Israeli PM Netanyahu and Indian PM Modi shake hands at a press conference in New Delhi..
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit India for one day on February 11 for a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, India’s PTI news agency reported on Wednesday, according to “informed sources.”
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv would confirm the report, with an embassy official saying that a visit is being planned, but there “is nothing concrete we can say at the moment.”
While the PMO would not comment on an Indian trip, it did confirm that Netanyahu will travel to Warsaw next month for a summit on the Mideast that is being planned by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which would deal with Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region.
Just as Netanyahu is facing elections in April, so is Modi, with India scheduled to go to the polls in April and May.
A visit to India two months before the election would be a good way for Netanyahu to showcase his diplomatic achievements, and could also be beneficial to Modi, who for his own political reasons underscores India’s strong ties with Israel.
When Netanyahu went to India in January 2018, Modi spent a good deal of time with him and went out of his way to fete the Israeli leader in Ahmedabad in his home state of Gujarat, where the two rode through the streets as tens of thousands of people cheered and chanted “Bibi, Modi, Bibi, Modi.”
That show of support, one senior diplomatic official explained at the time, was as good for the Indian leader, as it was for Netanyahu.
According to the official, Israel is seen in India as a military, agricultural and technological powerhouse that embraces the future, which is exactly how Modi wants to be perceived by his people. Photo opportunities with Netanyahu, the official explained, are beneficial for Modi domestically.
Modi is currently in a difficult campaign against Rahul Gandhi and the Congress Party, after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party suffered losses in three large states last month.
Modi made a historic visit to Israel in 2017, becoming the first Indian prime minister to ever visit the Jewish state.
Earlier this month, the head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, traveled to India
, flying to New Delhi on a direct Air India flight over Saudi airspace.
Ben-Shabbat met Modi, Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, as well as the director-generals of India’s foreign and defense ministries. The PMO said that the discussions dealt with bilateral ties, security cooperation and arms sales, and regional issues, such as Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.
Modi and Netanyahu spoke by phone during that visit, and according to The Indian Express, Netanyahu expressed a desire to visit India again, with Modi giving his consent.
Regarding the visit to Warsaw for the February 13-14 conference, Netanyahu will participate in a meeting that Pompeo announced on a recent visit to the Middle East. Pompeo said that the summit would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”
He said that ministers from around the world – including Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East – would attend. Iran has termed the conference a “hostile act,” and summoned Polish diplomats in Tehran to protest against it.
In addition to the trip to Warsaw, Netanyahu has a number of other high-profile diplomatic events scheduled before the April 9 elections, including hosting a summit of the leaders of the Visegrad countries – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – next month in Jerusalem; traveling to Washington in late March to address the annual AIPAC conference and meet with US President Donald Trump; and a visit to Jerusalem by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
There have also been reports of an unconfirmed visit to Morocco.
Netanyahu broke ground recently by publicly visiting Oman in late October, and Chad earlier this month – two Muslim countries with whom Israel did not have diplomatic ties. Israel and Chad renewed diplomatic ties during the prime minister’s visit there.