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Israeli prez in India: 5 things you should know about the bilateral relations

Rivlin is the first Israeli head of state to visit India in nearly 20 years, in a sign of growing partnership between the two nations. The last Israeli president to visit India was Ezer Weizman, in January 1997.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2016 11:36 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets people upon his arrival at the Palm airport in New Delhi, on Monday.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin greets people upon his arrival at the Palm airport in New Delhi, on Monday.(AP)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who is in India on a six-day visit, will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.

Rivlin is the first Israeli head of state to visit India in nearly 20 years, in a sign of growing partnership between the two nations. The last Israeli president to visit India was Ezer Weizman, in January 1997.

He is being accompanied by a large business delegation, which will also visit Agra, Karnal, Chandigarh and Mumbai.

Here’s everything you need to know about India-Israel relations:

1What is the immediate significance of the visit?

Rivlin is the second president of Israel to visit India in almost two decades. The first president to visit India was Ezer Weizman and he visited New Delhi in 1997. The visit comes after President Pranab Mukherjee’s Israel trip last year. Rivlin’s visit marks 25 years of formal diplomatic ties with Israel set in motion by the PV Narasimha Rao government in 1992, and it is expected to pave the way for Prime Minister Modi’s Israel visit, possibly next year.

Read | Israel President’s India visit to set stage for PM Modi’s Tel Aviv trip

2What is the political messaging enshrined in the visit?

After the visit of then Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to India in 2003, no head of government or the state from Israel has even come here, and no Indian Prime Minister has visited Israel. “Filled with pride as I depart for State visit to India to see how Israeli innovation is improving the lives of millions,” President Rivlin tweeted before leaving for India. The political messaging, however, is clear — Israel has emerged as a key partner for India in the spheres of security, defence and agriculture among others. Political sensitivity over India’s longstanding ties with Palestine had forced successive governments to keep the ties low-key. But, not anymore. Last year, Mukherjee became the first Indian head of state to visit Israel.

Read | India-Israel ties on upswing despite support for Palestinian cause

3What are the areas of cooperation between India and Israel other than security and defence?

Agriculture cooperation has emerged as a key focus area for the two countries. Mikhael Mirilashvili, chairman of Water Gen, one of the most important futuristic companies of Israel that specialises in water resource, is accompanying the president. Rivlin will also visit Chandigarh and Karnal. In Karnal, he will visit the Centre of Excellence of Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project. Fifteen centres of excellence in agriculture have already been commissioned in these states and India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanisation, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro-irrigation and post-harvest management particularly in Haryana and Maharashtra. Israeli drip irrigation technologies and products are now widely used in India.

Read | Modi praises Indian Army for surgical strikes, compares it to Israel

4What is the history of India-Israel ties?

India formally recognised Israel on September 17, 1950. Soon thereafter, the Jewish Agency established an immigration office in Bombay. This was later converted into a trade office and subsequently into a consulate. Embassies were opened in 1992 when full diplomatic relations were established. Since the upgradation of relations in 1992, defence and agriculture have been the main pillars of bilateral engagement. In recent years, ties have expanded to areas such as science and technology, education and homeland security. The future vision of the cooperation is of a strong hi-tech partnership as befits two leading knowledge economies. Political ties between the two countries are friendly.

Read | Narendra Modi’s Israel visit and its meaning for the Jews in India

5What are the trade and economic ties between the two countries?

From $200 million in 1992 (comprising primarily trade in diamonds), bilateral merchandise reached $5.19 billion in 2011. It has stagnated around $4.5 billion since then. Though trade in diamonds constitutes close to 50% of bilateral trade, trade has diversified into several sectors such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT and telecom, and homeland security in recent years. Major exports from India to Israel include precious stones and metals, chemical products, textiles and textile articles, plants and vegetable products, and mineral products. Major imports by India from Israel include precious stones and metals, chemicals (mainly potash) and mineral products, base metals and machinery and transport equipment. In recent years, Israel has taken a strategic decision to strengthen economic relations with China, Japan and India. Investment during April 2000 and November 2013, foreign direct investment (FDI) from Israel in India was $73.7 million. The data does not capture FDI flows from Israel to India that flow through the US, Europe and Singapore.