Narendra Modi to visit Israel tomorrow: Water management, agriculture to push agenda beyond defence cooperation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's upcoming visit to Israel has been deemed historic by many, by virtue of the fact that it marks 25 years of formal diplomatic ties between India and the West Asian nation.

As argued in an earlier Firstpost report, India has finally shed its hesitation in acknowledging its deepening ties with Israel and the visit, though high on symbolism, will seek to take the bilateral ties beyond the conventional emphasis on defence to a broad multi-dimensional relationship.

India has traditionally trodden a careful diplomatic line in the region, analysts say, wary of upsetting Arab states and Iran — upon whom it relies for its vast imports of oil — and its large Muslim minority. It has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, even though it quietly pursued ties with Israel.

File image of Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. PTI

But now Modi is lifting the curtain on a thriving military relationship with Tel Aviv. He will hold three days of talks with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, to advance sales and production of missiles, drones and radar systems under his signature "Make in India" drive, officials in Delhi and Tel Aviv said.

Netanyahu, hailing what he described as Modi's "historic visit", said on Monday he and the Indian leader have worked together over the past few years to build a "steadfast friendship" between Israel and India.

"This visit will deepen cooperation in a wide range of fields — security, agriculture, water, energy — basically in almost every field Israel is involved in," Netanyahu told his cabinet in public remarks.

Defence, agriculture and water management are among the various areas of cooperation that are expected to "revolutionise" the bilateral relationship. Modi's visit and the expanding areas of cooperation underscore Tel Aviv's journey from being a 'pariah' to India's strategic partner.

An Indian Express report quoted Indian Ambassador to Israel, Pavan Kapoor, as saying that the visit was the "formal coming out of the relationship" between the two countries.

Agriculture and water management

India and Israel have shared significant cooperation in the field of agriculture. Under the India-Israel action plan, Israel set up 15 centres of excellence in agriculture and horticulture in Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

The centres have demonstrated that Israeli agricultural techniques can be employed to improve Indian farming practices and Modi, to emphasise on the need for transfer of technology, will visit an agriculture farm soon after landing in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

State governments in India, apart from the Centre, have also been active in reaching out to Israel for help and assistance in agriculture and water management and the efforts are expected to intensify after the visit.

Stating that there has been cooperation going on in the agriculture sector B Bala Bhaskar, Joint Secretary (West Asia and North Africa) in the Ministry of External Affairs, told IANS, "With the help of Israel we have established centres of excellence in various states aimed at increasing productivity, crop management, and water management ."

Given the dire situation of depleting water resources in India and predictions of diminished rainfall in the future, water cooperation between the two nations is a critical issue. Israel has pioneered water desalination techniques and has resolved its water crisis.

Kapoor told the Indian Express that India could learn a lot from Israel about water, as it transitioned from water deficit to surplus and now sells water to the neighbouring Jordan.

On his visit, Modi will be shown water management, treatment, and purification technologies.

“There is a lot to learn from Israel when it comes to water management. This is a country, which was water-deficit and is now water-surplus. It sells water to Jordan,” the Indian Express report quoted Kapoor as saying.

Defence, counter-terrorism still the bedrock of bilateral ties

India is the world's biggest importer of defence equipment, and Israel has become one of its major suppliers. Israeli media have reported that the two countries see more than $1 billion in defence deals each year.

India has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter long-standing tensions with regional rivals China and Pakistan.

It has signed several big-ticket defence deals since Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party stormed to power in 2014.

In April, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said India would buy nearly $2 billion worth of weapons technology, making it the military exporting giant's largest ever defence contract. The deal will see IAI provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology

According to a Hindustan Times report, India is also expected to purchase the armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Heron TP from Israel in order to amp up counter-terrorism and military deterrence capability along its borders.

The report adds that security agencies in New Delhi are also looking to acquire communication interception software that can interdict internet-based chat platforms for targeting terrorists or hostiles. The two nations already have a robust institutionalised mechanism to share data on terrorists and hostile countries.

Modi is also expected to discuss terrorism and cooperation in counter-terrorism operations while in Israel.

Cyber security

Cyber security is one of the key areas to be discussed with Modi, Netanyahu had said ahead of his Indian counterpart's visit to Israel.

"Once it was a disadvantage to say that you are from Israel. Today when you talk about cyber or advanced technology, it is an advantage to say we are an Israeli company. The whole world wants us. The whole world is coming here," Netanyahu said in his remarks at the Cyber Week 2017 conference in Tel Aviv University.

Terming Modi, as "one of the most important prime ministers of the world", Netanyahu had said that the Indian leader wants close cooperation with Israel in cyber security.

Engaging the Indian diaspora

On Wednesday, Modi will address a massive rally for Indians at Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. The event forms another link between India and Israel. Over 4,000 persons have registered for the event.

Modi will also interact with students from the agriculture, chemistry and biology departments, according to the Indian Express.

Israel has a population of about 85,000 persons of Indian origin. Most of them are Indian Jews who migrated to Israel in the 1950s onwards. The organisers have expressed hope that Netanyahu, who is expected to attend most of Modi's functions in Israel, would also attend the meeting of Indian Jews.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2017 15:50 PM

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