A special flight equipped with medical equipment and advanced technological treatments for coronavirus flew to India from Tel Aviv yesterday. Also on board were defense and security experts, as well as Israeli diplomats returning to their embassies and consulates in the region. Dozens of sophisticated ventilators, which were loaded onto the special flight before take-off, made the name of the mission 26,that much more meaningful: “Breathing Space.”
Israel went out of its way to approve the export and transfer of these ventilators to India, while both countries continue to fight against the spread of the virus. Israel’s exceptional gesture today was a welcome “thank you” to India, which, just a few months ago, sent medicine and other essential diagnostic equipment in severe global shortage at the time to Israel.
In this way, Israel and India successfully transformed this unprecedented global pandemic into an opportunity to assist one another and further enhance their relations.
The Israel-India relationship has improved dramatically over the past several years. It’s hard to believe that just three decades ago, Indian passports were valid “for every country except Israel”. Today, India has become one of our most significant friendships in the Asia region. The scope of mutual trade between the two countries has grown from approximately 200 million USD in 1992 to some 4 billion USD in 2018. Since Ariel Sharon’s first historic visit to India in 2003, Israeli and Indian presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers have enjoyed a host of bilateral visits and discussions. One of the first discussions Foreign Minister Ashkenazi held upon entering his new role was with his Indian counterpart, Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. These are just some of the indicators of the surge that has occurred in relations between the two countries since diplomatic ties were fully established in 1992.
This upward trend has yielded success in other fields as well. Although it’s difficult to imagine direct flights while living under the cloud of COVID-19, Air India’s direct flight between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, inaugurated two years ago, minimizes flight duration by flying over Saudi Arabia. This contributes towards the normalization of Israel’s ties with the Arab world, and as such, assists Israel in achieving its strategic goal of improving its relations with the region.
Other flights – El Al to Mumbai, Arkia flights to Goa and Cochin – are an important bridge between Israel and India. This bridge is further strengthened by a visa relief policy for Indian citizens which saw the number of Indian tourists visiting Israel grow from 16,000 in 2000 to over 70,000 in 2018.
One of India’s most critical national security challenges is the provision of food security to its immense population. Israel’s Foreign Ministry has consistently invested a tenth of the Agency for International Development’s (MASHAV) budget into India for several years now. This has financed the establishment of more than 28 “Excellency Centers” across the many states that make up India. These centers serve as agricultural ‘demonstration’ farms, introducing Israeli experts and innovative Israeli technologies to Indian farmers.
In his last visit to India in January 2018, Prime Minister Netanyahu escorted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his home state of Gujarat. In an exceptionally moving moment, hundreds of farmers rushed to meet them and share their personal stories. One after another, they told of how their fields’ crop yields had improved by hundreds of percent following their training at Israel’s Excellence Centers.
Relations between Israel and India clearly don’t just exist between governments, but also between societies. The Israel-India relationship has permeated all elements of Indian society, including that of the 650-million Indian citizens who make a living from agriculture, and who represent half of the workforce in India.
Israel’s contributions have also risen to prominence in fields ranging from health, security, industry, and more. Most critical on our shared agenda, however, is water, and Israel is uniquely placed to provide solutions to the critical water shortage issue that India faces. Both countries share a deep and mutual appreciation for the benefits that their joint collaboration brings them.
Under the leadership of Narendra Modi, India is assuming its role as a regional and world power, and our diplomacy has succeeded in showing India the many advantages that can come from strengthening its ties with Israel. The Foreign Ministry is determined to continue cultivating its ties with the second largest country in the world, to ensure that our relations with India continue to thrive into the future.