New Delhi: Deepening of trade and defence ties is likely to be the focus of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s five-day visit to India staring this Sunday.

India-Israel trade is valued at about $4 billion annually and the two countries hope to take this to $10 billion.

“In diplomacy, chemistry between the leaders plays a pivotal role and PM Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a firm resolve to strengthen Indo-Israeli ties in the strategic, security and defence arena which will get a boost during his visit to India," said Saurabh Shukla, strategic affairs analyst. “Cooperation against terrorism, and using Israeli technology for guarding our borders and in helping India in cyber warfare besides buying more strategic defence equipment will be on the menu of the talks."

Nearly 102 Israeli representatives travelling with Netanyahu indicate the strong push to deepen trade ties.

Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd and Elbit Systems Ltd will be among the key defence firms participating in various engagements.

Israel is among the top four arms suppliers to India, selling almost $1 billion worth of hardware every year, including Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), Aerostat, Barak anti-missile defence and several types of missiles and laser-guided bombs.

To be sure, since a lot of defence deals with Israel have already been placed, big bang announcements are not expected.

“Most other contracts to be given from India had happened before Modi’s visit to Israel last year," said L&T’s head of defence Jayant Patil, adding, “The Israelis are now lobbying for some other strategic sales as well."

At least one deal has been nixed since then. India cancelled a $500 million order for Spike anti-tank missiles this month. The missiles were to be manufactured by a joint venture between Israeli Rafael Systems, Bharat Dynamics Ltd and Kalyani Systems.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, however, announced an order of 131 Barak missiles and associated equipment to be bought from Rafael Advanced Defence Systems for Rs460 crore earlier this month.

In the run-up to the visit, there was some criticism from Israeli commentators as India recently supported a UN resolution condemning US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

One commentator said, “India wants an affair when it comes to Israel, not a serious relationship."

“The common security and economic interests the countries share were vital elements in forging this love affair, which is expected to continue with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to New Delhi in a few weeks," Oshrit Birvadker wrote in Israeli newspaper Haaretz on 4 January, adding, “however, if one looks at these ties through India’s voting record at the UN, the pattern over time shows an embrace of the Palestinian narrative, along with a clear anti-Israel stance. The blossoming of the love affair has brought about but a small change, if any, to this trend. This was evident in India’s abstention on a resolution calling to condemn Israel following a UN report on the 2014 Gaza war and an abstention on a UNESCO resolution that defined Israel as “an occupying force in Jerusalem."

Shukla said this was a minor blip and won’t hurt the trip.

“India’s vote at the UN against President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem resolution is a hiccup but will not cloud the visit," he added.

India is also pushing for ‘Make in India’ in defence and that is also likely to be discussed when the two sides meet.

Despite the public display of warmth between India and countries like the US, Israel and France, foreign direct investment in defence has been abysmal, data shows.

Minister of state for defence, Subhash Bhamre, told Parliament on 28 July last year that no foreign direct investment (FDI) was received in defence production in 2017-18 till that month. The fiscal before that, FDI in defence production was also disheartening: only Israel invested Rs66,000, about the same as two round trip tickets between Jerusalem and Delhi.

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