which is highlighted by Prime Minister Modi.
1.First, it can be done by strengthening the existing pillars of cooperation in agriculture, science and technology and security.
2.The second way of enhancing bilateral cooperation is by "venturing into less explored areas of cooperation, such as oil and gas, cyber security, films, and start-ups".
3.The third way, Modi said, to boost ties would be by "facilitating the flow of people and ideas between our geographies". Prime Minister said that "we are working with Israel to make it easier for our people to work and visit each other's countries, including for longer work durations. To bring people closer on both sides, an Indian Cultural Center will soon be opened in Israel." Both sides have decided to start an annual exchange of bilateral visits by 100 young people from science-related educational streams.
Why India Matters to Israel?
India is the largest importer of Israeli arms and other defense equipments. "Bilateral trade between India and Israel grew from $200 million in 1992 to $4.52 billion in 2014." At present, Israel is India's third most important defense equipment and arms supplier only after the US and Russia. India is a big market for exporting Agriculture Technologies, Water Management and Efficient methodologies. It needs strategic partnerships with strong democratic nations with global presence. Indian ISRO has gained a lot of respect with a strong of successful launches at an extremely low cost. This brings various Space Agencies including ISA closer to ISRO with collaborations and tie-ups. For now, Indian-Israeli ties matter to Tel Aviv and New Delhi equally.
Indian vote at the United Nations General Assembly for a resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its decision  to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital shows that New Delhi will continue to balance between different actors and interests and refuse any drastic realignment when it comes to its voting strategy in multilateral forums.
How is India going to benefit?
Until now, India-Israel relationship was premised only on defense and security co-operation where the two countries had a strategic partnership for a number of years. But now both have moved beyond that. PM Modi said "we have cut down the red tape in Indian Bureaucracy considerably in order to allow Israeli companies to come and invest in India and set up joint production facilities." This statement is of immense significance, because Israel despite being a technological giant is a tiny country, whereas India is a huge market. These are favorable environment for setting up joint production facilities. The number of Israeli tourists coming to India has consistently increased. The reason for this is that India is one of the very few countries where Israelis (Jews) feel completely safe even in the remote areas of the country. And that's why Israelis don't come to India for a week or two but they sometimes stay over for months. Tourism Sector is a big area which is exactly why new air traffic MoU has been signed with Israel to facilitate tourism.
In Agriculture sector, Israel has developed a technology where it makes the optimum use of whatever limited resources it has. The access to Israel's technologies most notably in Water resource management, drip irrigation and desalinisation will allow us to raise our productivity considerably. One country cannot have a long-lasting relationship with another country primarily based on defense and security. It simply remains a seller-customer setup. This is precisely why 'Defense and Security (except cyber security)' aren't even mentioned in the joint statement.
India and Israel are now ushering in an era of strategic partnership where both quantum and quality are important. On both these benchmarks, Israel qualifies to be a "solid" strategic partner.
Conclusion:
Beyond the narratives of ideological convergence, shared worldviews or personal chemistry of leaders, the India-Israel partnership has emerged and stabilised over the last 25 years because of its uniquely depoliticized, decentralized and technical nature. Changing ground realities are forcing on the more growth-oriented countries to follow a policy of economic pragmatism. The major outcome of the India-Israel Joint statement is that the relationship the two nations is not limited to Defense and Security anymore.
(The Author is faculty at School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Email: mishrajnu@gmail.com)