Today, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon embarks on an official visit to India – first ever by an Israeli Defense Minister since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two states 23 years ago.

Besides meeting senior members of Indian government, Minister Ya’alon will attend the Aero India 2015, the biennial Military Air Show in Bengaluru city, and expected to sign deals worth $1.5 billion. The Minister will be accompanied by a business delegation representing 30 Israeli companies.

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Israeli exports to India crossed the figure of $6 billion in 2014. The defense exports alone amounted to about $2.5 billion in the same period. The bilateral trade has seen exponential growth in recent years, considering the fact that the trade picked up from a base of $ 200 million in 1992 – restricted mainly to diamond trade.

How impressive the trade figures may seem, they still do not tell the complete story. This alliance is not merely restricted to corporate sector or state players, but has emerged as a broader alliance between the two people.

Indian Jews can proudly look back to a rich and unbroken historical tradition in India that stretches back to roughly two millennia. Today, many of the 85,000 Jews of Indian origin living in Israel hold a bond of affection to India.

It is true that after gaining independence from Britain in 1947, consecutive Indian governments sided with Arab nations on international fora, keeping in line with Cold War allegiances. However, Israel has always enjoyed support amongst ordinary Indians – especially within the majority Hindu community.

It was but natural that at the height of Gaza conflict of 2014 the biggest pro-Israel demonstration in Asia took place in India – a 20,000-strong rally in the city of Calcutta.

By restoring and strengthening ties with Israel in 1992, subsequent Indian government have only acted on the long-standing desire of the majority of Indians.

Support for Israel is not restricted to a single partisan stance in India. Both leading political factions, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and main opposition group Congress Party agree on the course of foreign policy with regard to Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi (BJP) is pursuing a policy that is building on the groundwork laid down by the former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao (Tenure: 1993-96) of the Congress Party.

Both India and Israel are liberal democracies. They are also young countries – roughly half of India’s population is below 25.

Young Indians and Israelis share entrepreneurial spirit and live in a society that looks at individual accomplishment with admiration – not envy. Today, India can boast of a flourishing start-up ecosystem. In 2014 there were 3,100 start-ups operating in India; that number is expected to grow to 11,500 by 2020. Indians professionals working in start-ups and technology sector have great regards for Israel expertise, and there is are already bilateral initiatives in place to promote interaction at entrepreneurial level.

Israeli innovation and technology is well placed to address some of the key challenges of rapid industrialization and urbanization in India – like ensuring food security and managing water resources.

Israeli technologies like desalination and drip irrigation are helping India enhance its clean water supply.

India’s port city of Visakhapatnam is building a mega desalination plant with the help of Israel’s IDE Technologies. The desalination market in India is expected to grow to $1.9 by 2018.

Israeli technology of drip irrigation has been successfully adopted by small and medium farmers in rural India. NaanDan Jain Irrigation is constructing a $55 billion drip-irrigation project in State of Karnataka.

Israeli developmental agency MASHAV, working closely with Indian counterparts, has set up Centers of Excellence (CoE) in several Indian states. These centers showcase latest innovations in agriculture and dairy, and train farmers locally in new agriculture techniques.

Today, Israeli innovation is transforming the way millions of farming families in rural India cultivate and harvest.

A bilateral relationship that was limited to marginal commercial transactions is now turning into a multifaceted partnership just within 2 decades.

As economic growth in Europe comes to a grinding halt, India’s fast growing economy and billion-strong market offers attractive prospects to Israel’s innovation and export based economy.
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