Modi and I are reformers who want to seize the future, says Israeli PM Netanyahu
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Modi and I are reformers who want to seize the future, says Israeli PM Netanyahu

Calling PM Narendra Modi’s trip to Israel historic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the two nations can look to a better future with improved ties and cooperation on a host of issues.

india Updated: Jul 07, 2017 08:57 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, Jerusalem

Prime Minster Narendra Modi became the first Indian premier to visit the state of Israel, with Israeli counterpart Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu personally present in a diplomatic gesture earlier accorded only to the President of the United States and the Pope. As Modi’s trip to the state enters its final day, here’s a look at the highlights. (PIB / PTI)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted PM Narendra Modi’s invitation to visit India this year to further cement the bilateral relationship. On the sixth floor of King David Hotel and in the backdrop of the City of David and Temple Mount, the 67-year-old leader spoke to Hindustan Times exclusively on India-Israel relations, Iran, terrorism and the growing partnership among democracies. Here are the excerpts:

Are you planning to come to India this year?

Yes. Just received a gracious invitation from Prime Minister Modi and I gladly accept. We are clearly in midst of an historic process. Modi’s visit to Israel is truly historic. I said yesterday that it’s almost impossible to understand what took you so long for the meeting of hearts and minds and the decision of leaders. Modi is not only a great leader of India but also a great world leader. And the fact that he has made a decision to upgrade the Israel-India links and seek to have the benefits of Israeli innovation and great Indian renaissance is a testament to his leadership. Yes, I have gladly accepted and look forward to my India visit with great expectations and enthusiasm.

Modi has de-hyphenated the past equation which used to be earlier there and called Israel a special friend, calling his visit as ground breaking. How does Israel on its part strengthen the special bond?

Modi said life is innovation and we are living in times of exponential change. Everything is technology. The distinction between hi-tech and low-tech has disappeared in water, agriculture, health, communication, medicine and transportation. Innovation will govern our future. The future belongs to those nations who innovate. 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. And we are eager to have cooperative ventures between our entrepreneurs and our technologists and India’s wonderful storehouse of human talent. Modi said in our very first meeting in the UN three years ago. He said when it comes to India and Israel relations 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.

Read | India, Israel turn ‘marriage made in heaven’ into strategic partnership

Modi and you seem to have a special bonding. This was evident when Modi landed in Israel. The world is watching you two leaders.

I think people sense the natural and immediate bond. By the way this was the sense that I had when I met Modi for the first time. As I said it is meeting of hearts and mind. Both at the personal level. I think we both are reformers and we both have deep and abiding respect for our cultures and history. Yet we both want to seize the future. It is a very similar mentality. So this forms the basis of our relationship and we both understand the potential of our cooperation. This is very real. I also think there is natural affinity.

You both seem to be exchanging notes on Twitter. Do you talk on the phone also?

(Laughs) He is a greater twitterer than I. I have a way to go and this includes yoga. I have some work to do to catch up. But there is a sense about Modi and people around the world sense it that he is committed to something beyond himself. And I think in Israel and beyond Israel a lot of people understand that I am committed to safeguarding and building Israel’s future. And in our case we are almost the same age. India has history of 5,000 years, we have history about 4,000 years. We unlike the people of India lost our homeland and were dispersed to far corners of the world and paid a horrible price. So my job as the Prime Minister of Israel is to make sure that the horrors of the past can never be repeated in the future by making Israel very strong, very advanced, very developed and in partnership with like-minded states. And who can be more like minded than the great Indian democracy. I said yesterday that the first day of exercise I will do is to turn my head to the right. And what do I see. The first democracy, I see is India. And I said if Modi does a similar exercise and looks to the left and the first democracy he will see is Israel. So this is not only a personal partnership. It is a natural partnership between our people who respect and generally like and admire one and other. And the question that you should be really asking is what took us so long.

You talked about India-Israel cooperation in terrorism. Can you elaborate on it? What is the new frontier that you are talking about considering that both countries collaborate a lot?

We see there are terrorist attacks around the globe. India has experienced some tragic terror attacks, notably the 2008 Mumbai attack. Modi and I just saw young Moshe who was saved by his Indian nanny. We will never forget that. So many other countries are savaged by these barbarians including most recently in Europe. But these attacks are abound in Asia, Africa and certainly in the Middle-East. The attacks have claimed so many lives. And so there is abiding interest in the civilized powers to fight this scourge. I think this is certainly true for the great democracies — India, Israel and US — but is also true for others. The greatest numbers of victims that this radical Islamic terror claims are Muslims. They murder Muslims, they butcher Muslims so it is not surprising that there is a renewed different view that radical Islamic terror whether led by Shia kind led by Iran or the Sunni kind led by Daesh. And many Arab countries have come to the conclusion that Israel is not their enemy but their indispensable ally against this common danger. So what is developing now is a very broad international consensus that this terrorism has to be fought and defeated. Otherwise the future will be in peril. In practical terms, this means improved exchange of intelligence because you cannot put a policeman in every corner. And techniques are developing to predict where the next terror attack will actually come from. Now you can identify through techniques which corner is going to generate the next attack. This is called data mining and artificial intelligence and we share with all countries that are interested in fighting terrorism.

You talked about Shia and Sunni terror. What is your assessment when even Sunni states are blaming Iran for what they are doing?

It is not that they are blaming Iran now. It is now they are open in blaming Iran. I think everybody understands that Iran generates terror far and wide. It is a pre-eminent terror state of our times. I think the real problem was that for a time in certain quarters there was a sense that Iran was a solution to the problems in the Middle-East and not the real problem. I think that has changed.

You look on the right you see India and on your left you see US. Is US-Israel-India the emerging power troika?

I think it is a natural partnership among democracies. There are other partnerships that are possible in our world and they exist. But there is nothing like the depth of friendship, sympathy and solidarity that democratic people have for one and other. Because we understand that we not only defend ourselves but we defend the way of life. And we make life so cherished. And this is true for US, Israel and India. So a great partnership.

Also read | PM Modi’s Israel trip shows India’s mature approach with focus on economic, security gains | Opinion

First Published: Jul 06, 2017 07:37 IST