Putting an end to all speculation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Israel on Tuesday for a three-day visit. The visit is very significant, as Modi is the first-ever sitting Indian premier to set foot in Israel. Earlier, the Indian government announced that the main purpose of his visit was to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was present at the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to receive his Indian counterpart. A top Israeli protocol team of 50 dignitaries and senior officials was also present at the airport. Daniel Carmon, the Ambassador of Israel to India, explained that his country usually reserved such a gesture for visits of American presidents and the Pope, saying that same arrangements have been made for the Indian PM because Jerusalem is treating his visit with “unprecedented importance”.
After receiving the Indian PM, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the media: “PM Modi’s visit is a very significant step in strengthening relations between the two countries. Ties between Israel and India are on a constant upswing.” He also informed the press that the Israeli Cabinet recently approved a series of measures in order to strengthen bilateral ties. These measures include the increase of Israel’s non-diamond related exports to India by 25% over the next four years from the current USD 1.38 billion.
Meanwhile, Professor at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and eminent foreign policy expert P R Kumaraswamy has said that PM Modi’s ongoing visit is important for so many reasons. He pointed out that Israel is well aware of the fact that it is hosting the leader of a country with the third largest Muslim population in the world. Despite this, Premier Netanyahu had said that the Jewish state would be looking to host a ‘friend’.
Perhaps, this is the first time when India is celebrating its friendship with Israel openly. In the past, there was no free flow of political contacts between the two countries mainly because of New Delhi’s stand on ‘Palestine’ issue. Soon after the Oslo accords were signed in September 1993, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wanted to visit the South Asian country. However, India was not ready to host him. Shimon Peres visited India a few times, but never as Israeli president. Similarly, A P J Abdul Kalam visited Israel more than once, but not as Indian president.
In September 2003, former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee arranged a red carpet welcome for President Sharon. Since then, Israel has been seeking a reciprocal visit from New Delhi. And it took more than 13 years to materialise. In fact, Modi had to wait more than three years after becoming the PM to make a trip to Israel.
Better late than never
Since its Independence in 1947, India has maintained cordial ties with the Arab world. On the other hand, Israel maintains close diplomatic ties only with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the former Soviet republics (as far as members of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation are concerned). Much of the Islamic world is still reluctant to formalise its ties with Israel. India, the third largest Muslim populated country in the world, has always maintained formal ties with the Jewish state. Only after 1992, New Delhi realised that it would have to depend on Israeli weapons to tackle the threat of terrorism sponsored by a neighbouring country. Then only, the top Indian political leadership decided to exclude the domestic Muslim factor from its ‘Israel’ policy and to strengthen ties with the Jewish nation.
West Asia versus Western World
India decided to boost economic ties with the Jewish state only after Israel lost many friends in Europe (in recent times) due to various reasons. Right now, only Germany and America share friendly ties with Israel. The current global geopolitical landscape makes India’s job easy. For long, New Delhi has been trying to explore a non-Western option to counter China’s growing influence in Asia. Similarly, Israel is also trying to expand diplomatic ties with countries, which were unfriendly in recent past, like Russia and India. So, India and Israel have decided to take their friendship to new heights only after considering the current global political, economic and strategic scenario.
We can hope that PM Modi’s ongoing visit will be a game changer, as New Delhi has made it clear that it is ready to de-link the Israel-Palestinian equation from the Indo-Israeli ties. In the past, President Pranab Mukherjee and Indian external affairs ministers made courtesy and customary visits to Ramallah during their trip to Jerusalem. However, Prime Minister Modi decided not to visit Ramallah. In a joint public statement in May along with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the PM expressed India’s support to the political rights of the Palestinians. This time, he is concentrating only on Israel. This is the real shift in Indian foreign policy.
During his stay in Israel, PM Modi will also call on President Reuven Rivlin. In the second and final leg of his tour, the Indian premier will visit Hamburg, Germany to attend the 12th G-20 Summit.
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