Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed: PM Narendra Modi’s Visit to Israel

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By Rasananda Panda and Mitrajit Biswas

Overcoming the hesitations and hypocrisy of history of last seven decades, PM Modi visited Israel during 4-6th July. The visit also marked the completion of 25 years of India’s diplomatic relationship with Israel that was established by the then PM Narasimha Rao but somehow or other not pursued seriously by the subsequent UPA governments though to a certain extent some advancement was made by NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It is well known that India’s reluctance to recognize Israel on geo-political issues especially on latter’s aggressive stance on Palestine over the years and especially till 80s was largely because of India’s obvious dependence on oil diplomacy in Persian Gulf and needless to mention the demographics of the region and India’s sensitivity to it. New Delhi through its silence at various international forums and especially at United Nations in 1949 by opposing the formation of Israel as a nation has always distanced itself from playing a partisan role in Middle East region on which India was so dependent once upon a time for its economic survival. This none the less has made Israel little dis-enchanted with India but they always had tried to build the bridge with India in matters pertaining to India’s interest. This is evident from Israel’s support to India during 1971 Indo-Pak War by sending a plane load of modern ammunitions along with some of their military trainers to impart the training to Indian soldiers in use of these weapons when US, China, some Arab nations and even our neighbor Sri Lanka were openly supporting Pakistan in its mis-adventure. Similarly, again in 1999 during the Kargil conflict, it is Israel that provided the required satellite imagery of hide-outs of Pakistani soldiers and other non-state actors that helped India air force in bombarding these places and thus defeating Pakistan in the said conflict convincingly. Further, Israel’s modus operandi towards handling the issue of terrorism is widely acclaimed. It’s zero tolerance towards terrorists is evident in its apt handling of such situations in Uganda in 1976. Perhaps this is one of the reason for India – a country that grapples with terrorists’ day in and day out – make India closer to Israel. After all, if the enemy is common, then it is always beneficial to fight with the enemy together. It is true that India has a sizeable Muslim population and therefore the issue of their sensitivities must always be kept in mind but terrorism has no religion and hence it needs to be handled as strictly as possible and who else other than Israel can help in that. In addition, giving importance to Israel in the recent times has become significant in contemporary Middle East since the change in regime in Iran, the dubious situation in Syria, and skirmishes in Qatar and entanglement of Saudi in it.
Apart from it, imagine a nation whose area is less than that of our state Mizoram, population of around 8.5 million that became an independent nation in 1948 and is surrounded by hostile neighbors in all side is having the fourth largest air force in the world with latest arms and ammunitions including anti-ballistic missile defense system is meeting 90 percent of its energy needs from solar and famous for arid agriculture and water management and above all around three thousand five hundred technology companies including big transnational companies working in that country. All this is next to impossible without innovations and application of technology in all spheres of development process. Israel is perhaps the only nation where technology is a crucial part of its development process and narrative. This is another reason for India’s proximity to Israel at a time when the emphasis is on use of technology in best possible manner and for that purpose with aggression wherever required for the development of the country. The present Modi government has made it clear with its move towards digital India and the missionary zeal with which the Indian government is following it up with demonetization, rolling out of GST and making ADHAR mandatory and etc. It is another fact that when PM Modi was CM of Gujarat, he had emphasized heavily on use of technology in cooperation with Israel towards development of irrigation in the semi-arid region of Kutchh that helped in the agricultural development of the state immensely. For Israel, who is not in a position to trade with its neighbor is also in need of markets to help its business to grow faster in a sustainable manner and here comes India with a market of 1300 million people with huge demand-literally and factually.
Therefore, the Modi-Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv has all the ingredient to boost the trade from present $5 billion to $20 billion in next five years in the areas of strategic and economic importance to both the countries. The seven agreements that are signed between the two countries to step up co-operation in key sectors like space, agriculture and water conservation apart from defense and technology innovation is quiet obvious and logical. Another notable feature of this visit was the MOU signed between Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam and the Israel Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy & Water Resources on state water utility reform. The previous such attempts of Israel with other states like Tamil Nadu in desalinating the water using IDE Technologies at Nemmeli plant spread across 20 acres between East Coast Road and the sea and thus being a major source of supplying drinking water to state capital Chennai. Similarly, the Centre of Excellence for Vegetables, an Indo-Israeli project set up in 2010-11 in Karnal and later on in states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat are some of the success stories of Indo-Israel economic cooperation over the years.
Israel has been an important non Islamic country in the foreign policy of India in the last decade and why not? For these two nations who live in complex geographies and are aware of strategic threats to each one of them, it is but natural to have a common goal so as to build a relationship that must reflect their shared priorities and must draw on enduring bonds between their people who are erstwhile colonial cousins and therefore, it will not be out of place to do a crystal gazing that this visit of PM Modi shall go in the annals of history as an epoch making visit capable of redefining India’s Middle East diplomacy in the times to come.

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