If there is any remaining ambivalence left on Israel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to remove that. He will become the first Indian prime minister to visit that country, though the dates have yet to be set. The news was confirmed by the external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, at a press conference held on Sunday. There have been ministers galore visiting Israel, but when it has come to the highest quarter India has always seemed to quail. Mr Modi has visited Israel but that was in his capacity as Gujarat CM in 2006.
In September when Mr Modi met Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, the latter had invited Mr Modi to visit Israel. India-Israel ties extend from defence to agriculture and from cyber to diary. Bilateral trade, excluding defence, in 2014 was at $4.5 billion and this is set to grow. Under the second phase of the Indo-Israel Agriculture Project, 28 centres that use Israeli technology to increase agricultural productivity have been set up in nine states. Ten more states have expressed interest to be included in the third phase, which rolls out in the next few months. There is increasing cooperation in the IT sector and counter-terrorism, especially cyber terrorism. Cooperation in the defence sector is on a steady rise over the years, with the relationship moving from that of a buyer-seller to joint production and joint R&D. A majority of the Barak 8 missiles, jointly developed by India and Israel, is manufactured in India.
Though India established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992, there has always been an unnecessary fear, based on misplaced apprehensions, that the Muslim community in India would not welcome closer ties with Israel. Many nations in West Asia have relaxed their hostility towards Israel, with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey establishing full ties. Ms Swaraj has put to rest the fears that India is building its ties with Israel at the expense of its equation with Palestine by saying that there would be “no change in India’s policy towards Palestine”. India has had good relations with both Israel and Palestine, and if required this could be used to further peace in the region. However, for now, the Modi government’s focus will be on bilateral ties with Israel. The strengthening of India-Israel ties was long overdue and Mr Modi should be commended for taking ties to the next level. Israel has been a steady ally of India for years. Mr Modi’s upcoming visit is a recognition of this among other things.