India-Israel relations on a very good wicket

India-Israel relations on a very good wicket
India-Israel relations on a very good wicket

The Indian Ambassador based in Tel Aviv, Pavan Kapoor, is well-placed to provide some context to Narendra Modi's historic visit to Israel in July - the first by an Indian Prime Minister. Please give us an overview of where Indo-Israel ties stand. I think India-Israel relations are on a very good wicket, at the political and economic level and also the cultural and people to people level. We have not had this scale of high level contact between the two countries for many years. In the last couple of years, we have had Heads of State visiting from India and Israel and we have had several ministerial delegations on either side. We are now gearing up for the first-ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. On several fronts, the relationship is extremely good and we look forward to it getting even stronger. How is Israel helping India develop a defence industrial base under Make in India Historically, we have had a need and demand for certain products and Israel has been a good supplier for us. But the fact of the matter is that we have been pushing in the direction of joint development of products and transfer of technology to India. There has been some progress on this front, particularly in what we call the LR-SAM and MR-SAM [India-Israel surface-to-air missiles], which we are jointly developing. But we think there is considerable scope for more such programmes under the Make in India initiative of the Government of India. There are a lot of incentives that have been provided for these kind of programmes and of late, there have been a series of joint ventures that have been agreed to between the private sector companies in India and Israel. This should set the base for a fair amount of production shifting to India and this would be of benefit not to just to India in terms of creating jobs but also for the Israeli side, to be able to reduce costs and look at further export markets elsewhere in the region. How can the two countries deepen their partnership by moving beyond the current vendor-client relationship Defence is not a particular area of focus during the Prime Minister's visit in July. We are much more focussed on the development side of relationship - which covers everything from agriculture, water, science and technology, innovation and start-ups - a whole range of areas where we hope to be pushing the relationship forward. Defence is just a part of that. I would highlight agriculture as an area where we have already been collaborating with the Israelis. The Israelis have set up centres of excellence in different states of India, where they have been exhibiting their techniques and practices to improve crop/fruits and vegetable yields. Farmers from around the region come and learn those techniques and then try and emulate them in their own farms. The idea is to take that much further to the next level. There is the whole area of drip irrigation which is an invention of the Israelis, which is now picking up considerably in India, particularly in the southern states. It is interesting that one of the largest drip irrigation companies in the world now is an Indian company, which bought over some smaller companies in Israel and has a huge market share in India. Water is an area of tremendous potential because Israel has shown the world how to transform from a water deficit country to a water surplus country. They have gone into a very strong campaign of water conservation, increasing the supply of water through de-salination as well as doing tremendous amount of work on recycling and reuse of water for agriculture. In addition, there are areas such as R&D, innovation and start-ups. Israel is known as a start-up nation and we have a fair amount of start-ups coming up in India. We have to look at how we can bring these two together and help companies come and scale up in India with new technologies and ideas from Israel and avail of the huge market to get economies of scale. Experts say bilateral trade is at sub-optimal levels. What steps are being planned to ramp it up to its full potential This is an area to which we have been giving some thought. One of the things we have to try and do is that we have got to start getting many more Israeli companies to think East; think India, travel to India and see the potential that exists. Israeli companies have instinctively looked towards the US or Europe; we are trying to get them to shift direction. There are some cultural differences between business styles on both sides, which we have to overcome. The Israelis are extremely transactional whereas we tend to be more relationship oriented. There is a need to understand each other and then figure out how better to do business with each other. There are specific areas such as textiles where India seems to be losing out on market share in Israel to our neighbours. Israel with a population of 8.5 million is not a huge market for Indian products but we have to look at the potential in other forms, in terms of investment and technology. The normal measures of trade may not be the best way to look at things, particularly in terms of exports from India. On the other hand, the Israelis have a good scope to try and increase some of their exports to India, where there is a huge market that awaits them. What would PM Modi's visit mean for this relationship and how do you see things progressing over the next decade The significance of this visit happening at this stage cannot be underplayed at all. The fact is that this is happening also in the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations - 1992 is when we opened up embassies in each other's countries. It has been a slow journey, at times gathering pace and slowing down again. In the last few years, things have really picked up pace and our Prime Minister is very committed to building this relationship and so is the Israeli Prime Minister. In terms of the political commitment, it is at an unprecedented level. I think once we have this visit and sit down and show what each other has to offer, we should be able to push ahead with a great deal of confidence, without any hesitation in the relationship which may have existed in the past. I see a very, very bright future for the relationship of our two countries. Finally, please give us a snapshot of life in Tel Aviv and what is in store for the PM's visit One of the things people think of when they think of Israel is the idea of it in the middle of the Middle East and therefore surrounded by a lot of civil war, which is true to some extent. But I think what is also amazing is to see how this country, which is pretty tiny - both is area and population - has developed amazing technologies and is extremely innovative. The kind of excellence they have achieved in areas of agriculture, medicine and defence is something to be seen to be realised. It needs to be borne in mind that a lot of this has developed out of a sense of hostility that they have faced in the neighbourhood. They have made wonderful use of adversity to treat it as a challenge and come out with very creative solutions and build up their industry and services. It is quite remarkable in that sense. The country is also fascinating because of its interesting mix of people. There is a concept of military conscription in this country, so all young men and women with a few exceptions go through military training - for three years or two years. Many of them, after that travel to different countries, particularly India. When they spend several months in India, they find solace in its spirituality. There are a huge number of yoga enthusiasts in this country, a wonderful connect at a person to person level and a very strong feeling for Indians. Going back 2,000 years ago, when the first Jewish people landed up on the Indian coast, there has never been any sense of anti-semitism in India. So, there is a great deal of goodwill for Indians. There is a large Indian-origin Jewish community here, almost 80,000 people, which also acts as a wonderful bridge. On the PM visit, everyone I meet is only asking about that. There is considerable buzz and excitement here and a lot of people are watching it with great interest.

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