Q: President Pranab Mukherjee is expected to visit Israel next month. However, it has taken almost 25 years after establishing diplomatic ties for an Indian head of state to make such a visit. Why do you think it took so much time?
A: The ties have been unique and special right from their initiation. The relationship has had its very special characteristics. One of those characteristics in the relationship between India and Israel since the initiation of diplomatic relations was that they were not too public or too visible. Now there is a change and we welcome this important change.
Q: What are you feelings about the president’s first visit?
A: The Indian president is visiting Israel for the first time. This is not less than historic. This visit is different because it is the first. The second time, third time and fourth time will be routine. Our aspiration is that visits by presidents, prime ministers and other ministers become a routine. The excitement will continue because the relationship between India and Israel is a wonderful journey.
Q: Why do you think it (India-Israel ties) was not public earlier?
A: I would not like to analyse reasons but this is a matter of fact — India and Israel have been cooperating for many years in many areas. We attach great importance to visibility. I’m talking about a trend — it did not happen in a day. I’m talking about the process — it did not start yesterday. We have been witnessing this change and now I am so glad that we can talk about it, nobody has to apologise. On the contrary, both India and Israel are very proud of this relation.
Q: Some reports say that President will be visiting Israel mid-October. Do we have any dates?
A: You said mid-October and it is accurate enough. The dates will be officially announced later. It’s not a custom to announce dates of visits more than a few days before the visit. Palestine
Q: President Mukherjee, when visiting Israel, is likely to visit the West Bank also. What are your views on India coupling Israel and Palestine together? Some say a visit to Palestine is necessarily a balancing act by India. Should India view its ties with Israel independent of Palestine?
A: It is an equation that is not an equation — this is what we’ve been hearing from the Indian government. New Delhi is stating that they have a commitment to the Arab cause or the Palestinians, which is a traditional commitment of the government. This is a basic policy statement. It is not a zero-sum game. You can have good relations with both, and one does not touch upon the other. Iran
Q: What would you tell Indians who think that the Iranian nuclear deal is not a bad deal?
A: This is not a nuclear deal, but a deal to lift sanctions. We are opposing it because it has existential implications. We are the most vocal nation opposition the deal but there are other nations in the region that have similar views. Iran has been fooling the world for years on its military nuclear intentions and capabilities. Iran will be either clandestinely or after 10 years develop missiles that will target Tel Aviv and we cannot let such a development. We do not take chances. It is a bad deal and we will say it.
India-Israeli Ties(Defence, Intelligence, Agriculture and Trade)
Q: Israel has good ties with India, and at the same time is improving ties with India’s neighbours, like China and Sri Lanka. What is the challenge in maintaining good ties with India and its neighbours?
A: Israel’s relations with one nation have no connection with its ties with another. Israel has been giving more thought, effort and emphasis on its ties with countries in Asia. There is no question of balancing ties because each bilateral relation is different.
Q: How important is the defence component in India-Israel ties?
A: Maybe, one of the reasons why India-Israel ties were not too visible in the previous years was because defence ties are not an issue that is discussed publically. But it is an important ingredient and it would be pretty accurate to say that those defence relations are benefitting the defence and political interests of both the countries.
Q: Intelligence sharing is an area where India and Israel work together. Is it the common threats that bring the two countries together?
A: In the overall relation, we’re looking for common interests and challenges. In the area of stability and while confronting a common enemy (terrorism), there are similarities we face and when India and Israel sit at the same table and look for common areas, anti-terrorism is one of them. Defence and social-economic development are other major components.
Q: Can you talk a little about the Indo-Israel Agricultural Cooperation Project (IIAP) and the Centres of Excellence?
A: We are here to share our experience.....we made the desert bloom, our vegetables and fruits are the best in the world, out of necessity Israel today has the best water management practises. We are combining all this and offering it in our projects in India.
Q: What is the status of the Free Trade Agreement between India and Israel? Is pharmaceuticals and biotechnology problem areas?
A: There have been eight rounds of negotiations. It is a long process. I hope we’ll hear about it in the near future. There are no problem areas per discipline. The nature of the process is such so that it is a long drawn one. Rather than focusing on the problems, I would focus on the solutions. Kasol Cafe Story
Q: Recently there was an incident of how an Indian was denied entry into a cafe in Kasol that was not open ‘exclusively’ for Israelis. Different version of the story was reported but it brought unwanted attention on Israelis and Israel. As an ambassador how do you see such incidents?
A: I’m very glad and proud that many Israeli youngsters visit India, because relations are not just between governments. We’ll be pleasantly surprised when we know each other more. This news did raise some concerns. We are very interested in the well being of Israeli citizens abroad. But when anyone is in a foreign country, he/she should remember that there are rules and traditions, and those rules should be respected and followed.