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Modi’s Israel Visit Strengthening a Strategic Relationship – A tale of two Prime Ministers; By

C3S Article no: 0062/2017

Prime Minister Modi created history by being the first Indian PM to visit Israel. The bonhomie and comradiere  between the two leaders made the world sit up with interest. But a peep into history will tell everyone who is surprised  that  for India Israel has been a  friend in need and so is a friend indeed.

In 1962 during China’s blatant aggression, Prime Minister Nehru requested Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to supply arms and ammunition without Israeli flag but when Gurion refused to supply weapons without Israeli flag, then Nehru agreed to accept weapons with Israeli flag, as there was dire need of armaments and other countries were not willing to supply in such short a notice.

In 1971 war Israel not only supplied lot of arms and ammunition but also equipped India with latest intelligence about Pakistan , which was of tremendous use to Indian security forces, again in1998 when India conducted nuclear test and Western countries put embargo on arms supply to India , Israel filled the void.

The biggest assistance Israel provided, was during Kargil war in 1999, when Pakistani troops entered Kargil area with the intention to cut the link between Kashmir and Ladakh and compel Indian forces to withdraw from Siachen Glacier. At that time Israel gave drones, laser guided missiles and the much needed ammunition. It also equipped India with actionable intelligence which helped Indian forces to repulse Pakistani forces.

India also reciprocated in 1967 and according to the report of Stanford, India supplied spare parts for French-made Mystere and Ouragan aircraft and AX-13 tanks to Israel in Third Arab-Israeli War which took place between June 5-10, 1967. Israel captured Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and it was a decisive victory for Israel.

Israel accorded a red carpet welcome to Modi during his three days historical visit from July 4 to 6. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s treatment distinguished Modi as a world leader whose visit was highly anticipated.  Modi was received at the airport by Benjamin Netanyahu along with a power-packed protocol team. This exceptional honour is given only to Pope and American President. Both the Prime Ministers practically passed all working time together during the entire visit.

Both the countries signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) for more than USD 4 billion excluding the defence contracts. They also signed seven important agreements pertaining to Science & Technology, water Management, Agriculture & Space. Both India and Israel also created a $40 million research fund for joint innovations.

Modi met CEOs of about 30 companies and it is expected that trade between both countries would cross USD 20 billion in five years. Israel has a technology and India has a demand hence there is a win-win situation for both the nations.

Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister who took the bold decision of visiting Israel , although India recognised Israel in September 1950 and diplomatic relations were established in 1992 but no prime minster mustered courage to visit Israel because of adverse reaction from West Asian countries from where India is importing oil and gas and large number of Indians are employed in the region. India’s solidarity to the Palestine cause was also cited another reason for India’s secret relations with Israel.  Nonetheless the hardliners mention that the previous leaders avoided open relationship with Israel because of fear of loosing votes of Indian Muslims.

Modi was not only the first Indian Prime Minister who visited Israel, he also broke the age old tradition that whenever any Indian leader visited Israel he invariably visited Palestine too. He de-hyphenated Israel from Palestine issue and decided that the present government would deal with both issues  separately. Israeli leadership also appreciated this vivacious move of Indian government.

Nonetheless the Indian Urdu press criticised and asserted that Modi should not have left Palestine and should have visited there like all the previous Indian leaders. An important Palestinian leader also showed his displeasure and stated that Indian Prime Minister if visited in this region should have visited Palestine too. The adverse reaction of Palestine leader indicates that the possibility of some Muslim countries making an issue cannot be ruled out.

The critics willfully ignore that Modi after the visit of United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2015, made all his Middle Eastern visits bilateral and not clubbed the third country. The situation in Middle East is also considerably changed and now sectarian conflict has become more important than Palestine issue.

Both the leaders not only embraced each other several times it also appeared during the visit that there was mutual approbation between them and as India delinked Palestine issue with Israel it is apparent that the relationship between India and Israel would be strengthened rapidly.

Israel which has developed superior technology in rainwater harvesting and use of sea water for agriculture would also support India in these fields. Israel has latest water desalination technique which would be very useful for India, as the country is loosing fresh water bodies and not able to save rainwater which goes in the seas through various rivers. Israel also promised to help in cleaning river Ganges .The third, three years Indo-Israel agriculture action plan which commenced in 2015 is functioning well and delivering desired results.

Both the countries pledged to fight growing radicalisation and terrorism and also agreed to take stringent actions against the countries financing or assisting the terror outfits. The analysts mention that it was a clear threat to Pakistan which is not only harbouring multifarious terrorist outfits but also infiltrating terrorists in India and Afghanistan regularly.

The joint statement mentioned that both countries “will become close partners in development, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, defence and security”. Modi also addressed Indian diaspora and according to an estimate there are about 85000 jews of Indian origin in Israel.

Israel is emerging as a big arms supplier to India. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) India bought 41 percent of Israel’s arms export between 2012 and 2016 and at present Israel is the third largest source of arms import after Russia and United States. Although Russia tops the list by exporting 68 percent of armaments while United States supplies 14 percent and Israel provides only 7 percent but Israeli exports of defence equipment are enhancing rapidly.

Israel supplied Barak 1, an air defence missiles to counter Harpoon Missiles which India’s arch-rival Pakistan deployed against India. India also bought about 176 Unarmed Vehicles (UAVs) in 2015. India would be purchasing medium-range surface-to-air missile system at the cost of USD 2 billion. Besides these contracts India is signing few more agreements with Israel regarding supply of latest armaments.

The Prime Minister,  Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Israel,  Benjamin Netanyahu unveiling the plaque to commemorate Indian Soldiers led by Maj Dalpat Singh who fought to liberate Haifa, in Israel .

Besides defence both countries are closely working on counter-terrorism as both are suffering from terrorism. There is close cooperation between MOSSAD and Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW).

Israel could not replace countries like Russia or United States in arms exports as it does not produce complete military systems. It can supply spare parts, ammunition,  small and medium range weapons especially missiles, sensors, electronics and multifarious systems for homeland security but Israel is a trusted friend and this  visit has strengthened the already strong bond existing between the two natural allies.

(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at editor.adu@gmail.com)

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