India, Israel now 'strategic' partners: Broaden cooperation to technology, water and agriculture

Israel and India signed several agreements on cooperation in the fields of technology, water and agriculture on Wednesday, the second day of a landmark visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Jewish state.

The cooperation marks a "marriage made in heaven," said Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside his Indian counterpart.

The agreements are the centrepiece of Modi's three-day visit, which began Tuesday, to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two nations and to bring them even closer. The two leaders also said they discussed counter-terrorism and cyber security cooperation between the two states.

File image of Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. Reuters

File image of Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu. Reuters

Rather than making the visit, the first by a sitting Indian prime minister, all about the value of deals signed, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Modi appeared intent on playing up shared culture and values, in the hope this will give commercial ties deeper roots.

"Our goal is to build a relationship that reflects our shared priorities and draws on enduring bonds between our peoples," Modi said at the joint press conference.

India, Israel ink seven MoUs

India and Israel signed seven agreements to increase cooperation in fields of technological research and development, space, water conservation and agriculture

- A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Department of Science and Technology and Israel's National Technological Innovation Authority for setting up of $40 million worth India-Israel Industrial Research and Development (R&D) and Technical Innovation Fund.

- In the water sector, two agreements were signed to increase cooperation on water conservation and state water utility reform in India. Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and Israel's Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources signed the agreement on National Campaign for Water Conservation in India.

The second one was signed between Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam and the Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources on State Water Utility Reform in India.

- In the agriculture sector, the two countries have agreed upon India-Israel Development Cooperation - a three-year work programme in agriculture from 2018 to 2020.

- They also agreed for cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Israel Space Agency (ISA) regarding cooperation in Atomic Clocks. Besides, separate MoUs were signed between ISRO and ISA for cooperation in GEO-LEO optical link, and in Electric Propulsion for small satellites.

- Apart from that, cyber security was also on Modi's agenda given the increasing severity of cyber attacks across the world.

Call for stronger action against terrorism

Voicing their common concern over the growing menace of terrorism and radicalism, the two nations agreed to cooperate to protect their strategic interests and called for strong measures against terror groups and their sponsors.

India has suffered first-hand violence and hatred spread by terror groups and so has Israel, Modi said after holding wide-ranging talks with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on the second day of his landmark visit.

Modi said during their talks that he and Netanyahu had agreed to do much more together to combat terrorism to protect their strategic interests.

Both leaders also committed to cooperate for the early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT)

Nurturing 'people-to-people contacts'

People of Indian origin in Israel will get the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards even if they have undergone compulsory army service, Modi announced.

Addressing the Indian diaspora at an event which was also attended by Netanyahu, Modi also said that direct flights would be launched between Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv to encourage people-to-people contacts.

Modi also said that an Indian cultural centre would also be opened in Israel, fulfilling a long-pending demand of the Indian diaspora in Israel. He said he had heard about problems being faced by the people of Indian origin in getting the OCI cards.

Modi said the Jewish nation had links with India dating back to centuries but the fact that no Indian prime minister had travelled here in 70 years "raises questions", an apparent swipe at the previous governments of India.

Deepening economic, strategic ties

Under Arab pressure, India kept its distance from Israel for decades but is now seeing advantages in a complementary relationship with Israel. There is interest on both sides in building a broad economic base, rather than merely a contractual exchange based around defense.

The timing reflects a diplomatic shift toward Israel being more accepted in the region. Modi, who is acutely conscious of the need to adopt innovation and new technology to update India's infrastructure has always had a personal affinity for Israel and came to learn more about the country before he became premier.

"India and Israel are walking hand in hand into the future as partners," Modi and Netanyahu wrote in a joint editorial this week. "From start-ups to space, communications to cybernetics, Israel's technological capabilities are merging with India's."

Looking to reorient Israel's economy toward Asia, Netanyahu hopes more deals will follow, setting a goal of increasing exports to India by 25 percent in the next four years. But it may take a while before the Modi-Netanyahu relationship sparks a serious expansion in investment and trade, both of which remain relatively negligible.

In many respects export-dependent Israel and India, which is focused on supplying its huge population, are complementary.
Israel is a global leader in water and food systems, two critical fields India needs to upgrade. India wants to strengthen its manufacturing base and is looking to do so with technologies coming from Israel. Both countries host major diamond trading and polishing hubs.

Israeli exports to India last year totalled $1.15 billion, excluding diamonds, just 2.5 percent of total exports. Bilateral trade was less than $2 billion, which jumped to $4.13 billion including diamonds. Israel's foreign direct investment in India totals only $100 million.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 06, 2017 14:26 PM

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