Indian FM to arrive for highest-level visit in a decade

S.M. Krishna coming to mark 20 years of diplomatic ties as bilateral relations between countries flourish.

By
January 9, 2012 02:07
4 minute read.
Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna will arrive Monday – the highest level Indian official to visit in 12 years – for three days of talks marking 20 years of Israeli-Indo diplomatic ties.

Krishna’s visit comes as Israeli-Indian bilateral ties are flourishing, with civilian trade reaching $5 billion in 2011, compared to $200 million when the ties were established 20 years ago. In addition to the civilian trade, there is enormous military trade, with Israel selling billions of dollars of military equipment each year to India –including UAVs, missiles and command and control systems.

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Israel is widely believed to be India’s largest supplier of arms, with India one of the largest markets for Israeli weapons in the world. The Indian purchases, according to Israeli sources, provide critical oxygen for Israel’s military-industrial complex, something key to Israel’s ability to continue developing state-of-the-art weaponry critical for its own security.

Diplomatic officials acknowledged that while trade ties were flourishing, there was less agreement on Iran and on diplomatic issues, with India traditionally supporting the Palestinians and voting against Israel consistently in international forums.

India, for instance, was one of the countries on the 15-member Security Council that made clear – along with China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon – that it would have voted for a Palestinian state had the issue reached that body in September.

Israeli officials acknowledge that to a large extent Jerusalem has chosen to overlook India’s “disappointing” voting record at the UN, rationalizing that this is the price New Delhi pays its 150-million strong Muslim population for the country’s very robust bilateral relationship with Israel.

India has the world’s second largest Muslim population, after Indonesia.

Regarding Iran, New Delhi stresses that it has voted for all the international sanctions against Iran up until now. However, it has not ratcheted up sanctions, as has the US and Europe, largely because it imports fully 14 percent of all its oil from Iran. Last year it was Iran’s second largest export market, after China.

Krishna will be arriving from Jordan, and is scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is also scheduled to go to Yad Vashem, and visit an Indian War Cemetery in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood that contains the graves of some 79 Indian soldiers killed in World War I.

In addition, Krishna will spend a few hours in Ramallah on Wednesday, where he is expected to meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. On his way home that evening he is scheduled to stop in Dubai for meetings there.

India’s interest in the Middle East stems largely from its huge dependence on oil. One of the issues that is expected to be discussed during Krishna’s visit is the recent Israeli natural gas finds – along with the fact that it has some six million people living in the region, from Egypt to Bahrain, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The money these workers send back home is a major source of tax revenue for some Indian states.

The last Indian foreign minister to visit Israel was Jaswat Singh in 2000. Ariel Sharon made the first ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to India in 2003, a trip that was cut short by a day because Sharon rushed to return to Israel following a spate of terrorist attacks.

Some argue that Sharon’s visit, not yet reciprocated by an Indian prime minister, was a high mark in Indo-Israeli relations, and that after the Hindi nationalist BJP party was replaced the following year by the Congress party, India preferred to carry out the relations further from the public eye.

Yet in the eight years since Sharon’s visit, trade has grown from some $1.6b. a year to its current level of $5b., an indication that the bilateral relationship has not only survived but flourished under the Congress party. And although the Indian prime minister has not visited, several Indian ministers dealing with economic, trade and communications issues have visited Israel, and Israel’s finance, tourism, agriculture, public security and trade ministers have visited India over the last two years.

Observers who watch the relationship closely said that following the 11 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks in Mumbai in 2008, including the attack on the local Chabad House, there has been a great deal of cooperation on homeland security issues, both at the governmental level and between the private sectors.

Furthermore, with India adding some 20 million new cellphone users each month, the telecommunications industry is one area of rapidly developing ties between the two countries.


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