Bibi and I

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Come March and Modi had another opportunity to reach out to “my friend” Bibi, who won a third consecutive term as prime minister. Modi kept up contacts with the Israeli side by meeting President Reuven Rivlin when he travelled to Singapore to attend the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of the citystate, also in March. A further indication of the burgeoning military, defence and security ties under the overarching strategic partnership with Israel can also be had from the fact that soon, the Indian Navy will test-fire a jointly developed long-range surface-to-air missile which could lead to the induction of Barak-8 missile on board Indian warships.

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Bilateral Trade*:

1992 – US$ 200 million
2011 – US$ 5.19 billion
2013 – US$ 4.39 billion
(*balance of trade in Israel’s favour)

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Trade in diamonds constitutes over
half of bilateral trade.

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Potash is a major item of Israel’s
exports to India.

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In 2013, India was Israel’s 10th largest trade
partner overall and Israel’s third largest trade
partner in Asia after China and Hong Kong.

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Israeli Investment in India*:

April 2000 – November 2013: US$ 73.7 million

(*The data does not capture FDI flows from Israel
to India that flow through the US, Europe and
Singapore)

(Source: Ministry of External Affairs)

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As Israel’s ambassador to India Daniel Carmon says, the bilateral ties have grown manifold and grown exponentially in areas such as agriculture. He attributes the robust defence relationship to the similar security challenges that both countries face. “We have found a way to cooperate in a way that each country benefits from it and I can tell you without any hesitation that Israel and India have through this partnership benefited their respective national security interests and this is the beauty of this relationship. There is a convergence of interests, which benefits both countries’ national security,” Carmon told Tehelka in a recent interview. “We are not ashamed of saying that Israel and India are doing a great job together. The fact that Israel has put India on top of its priority list of friends and partners says it all,” he added for good measure.

The Israeli envoy’s choice of words is as refreshing as New Delhi’s newfound attitude towards all things Israel. For years on end, Israel was treated as a mistress to be hidden away. Not anymore. Gone is the diffidence, ambivalence and tentativeness which characterised India’s disposition towards Israel. An early evidence of the same was witnessed in Parliament in July last year when the government refused to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Again, while the erstwhile UPA years were marked by four visits to India by President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine (in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012) – possibly in deference to the Congress’ desire to maintain its relations with the minorities at home on an even keel – a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Abbas in New York last year on the sidelines of the UNGA did not materialise even though the latter was in the city at about the same time.

The sea change in India’s position towards Israel is particularly striking when one considers that the then World Jewish Congress Co-Chairman Isi Liebler had called on Narasimha Rao in 1991 with the modest demand that India treat Israel as it would any other nation-state, without insisting that India change its Arab/Palestine policy. Incidentally, within days of Liebler’s meeting with Rao, India voted in favour of the UNGA Resolution 46/86 that paved the way for the repeal of the UNGA Resolution 3379 of 1975 equating Zionism with racism.

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