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Israeli-Indo ties, sky's the limit
Aditi Bhaduri, an award-winning independent journalist and researcher expresses her view about the recent meeting between Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu and Prime Minister of India, Mr. Modi.

He came, he saw, but whether Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi conquered anything on his recent trip to the US - during which he also addressed the UN General Assembly - is still being debated in India.


On the sidelines, Modi held a series of bilateral meetings, one of them with Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, also in New York for the annual UN meet.


The meeting, which remained under wraps till the last moment, took place more than a decade after the last time leaders of the two countries met officially. It was in 2003 that then-Indian Prime Minister Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, also of Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), officially hosted an Israeli premier, the late Mr. Ariel Sharon. While that meeting was mired in controversy in India, the Modi-Netanyahu one was reported by the media without much commentary - demonstrating, perhaps, the deepening bilateral engagement.


Mr. Narendra Modi, as chief minister of state of Gujarat visited Israel in 2006, the late Jyoti Basu, a veteran leader of the Indian left and a former chief minister of West Bengal state, had also visited Israel.


With Mr. Modi’s new government, these relations can only be expected to grow. The recent meeting on US soil is significant. Eleven years earlier, on the same soil, India's then National Security Advisor Mr. Brajesh Mishra, while addressing the American Jewish Committee, said: "Our principal theme here today is a collective remembrance of the horrors of terrorism and a celebration of the alliance of free societies involved in combatting this scourge." The government of the day had set up the Indo-Israel Joint Defense Cooperation Group and the Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism.



With the rise of the Islamic State organization in the Middle East and the recent announcement by al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri of the establishment of its branch in India and South Asia, it seems like déjà vu. Terrorism and security have been high on Modi's agenda. One of the first questions he is said to have posed to Netanyahu was about his perception of Islamic State.


It is also significant that Mr. Modi's US agenda included a meeting with the American Jewish Committee. The Jewish lobby in the United States is considered to have played a significant role in making US technology available to India. For instance, while the Falcon radar system developed by Israel Aerospace Industries was allowed to be supplied to the Indian Airforce, the sale of the same to the Chinese was scuttled by American objections. The Jewish lobby, it is widely believed, helped the Indian lobby in the US to help broker the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008. The AJC had lent its support to the deal. More and more the Indian lobby in Washington is said to be positioning itself along the model of the Jewish one.


During the meeting with his Israeli counterpart Mr. Modi said: "The American Jewish Committee... appreciated… that India is the only country where anti-Semitism has never been allowed to come up, where Jews have... lived as an integral part of our society... even one of the mayors of Mumbai city was from a Jewish family.”


For Mr. Netanyahu, one of the first world leaders to congratulate Mr. Modi on his electoral win in May, India and Israel are "two old peoples, some of the oldest on earth,” and are also two democracies. He invited Mr. Modi to visit Israel and Mr. Modi may become the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel.


For Mr. Modi, the India-Israel partnership is certainly important. Apart from cooperation in defense and security at the national level, his home state Gujarat has emerged as a major trade and investment destination for Israel, with cooperation in agriculture, science and technology, water management, solar power, port development and the diamond trade.


The new Indian Foreign Minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj was a former chairperson of the Indo-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group from 2006 to 2009 and had visited Tel Aviv in 2008.


Continued defense and counter-terrorism cooperation is expected in the bilateral relations, which Mr. Netanyahu believes have the potential to make the sky the limit. He has also proposed that the two countries cooperate in cyber defense.


Significant as the meeting was, there are divergences in geo-political perspectives. While both the US and Israel want to intensify military action against the Islamic State, India will not be participating in any military alliance


If, for Mr. Netanyahu, Iran is another avatar of the Islamic State, for India it is an important source of energy. India also sees Iran as a moderating and useful Shia counter-force to a rabid Sunni Taliban, which is still a threat in the region.


Finally, India continues to advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Soon after the Modi-Netanyahu meet, Foreign Minister Ms. Swaraj reiterated India's commitment to the Palestinian cause at the Non-Aligned Movement committee on Palestine at the UN. India's position has remained constant in this regard, despite deepening ties with Israel, seen in its vote for a UN probe into possible Israeli war crimes in Gaza earlier this year.


For many Indians the resolution of this conflict would open the gates for a partnership with Israel which may, in fact, be more enduring than the Indo-US one.


Source: i24 News



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