India, Israel to expand cooperation to new areas

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Modi at a press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi yesterday. The two leaders share an easy rapport, with Mr Modi addressing Mr Netanyahu by his popular nickname Bibi.
Mr Netanyahu and Mr Modi at a press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi yesterday. The two leaders share an easy rapport, with Mr Modi addressing Mr Netanyahu by his popular nickname Bibi.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nine pacts signed, including in areas like cyber security, oil and gas, and film co-production

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 two of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's six-day visit to India, just weeks after India voted at the United Nations against United States President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Yet, both sides noted yesterday that this would not impact the momentum of bilateral ties, with Mr Netanyahu calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "revolutionary leader".

Mr Modi, who shares an easy rapport with his Israeli counterpart, 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.

Nine agreements were signed, 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.

MUCH POTENTIAL

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

FORMER SENIOR INDIAN DIPLOMAT LALIT MANSINGH

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

While past Indian 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 world's 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.

Mr Netanyahu, who joked that 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."

The Israeli Prime Minister, who is accompanied by his wife and a 130-member business delegation, has a packed schedule in India.

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

Yet analysts noted that despite 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 Indian diplomat Lalit Mansingh. "It has been a strong and robust relationship which holds a lot for the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'India, Israel to expand cooperation to new areas'. Print Edition | Subscribe