by: Ilse Posselt
Wednesday, 05 July 2017 | Israel bid a hearty welcome to Narendra Modi, the first sitting Indian prime minister to pay an official visit to the Jewish state.
Modi touched down at Ben Gurion Airport yesterday afternoon to embark on a “truly historic” three-day trip aimed at celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi and strengthening the two nations’ already flourishing relations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—along with the top echelons of Israel’s leadership—awaited the leader of the world’s largest democracy on the tarmac, where Modi was treated to a red carpet ceremony that included an honor guard.
The two world leaders embraced warmly and greeted each other as old friends. In his welcoming address, Netanyahu told Modi, “Prime Minister, we have been waiting for you for a long time, 70 years in fact. The connection between us is natural, so natural that we might ask, ‘What took you so long?’”
“Yours is truly a historic visit,” Netanyahu continued. “It is the first time an Indian prime minister is visiting Israel. We receive you with open arms. We love India. We love your culture, your history, your democracy. We view you as kindred spirits.”
Modi took to the podium next and delighted his audience by greeting them in Hebrew. “Shalom,” he said. “I am happy to be here.”
The Indian prime minister proceeded in English. “It is my singular honor to be the first ever prime minister of India to undertake this groundbreaking visit to Israel.” Modi continued to thank his “friend Prime Minister Netanyahu for extending the invitation to visit Israel and for the warm reception.” He then vowed to build “a strong and resilient partnership with Israel.”
“My visit celebrates the strength of centuries-old links between our societies,” said Modi. “The people of Israel have built a nation on democratic principles. They have nurtured it with hard work and the spirit of innovation. India applauds your achievements.”
Modi also paid tribute to Netanyahu’s late brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, who was killed on 4 July 1976 while leading a daring rescue mission to rescue Israeli hostages held by terrorists in Entebbe, Uganda.
“Today is July 4. Exactly 41 years since Operation Entebbe, today, when your prime minister and my friend Bibi lost his elder brother Yoni while saving the lives of so many Israeli hostages. Your heroes are an inspiration for the younger generations,” Modi told Netanyahu.
Both leaders pledged that Israel and India would work together in a number of areas, including “water, agriculture, security, energy and many, many other fields.” Netanyahu also mentioned that the two countries are establishing a $40 million innovation fund “as a seed for further innovation.”
The Indian prime minister’s itinerary for his stay in the Promised Land is a busy one. Following the welcome address at Ben Gurion, the two world leaders visited one of Israel’s leading floriculture companies, before heading to Jerusalem. Here, Modi took a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum before making his way to Netanyahu’s residence for a private dinner.
Today will see Modi meet with Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin as well as members of Israel’s Indian community.
In the run-up to Modi’s visit, Netanyahu went to great lengths to underscore the importance he ascribes to his Indian counterpart. On Monday, the Israeli prime minister told the weekly cabinet meeting that he would be his guest’s travel companion during the trip. This honor is usually reserved for visiting American presidents only.
“I will accompany the prime minister at many events during his visit, as befits the leader of the largest democracy in the world,” Netanyahu explained.
Noticeably absent from Modi’s itinerary is a trip to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leaders, as is customary for visiting foreign dignitaries. New Delhi explained the decision, saying that India wishes to “de-hyphenate” its ties with Jerusalem and Ramallah.
During the Cold War era, India traditionally sided with the Palestinians and had initially refused ties with the Jewish state. Yet over the past quarter of the century, the countries have grown closer, especially in the areas of defense and technology.
Apart from celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations, the Indian prime minister’s trip is also set to bolster economic and defense ties between Jerusalem and New Delhi. In fact, over the course of his three-day trip, Modi is expected to ink no less than seven cooperation agreements between the two countries.
According to reports, defense deals seem to be top priority. Over the past few years, Israel and India have worked together closely on matters related to counter-terrorism and homeland security. At present, India is the world’s leading importer of defense equipment and is increasingly looking to the Jewish state as a supplier. In fact, according to BBC News, India has become Israel’s biggest arms market, with a net worth of approximately $1 billion per annum. Moreover, in April this year, Israel Aerospace Industries announced entering into contracts valued at over $2 billion to supply India with air and missile defense systems.
Posted on July 5, 2017
Source: (Bridges for Peace, 05 July 2017)
Photo Credit: Photo by Ashernet/Haim Zach/GPO
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