India deepens ties with Israel, weeks after disappointing it on Jerusalem vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after a joint press conference prior to a meeting at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Jan 15.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after a joint press conference prior to a meeting at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Jan 15.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - India and Israel have agreed to expand the scope of their ties with deeper security cooperation and engagement in newer areas like film co-production.

This was signalled on Day 2 of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's six-day visit to India, just weeks after India voted at the United Nations against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Yet both sides noted on Monday (Jan 15) that this would not impact the momentum of bilateral ties with Mr Netanyahu even calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "revolutionary leader".

Mr Modi, who shares an easy rapport with his Israeli counterpart and addressed him by his popular nickname Bibi, said discussions were "wide-ranging and intensive... marked by the desire to do more''.

"Our discussions today were marked by convergence to accelerate our engagement and to scale up our partnership," he said at a joint press briefing with Mr Netanyahu.

The two sides signed nine agreements including for cooperation in new areas like the oil and gas sector, film co-production and cyber security.

The issue of Palestine too was discussed, with the two sides agreeing "bilateral ties were much larger than one issue'', revealed Foreign Secretary-designate Vijay Keshav Gokhale at a press conference.


Ties between India and Israel have been growing steadily with security and defence cooperation at the centre of the relationship.

While past India governments too have engaged with Israel, they have been cautious about highlighting ties with Israel in public because of India's support for the Palestinian cause.

Mr Modi has been less cautious and was the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel last year.

Mr Netanyahu too has been keen on ramping up ties with the South Asian country, which has one of the fastest-growing economies and is a top importer of defence equipment. Israel is the third-biggest supplier of arms to India after the US and Russia.

On defence, the joint statement said "both Prime Ministers noted the readiness of Israeli companies to enter into joint ventures with Indian companies in the defence sector" under Make in India, the Indian initiative to push the manufacturing sector.

The Israeli Prime Minister, who joked he was willing to try his hand at yoga with Mr Modi, said: "We are ushering in a new era in our relations. We have had diplomatic ties for 25 years but something different is happening now."

Mr Netanyahu, who is accompanied by his wife and a 130-member business delegation, has a packed six-day schedule in India.

He will be visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra as well as Mumbai, the country's financial capital, and will be accompanied by Mr Modi to his home town Gujarat.

Yet analysts noted that in spite of the bonhomie between the two leaders, India would continue to balance its ties between Israel and Palestine. Mr Modi is due to travel to Palestine some time this year.

"Netanyahu sees India as a strong partner even though the Israelis were disappointed with the vote. They understand India has to walk a fine line. They can't expect India to support anything blatantly against Palestine," said former senior diplomat Lalit Mansingh.

“It has been a strong and robust relationship which holds a lot for the future.”