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India and Israel: Modi’s “Marriage Made in Heaven”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current tour of India and friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reflect the deepening ties between India and Israel. It is the first visit to India by an Israeli Prime Minister in 15 years.

Netanyahu’s six-day tour of India takes place just six months after Modi’s six-day visit to Israel, which was the first ever trip to Israel made by an Indian prime minister. With Modi terming the new relationship between the two nations as a “marriage made in heaven,” India and Israel’s friendship grows increasingly more significant in the context of diplomatic relations.

In an unprecedented move, Modi personally went to receive Netanyahu at the airport upon his arrival in New Delhi. Gujarat, Modi’s home state, subsequently gave Netanyahu a warm welcome, garnished with thousands of billboards and posters proudly displaying both prime ministers’ faces side by side.

   
  
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  (Billboard in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India welcoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the city; Credit: NDTV,  January 17th, 2018)

(Billboard in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India welcoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the city; Credit: NDTV,  January 17th, 2018)

The deepening bond between the nations goes further than the overt displays of friendship between the prime ministers.

On Wednesday, for instance, PM Netanyahu expressed an interest in forming an alliance with India in every field, praising Modi for his focus on modernizing India through innovation.

In discussing iCreate, a platform launched by Modi in 2011 in the state of Gujarat that seeks to bolster startups by mentoring entrepreneurs, Netanyahu said Modi was “revolutionising India.”

“We are working towards making [the] entire system in our country innovation-friendly,” Modi stated after praising Netanyahu’s progressiveness. “When I went to Israel last year, I made up my mind that this foundation (iCreate) should have stronger relations with Israel.”

Moreover, Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that India had decided to reinstate a major anti-tank missile deal with Israel. The deal worthy of $500 million to buy Spike anti-tank missiles had originally been cancelled earlier this month.

“The Indian government has informed us that it is putting the Spike deal back on track. This is very important and there will be many more deals,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. Indian officials have yet to comment on Netanyahu’s statement.

Overall, the friendship between India and Israel represents Modi’s growing interest in de-hyphenation. Despite India remaining non-aligned in the Israel-Palestine conflict prior to 2017, taking care to give equal amounts of attention to both nations, Modi’s visit to Israel and now Netanyahu’s stay in India reflect shifts in foreign policy stances.

India’s growing relationship with Israel had originally been kept low-profile when India feared upsetting Middle Eastern nations it relied on for oil supply. Now, however, Modi openly stresses the importance of maintaining Israel as an ally in the fight against terrorism. Additionally, on the economic front, bilateral trade between the nations has skyrocketed from $200 million in 1992 to $4.16 billion in 2016.

Though Netanyahu’s stay in India is winding to a close, Modi’s efforts towards de-hyphenation will surely continue. As economic and security ties continue to deepen between India and Israel, so too will their budding friendship. 

   
  
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  (Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival in Israel in July, 2017; Credit: The Times of Israel, July 4th, 2017)

(Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival in Israel in July, 2017; Credit: The Times of Israel, July 4th, 2017)