Netanyahu's India sojourn

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in India for a six-day visit on Sunday and held bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi. A range of MoUs was signed in the fields of oil and gas, renewable energy, amended protocol for airports, cybersecurity, and co-production of films and documentaries. The significance of deepening the relationship with Israel can be gauged from the fact that it is one of the biggest military equipment suppliers to India, billing an average of $1 billion each year. While India accorded a red carpet welcome to the Israeli delegation with PM Modi himself present at the airport to receive Netanyahu and his delegation, Netanyahu reciprocated the gesture by calling him a revolutionary leader. The Israeli PM is slated to visit Gujarat tomorrow. In the past, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping too were taken to Gujarat as a part of their state visit to the country. PM Modi has received accolades and appreciation from world leaders for lending a personal touch to international relations. His bear hugs, tight handshakes, and eloquent speeches have been able to win many hearts in the international arena. From former US President Barack Obama to current US president Donald Trump, from Israeli PM Netanyahu to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, his ability to strike a friendship with world leaders does not witness any roadblock. But his friendly approach should not be taken as a limiting factor to his statecraft. One should not infer that he is there only to strike a friendship and deliver engaging speeches. His hawkish approach towards China underlines another of his personality traits that only seasoned world leaders can claim to have. His bold approach to the Chinese browbeating clearly underscores his ability to take an independent stand even when he is under tremendous pressure. Netanyahu calling him a revolutionary leader is, therefore, no overstatement. His decision to land in Pakistan out of schedule and to offer help to Nepal within hours of the devastating earthquake show how he differentiates relations with immediate neighbours and world powers. So, when PM Modi holds interactions with Israeli PM Netanyahu, he is very clear about his agenda. The common ground between the two countries is defined by their fight against terrorism. Israel is a technologically advanced country and a close ally of the US. Besides, it has a very effective and advanced intelligence agency Mossad. Despite India's stand to keep a cordial relation with Palestine, Mossad has helped India with intelligence inputs on many critical occasions. The one during the Kargil war is especially noteworthy, wherein, it offered recorded conversations between Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Army Chief General Parvez Musharaff, which nailed Sharif's lies that he was not aware of what the Pakistan Army was planning and executing in Kargil in the summer of 1999. Israeli Army engineers helped the Indian military establishment mount laser-guided missiles on the Mig 29 that destroyed Pakistani bunkers and fighters on top of the Tiger Hills and other inaccessible mountain tops during the Kargil war. Until those laser guided assaults, Pakistani positions on those difficult mountain tops appeared invincible. India could never forget such Israeli support and its gratitude to the country evolved into an India-Israel policy. The recent intensification of top-level visits and engagement between the two countries is a continuation of that India's Israel policy. While it is obvious what India expects from Israel, Israel too needs India's soft power on its side when it takes on its enemies in a largely Muslim world. Its fight in the Gaza strip and missile attacks on jihadi elements in Lebanon need political endorsements and justifications from world leaders. India's goodwill with the Muslim world can be leveraged to give Israeli offensive in these countries some measure of justification. This forms the background of Netanyahu's historic six-day visit to the country. Apart from this, the two countries need to formalise various trade and military agreements. Netanyahu is the first Israeli Prime Minister in the last 15 years to visit India and PM Modi was the first Indian prime minister in 25 years to visit Israel, last year in July. Both the countries have registered remarkable progress since the time their leaders have held top-level confabulations before Netanyahu and Modi. The Israeli PM has come to India with a delegation of 130 businessmen from 102 Israeli companies with diverse backgrounds such as agriculture, water, cybersecurity, healthcare and security. The previous governments at the Centre always took its relations with Israel in the context of its stand on the issue of Palestine and remained sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This was resented by the right-wing and its affiliates which termed such gestures as Muslim appeasement. The Modi government at the Centre has stopped looking at Israel only in the context of Palestine and is pursuing an independent policy towards both these countries.

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