MUMBAI – The on-again, off-again sale of Israel’s Spike antitank missiles to India is on again, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday, following a day he spent mostly in the company of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India formally canceled the $500 million deal for 8,000 Spike missiles with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems just a week before Netanyahu’s current trip, and reviving it became one of his concrete aims during the visit. Netanyahu told reporters aboard a flight from Ahmedabad to Mumbai that the Indian government informed him that the deal was “back on track.”
Final details, including the scope of the sale, are still to be worked out.
“This is very important, and there will be many more deals,” Netanyahu said.
The lucrative contract was originally canceled because the Indian Defense Ministry’s research and development branch wants to produce a missile using Indian technology. The Indian Army, however, is keen on purchasing the Spike because it is battle-proven, and has a longer range and is lighter than the Indian Nag missile.
Senior Israeli diplomatic officials said that the revival of the sale is of strategic importance that binds the two countries even more closely together. Netanyahu characterized that relationship now as a “new alliance.”
That “new alliance” was on full display throughout the day, with Netanyahu greeted almost as a hero after he landed in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, Modi’s home state. The prime minister said he had never experienced anything like that welcome.
After being greeted by Modi at the airport, the two men drove 8 kilometers to where Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1917-1930, past tens of thousands of flag-waving people who lined the streets, cheering the prime ministers riding together in a car. The motorcade drove past numerous stages where local dancers and school groups performed traditional dances.
Huge posters of Modi and Netanyahu dotted the route, with slogans such as ‘Long live India Israel friendship.”
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, toured the site on the banks of a local river. Netanyahu took a turn at a spinning wheel at the site. The spinning wheel, a symbol of India that appears on its flag, was viewed by Gandhi as a symbol of economic independence and simplicity.
“An inspiring visit to the hearth of one of humanity’s great prophets of inspiration – Mahatma Gandhi,” Netanyahu wrote in the guest book. Ironically, Gandhi was an ardent opponent of Zionism.
From there the two leaders took a 20-minute helicopter ride to a new Israeli-Indian business incubator called iCreate.
“Half a year ago we launched the Israel-India innovation dream. The idea was simple: unite brilliant young Indians and brilliant young Israelis to help solve pressing global problems,” Netanyahu said. “Many entrepreneurs immediately recognized the potential of this idea. Over 600 companies applied to be part of the incubator. Several dozen were chosen, but this is just a small sample of the scope of our cooperation.”
Referring to the thousands of young Israelis who travel to India after their army service or university studies, Netanyahu said, “I want young Israelis to come to India not just with a backpack but with a laptop.”
From there the two men took another helicopter ride to one of 22 centers Mashav in the Foreign Ministry has set up, called centers of excellence. This one was focused on raising vegetables, teaching local farmers Israeli agricultural expertise.
Netanyahu will wrap up his five-day visit to India on Thursday in Mumbai, holding two meetings with leading business people in the morning, followed by a memorial at the Chabad House, site of the 2008 terrorist attack. He will be joined there by Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were killed in that attack.
In the evening Netanyahu will take part in an event called “Shalom Bollywood,” meeting with some of Bollywood’s leading actors, producers and executives in an effort to get them to make movies in Israel.
Netanyahu will leave for Israel on Friday morning.