Underscoring the tone of his visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent the last of his three days in Israel viewing some of Israel’s successful technologies including a desalinization plant, meeting with entrepreneurs and taking a ride with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a newly developed vehicle that can transform sea water into drinking water.
The historic visit, the first ever by an Indian prime minister, was marked by several days of discussion on technology, economic policies and security issues and was highlighted by the signing of several deals that reflect broadening commercial ties.
Israel has made a deliberate diplomatic shift eastward in recent years, focusing on developing stronger partnerships with Asian and African nations. Likewise, leaders in the Far East and Africa are aware of their countries’ need for Israeli innovations in defense, water and food systems. Modi is no exception.
“India and Israel are walking hand in hand into the future as partners,” Modi and Netanyahu wrote in a joint editorial this week. “From start-ups to space, communications to cybernetics, Israel’s technological capabilities are merging with India’s.”
In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Netanyahu heralded this burgeoning relationship as beneficial to both nations.
“Israel is the innovation nation. India is replete with immensely talented people, scientists, engineers and management gurus. The partnership of our two nations can seize the future,” he said. “We are eager to have cooperative ventures between our entrepreneurs and our technologists and India’s wonderful storehouse of human talent. Modi said … when it comes to India and Israel relations (the) sky is the limit. And in this visit we have surely said that sky is not the limit by cooperating in space programs and actually signed three agreements. We seek to cooperate with India in every way. We shall seize the future together.”
When the two nations established diplomatic ties in 1992 bilateral trade was at about $200 million. Today, it reaches $5 billion, one-fifth of which is in Israeli defense exports. During this visit, India signed several agreements with Israel on science, agriculture and technology, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
Richard Rossow, senior adviser and Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at CSIS, said the two countries have “natural synergies.”
“Israel’s becoming a more important defense partner for India, a source of great technology, not just in the defense space, but in biotechnology (and) agriculture,” he told CNBC’s Street Signs. “India’s good at large-scale things, like call centers and software development, but Israel’s doing package software. India’s doing back-office biotech research, but Israel actually has products that are out there in the global markets more than India does. So it could be Israeli companies looking for a larger production base, in which case India’s ready to go.”
“It’s a good complementary relationship between the two countries,” he said.
The national space agencies in India and Israel will also cooperate in areas including atomic clocks and electric propulsion for small satellites.
Modi and Netanyahu also discussed terrorism and were joined by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to talk about bolstering intelligence and security cooperation. According to Channel 2, Netanyahu raised with Modi the still-open investigation into the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai in which an attack on the city’s Chabad House left Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg dead along with four other people staying in the building. Modi met the Holberg’s surviving son Moshe in Israel on Wednesday.
In a joint statement, Netanyahu and Modi stressed their shared belief that “there can be no justification whatsoever for terrorist acts.”
Netanyahu and Modi also reportedly discussed expanding air travel between their two countries by encouraging Air India to open direct flights to Tel Aviv that would compete with Israel’s El Al, potentially leading lead to lower prices.