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Millennium Post

Changed calculus

Changed calculus

For the 4,000 Jews in India and the 100,000 Indian Jews in Israel, seeing Narendra Modi in the flesh in Jerusalem is an eternal moment to cherish! The time for shalom and namaste has converged. Narendra Modi's historic visit to Israel, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister, on July 4, is a milestone in bilateral relations. Coming after 25 long years since India established full diplomatic ties with Israel; Modi's trip is a testimonial of New Delhi's commitment to a blossoming strategic partnership with Tel Aviv as well as a message for India that Israel is pivotal to India's national interests. By breaking old patterns and embarking on a standalone Israel visit, Modi is signifying political will at the highest level to demonstrate that India has turned a page. Although bureaucratic, ministerial, military, and even Presidential exchanges between India and Israel have been occurring for years, the fact that India's Prime Minister, the mitochondria of power and policy in the country, is getting an entry in Israel in a high-profile manner is a big deal, with symbolic and practical import. Looking for new agriculture technology as well as high-tech weapons to fuel his military modernisation program, Narendra Modi is making a landmark trip to Israel. The visit is likely to focus on security and economic ties with Israel, which is becoming a significant defense partner as India seeks advanced weaponry after relying on the Soviet Union and Russia for most of its military technology. India has traditionally downplayed relations with Israel fearing it would alienate the country's 170 million Muslims. But Modi, a popular Hindu nationalist leader facing weak political opposition at home, is embarking on the trip to Israel with little concern for domestic fallout -- and is skipping a similar visit to meet Palestinian President Abbas in Ramallah. Interestingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would accompany Modi at almost every stop on his 49-hour visit, a reflection of the importance Israel ascribes to the visit. While the official agenda includes little that's directly related to the military, the countries' burgeoning defense ties underpin the visit: India is one of the world's largest arms importers and has emerged as Israel's biggest defense buyer. The South Asian country is saddled with state-owned firms and a slow, bureaucratic military procurement process, even as it faces serious regional and internal security threats. Since April, India has inked three missile deals with Israel worth $2.6 billion, two senior defense officials said, declining to be identified as they are not approved to speak about the deals.

India's Air Force is now awaiting clearance to buy two Phalcon airborne surveillance radars from Israel at a cost of $1.16 billion, while the army is waiting for approval to buy 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, along with 321 launchers, for nearly $500 million. Modi would also be seeking advanced missiles and drones. Armed drones would provide India with new military capabilities battling militants along the so-called Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistan-controlled parts of the disputed region of Kashmir, he said, noting that the deal has dragged on for years and may not be concluded on this trip. Defense is a major factor pulling India and Israel together, not only because India needs arms, but also because it wants the technology inside them. India is especially interested in Israeli missiles, drones, and the sub-systems that go inside larger platforms. In Israel, the focus ahead of Modi's visit has been the possibility of deepening cooperation in areas such as cybersecurity, telecommunications, and hi-tech. Alongside Modi's visit, the two sides are due to set up a CEO's Forum that will seek out opportunities for cooperation and investment. In late June, the Israeli cabinet approved a 280 million shekel ($80 million) budget to facilitate cooperation with India in a variety of areas, including water and agricultural technology. Modi is yanking the India-Israel bond out of the closet and proclaiming it fearlessly. Instead of disgrace and doubt, he is ushering in a brave new age of pride and precision.

Overall public opinion in India has always been sympathetic to Israel, which is viewed as a survivor against odds in the Middle East and the protector of the globally persecuted Jewish faith. Average Indians draw parallels between their country and Israel owing to the sense of common victimhood at the hands of jihadi terrorism and hostile neighbours. With his supernatural skill to control the people's pulse, Modi is both steering and satiating this natural popular enthusiasm in India for Israel. Apart from the massive symbolism of Modi touring Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, he comes with a pragmatic purpose of advancing bilateral relations with a Prime Ministerial push. Famed for his personalised foreign policy, Modi is eyeing towards Israel as a knowledge partner. His itinerary in Israel includes sites of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology development, especially in water, soil and agriculture management. After all, Modi is a masterful cultural ambassador for India and his presence in the Holy Land would heighten two-way tourism and visibility in laypersons' imagination.

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