TEL AVIV: “I want to prepare a most VIP (sic) welcome to Prime Minister Modi- no less than the visit of President Trump.” That was what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his office soon after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially accepted his invitation to visit Israel sometime early last year.
Israel laid out the red carpet for Modi when his plane landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday evening. After a warm hug, the two leaders gave brief speeches at the tarmac, with Netanyahu welcoming his ‘friend’ Modi in Hindi. “This is a long-awaited visit...70 years to be precise. We love India — its history, culture and the winds of change,” Netanyahu said.
“It’s a big honour to be the first Indian Prime Minister in Israel. India is an old civilization, but the young people are its economic engine and we consider Israel to be among our most important partners,” Modi responded. “Besides seeking economic prosperity we fight terror together, and this is the Memorial Day for the fall of Yonatan Netanyahu (PM’s brother) in Entebbe when he saved so many lives,” he added.
But the visit is not only about security – it might be typical that from the airport both leaders went directly to a flower farm that employs modern techniques and then to Yad Vashem —the Holocaust memorial site. This will be followed by an official dinner at Netanyahu’s residence, a rare honour for a visiting head of State. Most Israelis love India, a favourite tourist destination, particularly for the youngsters who have just finished their conscription service. Meeting with young Israelis and Indians in Israel is likely to be one of the key features.
Israeli officials are delighted that India has finally de-hyphenated their country from Palestine by bypassing Ramallah. A senior Palestinian source said Modi is unlikely to raise the Palestine issue during this visit, fuelling speculations that India might leave the pro-Palestinian bloc in the United Nations, inflicting a severe blow to the movement.
But Lev Aran, an Israeli expert on Indian affairs believes New Delhi will not go that far because of the Kashmir issue. “India does not want Palestinians to draw similar traits between Kashmir and Palestine. They want it to be left as an internal issue of India and hence will remain loyal to the Palestinian cause.”
However, despite all the official hype here, the Israeli media did not consider the event important enough to run on prime time. There were other issues that stole the headlines — an environmental disaster in the Negev, President Rivlin pardoning former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who was jailed on corruption, and the internal elections in Labor party were deemed far more important.
Road to Washington
Formally de-hyphenate relations with Israel & the Arab world, including Palestine
Heron armed drone (will change the strategic equation in South Asia)
Robust intelligence cooperation, particularly on terror and Pakistan/Afghanistan/Central Asia
Deep cooperation in IT, particularly high-end stuff like Artificial intelligence
Ramp up non-defence trade from $5-6 billion to $10 billion
Education ties, particularly in higher, specialised education
More Indian states to get Israeli water management and irrigation
Obtain advanced digital technology in the health sector
Sharper and clearer embrace of Israel as an ally
High-end tech from the US, which it cannot directly give us, owing to restrictions on dual use tech, but which Israel has and can share with India