Saurav Dutt

The best is yet to come for Indo-Israeli ties

Many within India and Israel await the outcome of the historic visit by Indian PM Narendra Modi. Modi will be the first Indian PM to ever visit Israel and he will not be visiting the Palestinian Authority while in Jerusalem.

Much like with Donald Trump, Modi seems to have strong chemistry with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, clearing his schedule for two days whilst Modi is in Jerusalem so both can have candid and in-depth discussions

Israel is certainly looking to strengthen relations with India. Such measures include a join fund to encourage more business cooperation, more mutual work regarding agriculture and water management as well as promoting tourism; there is also the strong chance of signing further arms deals.

While India has come out of the shadows in embracing Israel, the uptick in warm relations has certainly been marked by Narendra Modi and since his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India in 2014. To this end there is now more trade and work together in the important area of security, given both countries face imminent terrorist threats on their very borders. Certainly, Israel’s ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, realised this went he said “the best is yet to come” with regards to Israel’s ties with India.

However, Carmon has also made clear that for Israel and India to move to the next stage, the relationship must go beyond just transactional deals and on a governmental level, mirroring the ‘special relationship’ between the US and Britain. Of course there is no shared history, religion or race to bring India and Israel together in this way and yet there is much in common. Interestingly, India is one of the very few major countries in the world to never had to deal with anti-Semitic episodes in his history. There is this issue as well as the strategic and economic opportunities that can be strengthened going forward between Indians and Israelis and one of the best ways to do this outside of business is to improve cultural connections.

There is the chance to create scholarships for Israelis in Indian universities, focusing on internships and work-study for example and can be mirrored by Indian students to want to study at Israeli universities to do internships at government NGO’s or think tanks. This is already the case where Indians are studying in such universities in Canada, Australia, the US and Britain. Given the closeness of relations between India and Israel, there is no reason not to pursue this given Israel’s formidable strength in the areas of technology, medicine, AI and robotics, furthering the immense opportunity of university exchange programmes for students and lecturers.

Of course tourism is a major avenue to pursue. Both India and Israel exist within ancient cultures, proven by the dating of historical sites in both countries dating back six to seven millennia at the least. Moving aside from history, Israel offers a vast range of cuisine and terrain for Indian tourists, with beautiful beaches for instance. India has to do more to match Israel in this respect, providing further cleanliness drives and multilingual tours as well as lodging and transportation. This is so because India is a favoured destination for Israelis, with about 40,000 Israelis visiting usually after IDF service. The key is to encourage greater numbers and for Israelis to stay longer and this can be supplemented by making visa application processes far easier and relaxing tourist visas.

Transport remains an issue with only two weekly flights between Tel Aviv and Mumbai through El Al; there need to be more carriers operating weekly from India, especially from high-tech hubs like Delhi and Bangalore.

In the wake of Modi’s visit (and hopefully pursuant his re-election in India) there is massive scope for Indo-Israeli ties to exceed expectations. As well as the above, Delhi and Jerusalem should of course strengthen defence cooperation in terms of sales, manufacturing and joint ventures. Economically, improvements must be made to the free trade agreement to increase trade.

This is a relation that must be nurtured through security and trade and if it becomes  a focus in Delhi and Jerusalem going forward, there is no limit to how Indo-Israeli relations can become.

About the Author
Saurav Dutt is a published author, lawyer and political columnist who has written for IB Times and been featured in The Independent, Sky News, BBC and more.
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