7 July 2017


Manish Chand
Agreements signed between India and Israel are set to have a transformational impact on partnership but Modi’s visit will go down in history as marking the end of ambiguity about this empowering bilateral

In the sacred and smart city of Jerusalem, a new language and idiom of India-Israel partnership was born to encapsulate the quintessence of India-Israel relations. It was exemplified in the resonant formula coined by the Israeli leader: I2T2 — Indian Talent X Israeli Technology = India-Israel Ties for Tomorrow.

“This is a marriage made in heaven but we are implementing it here on earth.” It may sound rhapsodic, but this is how Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evocatively captured the spirit of India-Israel relations and lavished praise on Narendra Modi, the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Jewish nation, ending a hiatus of seven decades. The bonhomie and camaraderie between Modi and Netanyahu was all too visible as the two leaders generously praised each other and unveiled a new transformative agenda by elevating their relations to the level of strategic partnership and signing seven pacts in key areas, including agriculture, space and development cooperation.

Netanyahu described July 5 as a ‘good day’ for advancing partnership between the two ancient nations that are navigating their way to modernity today. “Our talks focused on not just areas of bilateral opportunities but also how our cooperation can help the cause of global peace and stability,” said Prime Minister Modi.

The two leaders spoke with a sense of mission, which may have something to do with the ancient but modern city of Jerusalem. Netanyahu declared in the tone of the Prophet: “...Ours is a partnership to seek good, defend the good, achieve the good. This is indeed a good day.”

It was clearly not just inspired rhetoric as the outcomes that emanated from over two hours of talks between the two leaders and their delegations were pragmatic and action-oriented, which would have transformative impact on the lives and fortunes of people in the the two countries.

Strategic ties: In political and strategic sense, the major takeaway was the elevation of relations which were studiously kept discreet by New Delhi for fear of antagonising the Arab world to the level of strategic partnership, underscoring the joint resolve of the two leaders to broad-base their partnership and imbue it with a long-term vision and plan of action. In a sense, what was once a live-in relationship, seems to have now morphed into a happy and mutually fulfilling marriage, with the couple upfront about their love for each other.

“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 joint statement. 

Tech diplomacy: This multi-dimensional strategic partnership which has been fleshed out in the July 5 joint statement, was reflected in the seven agreements signed as well as in a broader alignment of national aspirations and ambitions of India and Israel. Defence will continue to be a robust pillar of India-Israel relations, but the accent will be on diversifying and widening the compass of partnership to include enhanced trade and investment, collaboration in innovation and research, tourism and people-to-people contacts. 

Innovation fund: From India’s point of view, the talks in Jerusalem have set out a detailed roadmap for enhancing cooperation in agriculture, technology and innovation. The setting up of $40 million for India-Israel Industrial Research & Development and Innovation Fund (I4F) and the $20 million contribution each by both countries, will be a game-changer in incubating new joint enterprises and innovations. “This Memorandum of Understanding will play a seminal role in enabling Indian and Israeli enterprises to undertake joint R&D projects leading to development of innovative technologies and products that have potential for commercial application,” said the joint statement.

Strategic agriculture partnership: The forging of strategic partnership in agriculture and water underlines the critical importance of Israel with its technologies for raising agricultural productivity, for India’s food security and stimulating a second green revolution. This decision to impart a strategic dimension to sustain and enhance ongoing cooperation in agriculture underlines the growing importance of food security and water security in India's strategic calculus.

Strategic partnership in water and agriculture will focus on water conservation, waste-water treatment and its reuse for agriculture, desalination, water utility reforms, and the cleaning of the Ganges and other rivers using advanced water technologies. Building on the success of the 15 Centres of Excellence (COE) set up with Israeli assistance in six States of India, the two countries have decided to double the number of these centre and promote commercially viable business models involving farmer producer organisations. Significantly, this strategic agriculture partnership dovetails with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of doubling the income of Indian farmers by 2022.

Space: Sky isn’t the limit: The ongoing space cooperation acquired a new energy with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the Indian Space Research Organisation signing three pacts and in areas of Atomic Clocks; GEO-LEO optical link; and academic collaboration and electric propulsion for small satellites. Expanding space cooperation with India is close to Netanyahu’s heart as it reinforces his formulation that the sky is not even the limit, opening new possibilities of India-Israel cooperation.

The agreements signed in Jerusalem on July 5 are set to have a transformational impact on the India-Israel partnership, but in the end the first prime ministerial visit will go down in history as marking the end of ambiguity about this mutually energising and empowering partnership and the forging of personal chemistry between the two charismatic leaders with their singular but kindred visions of national resurgence.

If Indian talent and Israeli technology are married and fused, along with fostering of deep civilisational and people-to-people bonding, this ‘marriage made in heaven’ could bear new flowers and fruits in days to come, imparting more content and depth to the newly-forged strategic partnership. 

Looking ahead, the India-Israel relations, which had remained defence-centric, are now going to acquire more broad-based character, and will be marked by BITE — Business, Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship, bringing the start-up nation and the world’s fastest growing economy in a tighter embrace.

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