New Delhi: It took 70 years for an Indian prime minister to visit Israel. Yet, it only took a day for both sides to elevate their ties to a strategic partnership.
This is significant given that the two countries established diplomatic relations only 25 years ago. Now the relationship between the two countries has been elevated to the status accorded by India to key partners like the US, Russia, Germany and Japan.
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“This historic first-ever visit by an Indian prime minister to Israel solidified the enduring friendship between their peoples and raised the bilateral relationship to that of a strategic partnership," said the opening paragraph of a joint statement issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu concluded their talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Adding new context to the ties—anchored previously in security , defence cooperation and agriculture—were seven pacts covering areas of collaboration in space, water conservation and fostering innovation.
In his remarks to journalists, Netanyahu described the India-Israel partnership as a “match made in heaven" but implemented on earth.
“The Modi visit and the elevation of ties to a strategic partnership has given the India-Israel relationship the public endorsement that Israel has been seeking for a while," said C.U. Bhaskar, director at the New Delhi-based think tank, Society for Policy Studies. “Previously, the relationship was below the median," he added.
Besides bilateral cooperation in the areas of research and innovation, water utility reforms, agriculture and space, the two countries were also looking at cooperation in third countries and continents like Africa, Netanyahu said, adding, “This (India-Israel) is a partnership to seek the good, to achieve the good."
Modi, in his remarks, described his talks with Netanyahu as “productive." “Israel is among the leading nations in the field of innovation, water and agricultural technology. These are also among my priority areas in India’s development. We agreed that efficiency of water and resource use; water conservation and its purification; and productivity increases in agriculture are key areas in deepening our bilateral cooperation," Modi said.
“Our decision to establish a bilateral technology innovation fund worth $40 million for research in industrial development will help us in achieving this goal," he added.
Briefing reporters, Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said Modi’s visit “marks the real broad-basing of the relationship. The agenda today envisages Israel as a major development partner and technology partner".
Underlining the significance of the agreements signed on Wednesday, Jaishankar said that India had set itself the goal of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022 and hence was looking at technological intervention to achieve this objective.
Earlier, speaking to reporters, Modi said he and Netanyahu had also “agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also cooperate to combat growing radicalization and terrorism, including in cyber space".
According to the joint statement which provided a glimpse of the future contours of the relationship, “the two leaders...visualized that the two countries will become close partners in development, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, defence and security".
To boost trade and investment, the two sides “agreed that negotiations would be conducted on an agreement for the protection of investments in order to encourage bilateral investments from both sides," the statement said.