India and Israel are negotiating an array of civilian and military deals at several official and business delegation levels since the arrival of the Israeli president in New Delhi on Monday. Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, accompanied by First Lady Nechama Rivlin, is on a week-long state visit to India on the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee. This state visit by an Israeli President is the first in nearly 20 years, in reciprocity to President Mukherjee’s October 2015 visit and marks the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which have grown significantly since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May 2014. The last Israeli president to visit India was Ezer Weizman in January 1997.
President Rivlin met PM Modi in Delhi on 15 November 2016. Thanking Modi for the warm welcome and apart from many issues he spoke on, he also said, “Prime Minister, you have called on the world, to ‘Make in India’. I am here to say Israel is ready to answer this call. Israel is ready to Make in India, and Make with India. …I look forward to seeing with my own eyes how Israeli innovation and India’s industrial power are working together. ……On my visit I will also pay my respects at the site of terror attacks, which claimed the lives of both our peoples. Israel and India are threatened by terror because we uphold the values of freedom. Mr. Prime Minister, we share your desire for peace and security. Nothing can justify terror. Terror is terror is terror. We stand together, with the whole free world in defending our peoples, and our values.”
This was in consonance with what the Israeli President said before departing on India visit. “Israel and India are both countries of innovation and of inspiration. Countries that have ancient traditions, but have built strong and thriving hi-tech economies, and now celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations. I will be accompanied on this visit by a large delegation of business and academic leaders and together we will promote our bilateral cooperation. This visit is a sign of the strong relations and friendship between our peoples, and I hope will plant the seeds for that friendship to grow closer and closer.” On Twitter before leaving for India President Rivlin said, “ Filled with pride as I depart for State visit to India to see how Israeli innovation is improving the lives of millions,”
Yaffa Zilbershats, head of Israel’s Council for Higher Education’s budget committee and part of the presidential delegation, said, “The issue of international cooperation in higher education and the expansion of academic ties between Israel and the world – in particular with India – is one of the central aims of the multi-year plan for higher education in Israel. The academic delegation accompanying the President on his visit to India includes 13 presidents and senior representatives of Israeli academic institutions, who are expected to sign 15 separate agreements between Israeli and Indian educational institutions.” He noted that the expansion of academic ties would include student exchanges, joint research projects, and the founding of inter-institutional fora to promote academic cooperation between Israeli and India universities and colleges.
Heading the business delegation, Shraga Brosh, President of Manufacturers Association of Israel, noted at a meeting that “India represents a great challenge for Israeli manufacturers and this delegation will afford the opportunity to strengthen cooperation and partnership with their Indian counterparts. I have no doubt that this will be a fruitful visit and forge long-lasting economic partnerships which will strengthen and help grow the bilateral trade between the countries.”
India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defense supplier to India after Russia. From 1999 to 2009, the military business between the two nations was worth $9 billion. Military and strategic ties between the two nations extend to intelligence sharing on terrorist groups and joint military training.
In 2014, India became the third-largest Asian trade partner of Israel, and tenth-largest trade partner overall and bilateral trade, excluding military sales, stood at US$4.52 billion. Since 2015, the two nations are negotiating an extensive bilateral free trade agreement, focusing on areas such as information technology, biotechnology, and agriculture.
In 2000, Jaswant Singh became the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Israel, following which the two countries set up a joint anti-terror commission. In 2003, Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India. Then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee voiced the confidence that Sharon’s visit would pave the way for further consolidating bilateral ties.
In early 2006 Indian government ministers Sharad Pawar, Kapil Sibal, and Kamal Nath visited Israel as did Mr. Modi when he was Gujarat Chief Minister. When UPA Foreign Minister SM Krishna visited Israel, the Israeli PM called this visit a historical step forward in developing the relations between the two nations.
In May 2014 after Mr.Modi’s massive electoral victory, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu personally congratulated him. Mr Netanyahu met Mr. Modi in New York on the sideline of the UN General assembly during his US visit in 2014. On the occasion of Hanukkah festival, Modi greeted his Israeli counterpart in Hebrew on Twitter and the Israeli PM replied in Hindi. Later in 2014 Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel to overview the security arrangement of Israel. During his tour, he also met Israeli PM Netanyahu. In the same year, former Israeli President Shimon Peres visited India. A high-level Israeli delegation with Agriculture Minister of Israel Yair Shamir also participated in Vibrant Gujarat summit in 2015. In February 2015 Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon came to India.
During his visit, he participated in Aero India 2015. He also met his Indian counterpart as well as Indian PM. Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President to visit Israel in October 2015 and was given the rare honor of addressing the Knesset. During Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s tour to Israel in January 2016, she visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, met with PM Netanyahu, President Rivlin, members of the cabinet and the Indian Jewish communities in Israel. In September 2016, Minister for Agriculture Radha Mohan Singh visited Israel to bolster India-Israel agricultural ties.