Last year, in the first week of July, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a historic visit to Israel. Through a standalone visit to Israel, Modi surpassed the foreign policy of hyphenation of previous Indian governments and propaganda of minority appeasement at home.
This year, in January, India hosted the Israeli Prime Minister in a reciprocal visit. During their visits, Modi and Prime Minister benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated a different level of friendship, spirit, and commitment in their engagements, a gesture that is not so common in the culture of foreign relations. Their energy and fresh approach have lifted the aspirations high on both sides.
Both leaders are known for their courageous and revolutionary steps, proactive approach and the desire to do more. Both believe in carving out new paths than following the standard routes and their performance in the domestic and foreign affairs in their own countries are a testimony to their approach.
Modi and Netanyahu have laid a very strong foundation for the new phase of India-Israel partnership. Interestingly, 2018 is the most crucial year for this partnership as heads of both countries – who have taken this relationship to a new high – are about to mark the end of their current tenures. Both leaders have communicated a message to their teams on every platform saying that this is the right time to take up transformative moves in both countries partnership because the leadership commitment that we have today is unique.
As we mark one year of Modi’s Israel visit, there is a need to evaluate what has been done in this most promising partnership.
During Modi’s Israel visit, both sides have signed and exchanged seven MoUs on cooperation in the areas of innovation, technology, water, agriculture, and space science. And During Israeli PM’s visit to India, the two countries have signed nine agreements in various sectors, including cyber-security, oil and gas, Solar Energy, Space Science, Air Transport, Medicines, and Film Production.
Both governments have taken a number of steps to maximize the common meeting points, i.e. the India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund, India-Israel CEO forum, India-Israel Innovation Bridge- an online platform to encourage and facilitate collaboration between Israeli and Indian startups, the renewal of Indo-Israeli Agriculture Project, MoUs between the Indian Space Research Organization and the Israel Space Agency and agreements with the Center and different state governments on India-Israel water cooperation.
During PM Modi’s Israel visit, the first meeting of India-Israel CEO forum took place which culminated in the signing of 12 Strategic Business MoUs worth over US$ 4.3 billion between Indian and Israeli companies. A dedicated web platform called ‘India-Israel Innovation Bridge’ was also launched to promote and fast-track the Israeli investment in India. The second meeting of India-Israel CEO forum held during Netanyahu’s reciprocal visit to India. During the meeting, the industry leaders of both sides have submitted their recommendations to achieve the $20 billion bilateral trade turnover, in the next five years, a goal which was envisaged during the first meeting, in July 2017.
The India-Israel Innovation Bridge is one of the key initiatives launched during PM Modi’s Israel visit. This platform hosted a bilateral innovation challenge called ‘India-Israel Global Innovation Challenge 2017’ for Indian and Israeli startups, under the three key categories: Agriculture, Water, and Healthcare. This initiative received a very good response. During Netanyahu’s India visit, both leaders have felicitated 36 winners of this challenge, 18 each from both sides. As per the recent developments, out of the 18 shortlisted companies from Israel, the six Israeli startups have been chosen to continue to the final stage where they will launch their pilot solutions in India, they are Amaizz, Biofeed, Zebra Medical, MobileODT, Aquallence, and AMS Technologies.
One of the key MoUs signed during PM Modi’s Israel visit was between India’s Department of Science & Technology and National Technological Innovation Authority of Israel for setting up India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund (I4F) of 40 million dollars for the next five years. During Israeli PM’s India visit in January, the first Call for Proposal for this research grant was launched and applications were invited from Indian and Israeli companies dealing in different sectors i.e. healthcare, agriculture, energy, water, and information and communication technology. To implement the I4F fund the Global Innovation & Technological Alliance has been set up in India which will coordinate with the Israel Innovation Authority.
In I4F projects, the academic institutions and research entities are encouraged to participate as sub-contractors and project partners with Indian companies. From Israel side, the Israeli for-profit R&D performing companies are invited to collaborate with Indian partners in different R&D projects.
In the last two to three months, the pace of exchange between both sides has accelerated. To enhance the collaboration between Indian and Israeli startups, the NASSCOM, Accenture and Consulate General of Israel to South India have launched a joint program called “Scalerator,” which will identify the Israeli startups with expertise in emerging technologies and help them to connect with the Indian startup community through Nasscom’s 10,000 Startups initiative.
A few days back, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani visited Israel. The CM explored different water management and agri-tech centers in Israel. On the very first day of his visit, he signed an MoU with mPrest Systems, an Israeli private sector player that provides C4I applications for industrial IoT, Utilities, Smart cities, HLS and defense. The mPrest Systems will participate in Smart City projects of Gujarat government. During his visit, the Gujarat CM met Israeli PM, Agriculture Minister and different Israeli companies. The Gujarat State govt has signed some 16 MoUs with Israel for Joint Ventures in agriculture, water management, start-up/innovation, smart city, security and other sectors and set up a high-level committee to ensure successful implementation of different key projects on a pilot basis. Israel’s national water company Mekorot will participate in Gujarat government’s statewide mega water grid project. Israel’s IDE Technologies will collaborate with the state to establish water desalination plants and water treatment plants too. Apart from these, the Gujarat government is also planning to establish four Cyber Cells across the state in which they will leverage the Israeli Cyber Tech expertise.
Israel’s Tourism Ministry has announced a four-city roadshow in India in the month of July and August. The cities expected to cover are Nasik, Ahmadabad, Kolkata, and Delhi. To promote Israeli tourism there is a plan to organize 11 road shows in different cities of India by end of 2018.
In the month of March, Air India has launched a direct flight from New Delhi to Tel Aviv flying straight over Saudi Arabian airspace. After receiving a good response now Air India is going to increase the frequency of the flights and an Israeli airline Arkia is planning to begin operations between Israel and India too.
These developments are encouraging. In some traditional sectors of the cooperation, the pace of exchange has been accelerated. Some new areas of cooperation are emerging too particularly between the young innovators and start-ups of both sides.
The potential of the India-Israel partnership is huge. The trajectory which Modi and Netanyahu have set for this partnership is looking bright. There is a need to explore non-traditional sectors of cooperation and opportunities for combining efforts in third countries too.The author promotes advanced technologies, start-up ecosystem and Indian government’s business and technology related initiatives like Digital India, Make in India, Smart Cities, Startup India etc.