When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Israel in July, not only will he be bringing the otherwise warm relationship between the two countries out of the closet, he will also be marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal and full-fledged diplomatic relations between the two countries. Modi's visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel, also marks the decisive de-hyphening of the relationship with India's traditional support for the Palestine cause. Modi will not be visiting Palestine to “balance” India's perceived tilt towards the Jewish state. This is causing angst among India's chic left-wing ivory tower intellectuals who had, till recently, dictated India's Middle East policy and aligned it firmly with Palestine's interests. Addressing a gathering in New Delhi recently, Israel's Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon said: "We are feeling very proud. The visit of President (Pranab) Mukherjee last year and our President Rivlin last November, and the expected visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coming months is nothing short of historic.” "The (last) 25 years have solidified our ties in the field of agriculture, defence, water and other areas. The best is yet to come; India and Israel will do wonders in the next 25 years,” he added. “We are two countries proud of our ancient culture and heritage and two modern democratic societies eager to grab the future,” he added. Important defence partner Over the years, Israel has emerged as one of India's largest and, arguably, most dependable partner in the defence sector. This relationship, which had small beginnings, received a huge boost during the Kargil War, when Israel rushed urgently needed high technology precision guided armaments from its own defence inventory in response to a request from the Indian government. Since then, the relationship has grown in leaps and bounds. Today, Israel is India's third largest defence supplier and exports about $ 1 billion of arms to India every year and India is the largest buyer of Israeli defence platforms. During a recent visit by three Indian Navy warships to Israel, Rear Admiral R.B. Pandit, Flag Officer Commanding India's Western Fleet, noted that India has “benefited from defense technologies, and a number of significant defense acquisitions have been made from Israel.” Missile muscle He referred in particular to the Barak 8, a surface to air missile designed and produced jointly by India and Israel, which has added considerable muscle to the Indian Navy. The Indian government recently signed a $1.6-billion contract for the supply of medium range surface to surface missiles for the Indian Army and long-range surface-to-air missiles and air and missile defence systems for Indian aircraft carriers. Then, India has also successfully test-fired Israeli defence company Rafael's (not to be confused with the French fighter aircraft purchased by India) surface to air Spyder missiles against a Banshee unmanned aerial target vehicle made by the UK. India will buy this system for $400 million. The short-range quick reaction weapon system, considered among the best in the world, can destroy incoming enemy aircraft, UAVs, cruise missiles, unmanned combat aerial vehicles and other airborne weapons. Underwater defence India has also purchased the Integrated Underwater Harbor Defense and Surveillance System from Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, for the defence of Mumbai port. This will enable Indian security forces to avert another attack such as the one in November 2008 when 10 terrorists trained, armed in Pakistan entered India's financial capital from the sea and killed 166 people. This system will also be installed later at other important Indian ports and shore-based cities. Boosting Make in India Israeli defence contractors such as Rafael and Israeli Aerospace Industries have been actively collaborating with Indian defence forces and the public sector Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) on a wide range of defence platforms. “Rafael is constantly seeking to enlarge its partnerships in India and is negotiating with the local industry to make this happen. It maintains an excellent relationship with the government offices, the DRDO, the forces and the industries, and is looking to expand its activities in India,” media reports quoted Rafael as saying. The reports added that the company is looking for opportunities to establish global manufacturing hubs for its systems in India. And leading Israeli daily 'The Jerusalem Post' reported a spokesperson for Israel Aerospace Industries that “the company has been working with India's defence industries and armed forces for 25 years, in a strategic collaboration based on the transfer of technology to benefit Indians as part of New Dehli's Made in India policy.” “The company collaborates with local companies and works with India's defence agencies, as well as the coast guard, navy, air force and army. Joint development projects include the Barak-8 air defence system, in both its maritime and land-based versions; mission aircraft; various radar systems; and UAVs.” Small arms, big ambitions The Indian government has announced that it will acquire 250,000 small arms such as assault rifles, sub-machine guns, machine guns, pistols and sniper rifles for its military and para-military forces. Of this, the armed forces need 66,000 assault rifles of 7.62 calibre immediately as a replacement for the indigenously produced Insas rifle. The total cost: $1 billion initially and $5 billion in all. Defence News, a leading Indian website on defence-related news, reported that leading Israeli arms maker Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) has tied up with India's Punj Lloyd to manufacture a range of guns and ammunition in India both for India's armed forces as well as for exports. Punj Lloyd Raksha Systems or PLRS is 51 per cent owned by the Indian partner and 49 per cent by IWI. The firm, the report said, will make Tavor carbines, Galil sniper rifles, Negev light machine guns and X95 assault rifles. Helping India's farmers If defence and security cooperation forms the bedrock of Indo-Israeli ties, then collaboration on agriculture is, without doubt, the second most important sphere of the bilateral relationship. Analysts are confident that Modi's visit to Israel next month will lead to stronger collaboration in the farm sector, which employs more than 50 per cent of India's 500-million strong labour force. Following the India-Israeli Agricultural Project in 2008, 27 Israeli Centres of Excellence were planned across the country to teach Indian farmers new farming technologies, the latest farming techniques and impart knowledge on how to extract maximum value from the agricultural value chain. Fifteen of these 27 centres are already up and running in various states. In particular, Israeli expertise on drip irrigation, which has turned the arid Jewish nation into a haven for farmers, has turned large tracts of wasteland in Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra into fertile food and fruit producing zones. For example, Israeli technology has turned Haryana into a major mango producing state and the drip irrigated nurseries of Gujarat have given rise to new industries and newer livelihoods for these previous farm sector laggards. “Undoubtedly, agriculture is at least one of the two main pillars in India-Israel relations - definitely the main pillar from the civilian angle,” Gil Haskel, head of Mashav, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, told the media ahead of Modi's visit. The two sides are currently working out the specific areas and within them projects in the agricultural sector on which Israel will collaborate with India. History of benign neglect Given the depth and breadth of ties between the two countries, it is amazing that the two countries have largely, at least officially, ignored each other for the first four decades of their existence as sovereign states. India won independence in 1947 and Israel the following year, but the Congress party under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were wary of establishing open relations with Israel for fear of upsetting their Muslim votebank in India and the Gulf monarchies, on whom India depended on for oil. So, although India recognised Israel soon after it was carved out as the only non-Muslim sovereign state in the Middle East, diplomatic relations were maintained through a consular office in Mumbai. Anything deeper than that was seen as an ideological dilution of India's traditional support for the Palestine cause. Then, the end of the Cold War turned these strategic assumptions on their head. In 1992, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao overruled his party's hawks and established open relations with the Jewish state, which began to help India in defence and security-related issues. But despite this, Indian leaders remained reluctant to openly embrace Israel and bilateral ties, though warm, remained in the closet. This, however, did not prevent India from launching as Israeli spy satellite into space and billions of dollars worth of arms and other defence equipment from the Jewish state. It was only after Narendra Modi swept to power in 2014 that the Indian government brought the relationship out of the closet. Following the visits of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, President Pranab Mukherjee, too, visited Israel. And Modi's visit is the final proof that India is no longer shy about publicly embracing a country it considered a pariah till not so long ago. Trade, tourism and more India and Israel are now close strategic and military partners but bilateral trade between the two countries, at $5 billion, does little justice to this friendship. In 1992, when the two countries established full formal diplomatic relations, bilateral trade was at $200 million and mainly comprised precious stones. Since the, it has grown to about $5 billion. India is Israel's 10th largest trading partner and the seventh largest destination for its exports. India exports precious stones and metals, organic chemicals, electronic equipment, plastics, vehicles, machinery, engines, pumps, clothing and textiles, and medical and technical equipment to Israel. Imports from India amounted to $2.3 billion or 3.2 per cent of Israel's total imports in 2014. Israel exports precious stones and metals, electronic equipment, fertilisers, machines, engines, pumps, medical and technical equipment, organic and inorganic chemicals, salt, sulphur, stone, cement and plastics to India. Israeli exports to India amounted to $2.2 billion or 3.2 per cent of its overall exports in 2014. Official figures show that tourism between India and Israel is picking up. Last year, 40,000 Israelis visited India and 10,000 Indians went to Israel. Like the rest of the trade figures, this, too, is just a drop in the ocean, but experts are optimistic that these figures will rise exponentially in the years to come following greater awareness about each other's countries. Future looks bright India and Israel have a lot in common. They are both seen as oases of democracy in tough neighbourhoods, both passed the test of fire at the time of their births, both a victims of terrorist violence and both are acknowledged as the leading industrial powers in their respective regions. Given this and the convergence of strategic, military and geo-political interests, experts predict that India's ties with Israel will only get warmer in future.