Modi set to become first Indian PM to visit Israel

But he will not head to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders, Israeli analysts note

JERUSALEM • Mr Narendra Modi becomes the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel when he arrives today, the result of growing ties that have led to billions of dollars in defence deals.

Israel, in constant search of allies to vote in its favour at United Nations bodies as well as business partners, has been portraying the visit a good chance to deepen trade and investment with the world's second-most populous nation.

Israeli analysts have also noted that Mr Modi will apparently not travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leaders during his three- day stay, as is common for many foreign dignitaries.

Mr Modi did, however, meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in May.

The visit marks 25 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hailing what he described as Mr Modi's "historic visit", said yesterday he and the Indian leader have worked together over the past few years to build a "steadfast friendship".

"This visit will deepen cooperation in a wide range of fields - security, agriculture, water, energy - basically in almost every field Israel is involved in," Mr Netanyahu told his Cabinet in public remarks.


  • US$1b

    What India-Israel defence deals are worth each year.

India has traditionally trodden a careful diplomatic line in the region, analysts say, wary of upsetting Arab states and Iran - upon whom it relies for its vast imports of oil - and its large Muslim minority. It has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, even as it quietly pursued ties with Israel.

Mr Modi will hold three days of talks with Mr Netanyahu to advance sales and production of missiles, drones and radar systems under his signature "Make In India" drive, officials in Delhi and Tel Aviv said.

India is the world's biggest importer of defence equipment, and Israel has become one of its major suppliers.

Israeli media has reported that the two countries see more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in defence deals each year.

India has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter longstanding tensions with regional rivals China and Pakistan.

It has signed several big-ticket defence deals since Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power in 2014.

In April, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) said India would buy nearly US$2 billion worth of weapons technology, making it the military exporting giant's largest ever defence contract.

IAI will provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology. It later announced a deal worth US$630 million to provide India's navy with missile defence systems.

The two countries have also cooperated on issues such as water and agriculture technology.

"I think it's more than defence contracts," Mr Efraim Inbar, a former head of Israel's Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies think- tank, told Agence France-Presse.

"It is a common strategic agenda which includes a fear of Islamic radicalism, fears about Chinese assertiveness and in addition, of course, you cannot ignore the huge economic potential for both countries."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Modi set to become first Indian PM to visit Israel'. Print Edition | Subscribe