NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not only revolutionizing India by “catapulting” it into the future, he has already revolutionized the India-Israel relationship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said here on Monday.
The two leaders spent hours in each other’s company throughout the day, starting with pomp, ceremony and protocol in the morning, extending to a two-hour meeting in the afternoon and culminating in the evening at a joint appearance at an Israeli-Indian “business summit” attended by a couple of hundred businesspeople from both countries.
While the public part of the day – welcoming ceremonies, statements after the meeting, the business summit – were noted for the warmth each leader showered on the other, inside the room, the meetings dealt not only with innovation, technology and cybersecurity, but with global and regional issues, including some where the two men do not see eye to eye.
Statement by PM Netanyahu at his meeting with PM Modi, January 15, 2018 (YouTube/IsraeliPM)
For instance, India has a close, historic relationship with Iran, and that country’s nuclear ambitions and behavior in the region were discussed.
The diplomatic situation with the Palestinians was also discussed, with the two issuing a joint statement that included a carefully worded paragraph that did not mention a two-state solution. According to the statement, they “reaffirmed their support for an early resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians for arriving at a comprehensive negotiated solution on all outstanding issues, based on mutual recognition and effective security arrangements, for establishing a just and durable peace in the region.”
Modi is expected visit the Palestinian Authority next month as part of a trip that will first take him to the United Arab Emirates. His trip to the PA will be a “stand-alone” visit, meaning he will not come to Israel, just as he did not go to the PA when he traveled to Israel last summer.
Speaking after their two-hour meeting, Netanyahu said he was “deeply moved” by the honor “shown the people of Israel and the State of Israel” in the welcoming ceremony held in the morning at the presidential residence.
“You are a revolutionary leader in the best sense of the word ‘revolution,’” Netanyahu said, noting that Modi’s visit over the summer was the first by an Indian leader to Israel “in 3,000 years of our own sovereign existence and our history.”
Noting that Israel and India have had diplomatic relations for 25 years, Netanyahu said “something different is happening now because of your leadership and because of our partnership.”
He told reporters after the meeting that the time Modi was dedicating to the visit and the gestures he was making toward Netanyahu – such as personally greeting him at the airport – were a signal “to the Indian economy and the Indian ministers and government that he wants as open and broad a relationship with Israel as with any other country.”
Netanyahu said he spoke with Modi about cooperation in all fields, including defense, “so that our people are always safe and always secure.”
“Indians and Israelis know too well the pain of terrorist attacks,” he said. “We remember the horrific savagery in Mumbai. We grit our teeth, we fight back, we never give in.”
Asked later in the day whether progress was made on reviving a $500 million Indian purchase of Spike antitank missiles from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Netanyahu would only say: “We are working on it.”
At their statement to the press after the meeting, Modi greeted Netanyahu warmly, hugging him and saying in Hebrew, “Dear friend, welcome to India.”
Netanyahu’s visit, Modi said, “is a long-anticipated moment in the journey of friendship between India and Israel. Your visit is also a fitting climax to the commemoration of 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel.”
Modi said of Netanyahu: “I have a counterpart who is equally committed to taking the India-Israel relationship to soaring new heights.”
Netanyahu ended his own statement by joking to Modi, a yoga aficionado, that “any time you want to do a yoga class with me, it’s a big stretch, but I’ll be there. Trust me.”
Following the meeting, the two sides issued a joint statement referring to the ties between the countries as a “strategic relationship.”
“The two prime ministers share a common vision for the relationship,” the statement said. “They believe that in the next 25 years, the two respective countries should strive to raise bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors to a qualitatively new level in consonance with our strategic partnership.”
The statement said the two leaders “reiterated that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever and advocated strong measures against terrorists, terror organizations, those who sponsor, encourage or finance terrorism or provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups.”
Before the statements, the two leaders witnessed the signing of nine separate agreements meant to enhance cooperation in a variety of fields. They covered everything from a memorandum of understanding on cybersecurity, which aims to promote cooperation through training programs, skill development and “simulation-based hands-on training,” to another MoU on exploring opportunities for bilateral engagements in the oil and gas field.
In addition, an agreement was signed to establish a framework for film co-production and another one envisioning cooperation in the field of homeopathic medical research.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu is scheduled to go to the Taj Mahal and then return to New Delhi in the evening to deliver the keynote address at a symposium sponsored by the Indian Foreign Ministry and a local think tank.