NEW DELHI – Hamas and Islamic Jihad should “not mess with us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said here on Sunday, before meeting Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, in reference to the IDF’s destruction of a terrorist tunnel from Gaza.
We are systematically eliminating the tunnel infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” the premier said, before warning that the two organizations should not “mess” with Israel.
Before leaving for a five-day trip to India early Sunday morning, and soon after the IDF destroyed the tunnel, Netanyahu said “the IDF attacked a main Hamas terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. There are some who say that the IDF attacks sand dunes – this is incorrect. We are responding to aggression against the State of Israel and are taking vigorous and systematic action against hostile infrastructures.”
Following the meeting with Swaraj, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, met for a private dinner with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom Netanyahu has developed a warm personal relationship.
This warmth was on display at the very start of the visit, when Modi – breaking with original plans and Indian protocol – personally met Netanyahu at the airport, reciprocating Netanyahu’s meeting Modi when the Indian prime minister arrived in Israel for a visit last July. This is a gesture Modi has shown to only two other world leaders: then-US president Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Modi greeted Netanyahu with a warm hug and then – after the two exchanged some words – hoisted one of Netanyahu’s arms into the air for the cameras.
Modi will devote a good part of the next four days with Netanyahu, spending an amount of time with him that Indian sources said was rare for a visiting leader. The only day of the five-day trip on which the two will not be together at some point is on Thursday, when Netanyahu flies to Mumbai.
Diplomatic officials said that Modi’s gestures were meant to show the Indian public – including those members of the public and the foreign policy bureaucracy who might not favor the very close ties which have developed between the countries since Modi took over in 2014 – that Israel is a very important country for India.
PM Netanyahu Receives Surprise Welcome in Delhi by Indian PM Modi (YouTube/IsraeliPM)
One important aspect of those ties is the security dimension, something discussed at an evening meeting between Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, at Doval’s home.
The two men, according to an Israeli statement, discussed strengthening security ties between the countries and also dealt with arms deals. This was an obvious reference to a $500 million deal with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to buy 8,000 Spike anti-tank missiles, a deal that India formally scuttled last month, but which is still alive.
In a television interview with India Today, Netanyahu – when asked about the deal – said he hoped his visit would “solve this issue” and that there was a good chance a “reasonable solution” could be found.The Hindustan Times
reported last week that the Indian Army was very keen on purchasing the weapons and that the Indian government might find a way to make that possible.
Netanyahu was also asked in the interview about India’s vote last month against Israel and the US on a UN resolution decrying US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
One vote, he said, does not impact on the generally very positive trend in relations, a trend that has been reflected in other votes in international forums over the last few years from which India abstained.
While acknowledging the vote was a “disappointment,” Netanyahu said his visit – the first by an Israeli prime minister since 2003 – shows that the relationship is getting stronger “on so many fronts, be it political, technological, tourism, security and so many other areas.”
Immediately after landing, the two leaders went to a central square in the Indian capital where a memorial honors Indian soldiers who took part in the battle to liberate Haifa from the Turks in 1918. The square, which until now has been known as Teen Murti Chowk, will now be called Teen Murti Chowk Haifa.
The memorial features three bronze statues representing the three cavalry regiments that took part in the fighting.
On September 23, 1918 – a day marked by the Indian Army as Haifa Day to commemorate the Indian soldiers who fell in the battle – elements of the Indian Cavalry Units fought under the command of Gen. Edmund Allenby. The Indian mounted-cavalry units captured Haifa, which was a fortified town, in a daylight cavalry charge.
During his visit to Israel in July, Modi paid a visit to the Indian military cemetery in Haifa.
After greeting Netanyahu at the airport, Modi tweeted the following message in Hebrew: “Welcome to India, my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu. Your visit to India is historic and special. This visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries.”
Before boarding the flight for his first visit to India, Netanyahu was asked why his son Yair was not joining him.
“My wife and I stand here as the mother and father of our son Yair,” he said. “He is a young man who loves Israel with all his soul.”
Referring to the controversy surrounding the tape of his son’s conversation with friends after leaving Tel Aviv strip clubs in the summer of 2015, Netanyahu said, “I want you to think how you would feel if they would trample your children with unbridled cruelty, wickedness and hypocrisy. I say this not only to the media, I say it also to public figures who click their tongues in absurd hypocrisy.”
Netanyahu then thanked those who have given “Yair and us a warm and humane hand in the face of the lack of humanity that we have seen. I want to tell them tonight how much we appreciate it, how much we thank them. I want to say something else: You give us a lot of strength to continue.”
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