India-Israel: Close allies in keeping peace and order

India-Israel: Close allies in keeping peace and order
India-Israel: Close allies in keeping peace and order

Politically and strategically, Israel is India's most trusted ally in West Asia, writes a political senior columnist. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, India and Israel formally established full diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors. In 2003, Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister at the time, travelled to India, becoming the first head of government from Tel Aviv to do so. This month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. This will be a historic moment because unlike previous Indian dignitaries who have travelled to Israel, Modi will not combine the trip to the Jewish state with a stopover in the Palestinian territories. There is recognition that Israel deserves a standalone visit and is a class apart from India's other partners in West Asia. When Israel and India built their relationship in the 1990s, there was expectation of cooperation in intelligence, countering Islamist terrorism, defence capacity building and foreign policy in a part of the world where the two countries are rare democracies. As it turned out, this was only the tip of the iceberg. Over the past two decades, Israel has become embedded in the Indian system as an economic and strategic partner. From dairy farming to drip irrigation to horticulture, it is involved in a series of developmental projects across Indian states. In Rajasthan it is growing olives and incubating an Indian olive oil industry. In Punjab, dairy farmers and milk producers turn to Israel for technology and knowhow. In Maharashtra (Jalgaon), an Indian drip irrigation company bought out its closest rival, an Israeli company, and became a world leader in the field. So acclaimed is Indian and Israeli prowess in drip irrigation that even Arab countries are interested in it. In Gujarat, diamond merchants see Israelis as well as Jews in Antwerp and other European locations as natural business associates. Israel's reputation as an innovation and start-up hub is inspiring Prime Minister Modi's plans for Indian modernisation and entrepreneurship. Israel is one of India's biggest suppliers of military equipment. As India strives to create a domestic defence manufacture industry, Israeli investors and technology companies have shown great interest. Sensitive technologies such as Heron unmanned aerial vehicles are moving from Israel in India. Politically and strategically, Israel is India's most trusted ally in West Asia and one dare say among the three or four closest friends India has anywhere in the world. In a global system marked by turbulence and in a Greater Middle East that sees a new fire virtually every day, India and Israel are relatively stable stakeholder democracies and close allies in keeping peace and order. Tellingly, both share a degree of wariness when it comes to US President Donald Trump's still-in-the-making foreign policy. While India and Israel are about the last countries the United States President should see as threats or challenges, so far - and including during his recent visit to Israel - Trump has been inconsistent in his words and actions. Israeli analysts expect the Modi visit to be more successful than the Trump visit. A quarter-century ago, if one had said that an Indian leader's tour of Israel would be more welcome than a US leader's, the response would have been shock and disbelief. It's on the cusp of coming true. During his visit, Modi will travel to Haifa, where Indian soldiers fought a decisive battle as part of the Allied effort in World War I. Indian soldiers were cremated or buried in Haifa, after what was an early example of Indian peacekeeping and role as a net security provider in the Middle East. The Indian prime minister will pay tribute to those brave men. He will also address Israeli Jews of Indian origin, recent migrants from a country that has had several waves of Jewish settlers over hundreds of years - but where anti-Semitism has never been a problem. To this day, India is a popular tourist destination for young Israelis, especially soldiers demobilised from military service and looking for a relaxed break in a friendly country, before going back to college or to a civilian job. Indian outbound tourism and visits to Israel are also growing. Indians go to Israel as tourists, pilgrims, history buffs, business associates, admirers and friends. In a few days, Prime Minister Modi will tick all those boxes. Ashok Malik is a Senior Columnist.

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