By Sunil Raman and Rajesh Mehta
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much anticipated visit to Israel, a first by an Indian Prime Minister since diplomatic ties were established in 1992, is expected to take place sometime this year. The relationship between the two countries is only set to further transform, according to Israel’s ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon.
With Narendra Modi coming to power, the veil on India-Israel relations is being lifted. What is different and new in how India is dealing with Israel?
India and Israel enjoy a strong, deep and meaningful relationship. These relations have grown steadily in the last 24 years since we established full diplomatic relations in 1992. We have been dealing with a very wide range of subjects and fields from agriculture to security, culture to water, trade and technology. Though we do see a change in the visibility of the relations recently. High level visits such as the historic visit by President Pranab Mukherjee just a few months ago and very recently the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, are good examples of the growing visibility of the relations. But this kind of visibility is not just for the sake of visibility or photo ops. It has a real effect on the ground and it brings with it more cooperation, more fields to partner in and more opportunities under the guidance of the leadership of both sides.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj urged Israel to be invested in India’s economy, Does Israel plan to be part of the Make In India programme? Which are the sectors where we can expect Israeli investment?
We see Make In India as a great opportunity for us to upgrade our relations in a number of fields. Our relations have always been based on three basic foundations: Shared Values, Joint Interests and Common Challenges. We understand that if we want to overcome these challenges, we can do it better together.
Our defence minister was in India last year, held extensive talks on the matter and said that we are interested to take part in Make In India. We have proven more than once in the past that we are open to the concept of transfer of advanced high technology and joint development. Both our governments as well as the Israeli companies are ready to engage in this venture, and as a matter of fact, are already practically engaged in very specific projects of Make in India.
But it’s more than just ‘Making in India’. Since we have no doubt that R&D serves as a growth engine for the local industry, we are willing to create with India more platforms of joint R&D to pinpoint shared challenges, discuss and plan solutions together, and even manufacture them together. Both sides have a lot to gain from this collaboration. Both sides have already gained from this kind of partnership in defence and in other fields.
What are the new areas of co-operation discussed during Swaraj’s visit?
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj concluded her successful visit to Israel earlier this month. She was warmly received by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon as well as other ministers and legislators.
I can tell you that this visit, only three months after the historic visit by President Pranab Mukherjee, is another solid proof of our intimate and close relationship.
Many subjects were discussed in depth, like agriculture, water, defence, counterterrorism and more. One of those subjects was education and the need to expand our relations in this field. The potential is huge and we are very far yet from reaching it. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and External Affairs Minister Swaraj raised a few ideas to expand this cooperation. For example hosting large numbers of Indian mathematics students in Israel, so we will see more Indian students in Israel and more Israeli students in India. It is important that both sides will know each other better. We are confident that expanding relations in education, especially in higher education and in creating more academic connections, will contribute directly to the strength of the relations between people on both sides as well as the two governments.
The two countries have co-operated for a long time on counter-terrorism. Can Israel help India with better and innovative technology to secure its borders? The recent terror attack on an Indian Air Force base (in Pathankot) showed the poor status of border infrastructure and India needs innovative solutions.
Israel and India signed a landmark agreement almost two years ago, aimed at formalising and creating a sustainable framework for cooperation in the field on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. This new formation is gradually shaping and becoming meaningful on the basis of mutual interests. A changing world, like the one we live in, requires a flexible and adaptive approach to tackle defence and national security challenges. But most importantly, it should be a joint approach, especially India and Israel are facing similar challenges.
Today, terror organisations have become national threats to many countries by being more vigilant and advanced. Israel and India are not the only countries obviously facing terror threats but we have been at the forefront of combating terror in recent years.
The challenges that we face today will not fade away; rather they will transform. Our response based on cooperation should aim to develop adaptive capabilities suitable for these times and challenges. I have no doubt in my mind that this cooperation in the past had contributed to the national security of both our countries.
Islamist terror has emerged as a major security threat for India and in recent months several Indians have been arrested for being ISIS sympathisers or deported while trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS. How do you see the emerging security situation in South Asia?
West Asia has always been a volatile region, more so in the past few years. We see terror activities and terror organisations in different forms and shapes in the region. We also see countries supporting terror activity and regional instability, sometimes by using proxies to execute their plans. Iran is one of those countries that is actively promoting regional instability and supports terror organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The ideology that drives these organisations is not much different than IS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda. All of those organisations are fueled by extreme religious ideology that promotes violence and hatred to the ‘other’, whether they are Jews, Christians, Hindus or Muslims. In Israel, we have been facing a new wave of terror the past few months. Terror of stabbing and ramming. We have witnessed more than 100 such attacks on Israeli civilians in different parts of the country in a short period of time. Many of the attackers are very young – sometimes in their early teens. Just a few days ago, a young Israeli woman was stabbed in her home in front of her children by a 15-year-old Palestinian boy just because she was an Israeli. These attacks are not necessarily planned in advanced or organised by one central command but rather are a result of continuous incitement against Israelis, against Jews in all the Palestinian media channels – official and private, television, newspapers and even social media. They are knowingly promoting hatred and support, actually glorify, these kind of terror attacks against civilians. This hateful ideology is what's common to all the terror we see in West Asia and even beyond.
The Modi government has recently launched Start Up India campaign. What experiences can Israel share with India?
India is the ‘happening’ place for startups these days, especially after the launch of Start Up India, Stand Up India. For the past few years we have seen an impressive growth in the number of Indian startups, reaching its peak last year. Israel as well, has an extensive startup scene with more than 5,000 start-ups and it is still growing. We attribute great importance to research and development and we hold the highest number of startups per capita. Israel enjoys the highest rate of Governmental investment in R&D (almost 4 percent of GDP) and has a strong viable venture capital industry. All major international companies hold development centres in Israel to tap into Israeli knowledge and capabilities and we see more investment and acquisitions each year in the IT sector.
I believe that the uniqueness of the Israeli startup ecosystem stems from the readiness and willingness to take risks, to accept failure, to be curious, to argue, to challenge. We believe Israel’s experience in creating a thriving ecosystem for innovation can and should be shared. We should create more platforms for ideas and people from Israel and India to meet and interact. We should increase market access and strengthen the academic and education connections. With the launch of the Start Up India, Stand Up India initiative, we have another opportunity to expand our cooperation.
You see this tendency of Indians and Israelis to innovate and work together not only in Tel Aviv or in Bangalore but also in Silicon Valley. Prime Minister Netanyahu said last year, "Hindi and Hebrew are the main languages of the Silicon Valley, (although) you sometimes also hear English". It might seem like a joke but the hunger to succeed, to grasp opportunities is something common to Indians and Israelis.