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PM Modi invites Israel to take advantage of liberalised FDI regime in defence

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(G.N.S) Dt. 15

New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held delegation-level talks with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and invited Israel firms to take advantage of the liberalised FDI regime in the defence sector to make in India. Netanyahu, who is on a six-day tour to India, called Modi a “revolutionary” leader as the two nations inked nine pacts to boost cooperation in key areas, including cybersecurity and energy.

“In defence, I have invited Israeli companies to take advantage of the liberalised FDI regime to make more in India with our companies. Last year, you (Netanyahu) had expressed an intent to cut down bureaucratic red tape. In India, we are doing just that. Our discussions today were marked by convergence to accelerate development and scale our partnership,” Modi said.

Presently, FDI in defence is allowed up to 49 per cent through the automatic route, while government nod is required for 100 per cent foreign investment. Recently, the government has allowed 100 per cent FDI in single-brand retail in a bid to ease business.

Meanwhile, the bonhomie between the two leaders was on full show during the joint address when Modi referred to the Israel PM by his nickname ‘Bibi’ and Netanyahu addressed the Indian PM by his first name ‘Narendra’. It may be recalled that during former US President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January 2015, Modi had referred to him by his first name more than once during a joint address, in what signalled a growing friendship between India and the US.

“Last year in July, I carried the greetings and friendship of 1.25 billion Indians during my momentous journey to Israel. In return, I was overwhelmed by the generous affection and warmth of the Israeli people led by my friend Bibi,” Modi said. Modi’s visit to Israel last year was the first by an Indian sitting PM to the Jewish state.

Stressing that agriculture, science, and technology would be the focus of the cooperation between the two countries, Modi said, “We will strengthen existing pillars of cooperation in areas that touch the lives of our peoples. These are agriculture, science and technology and security. We exchanged views on scaling up the Centers of Excellence that have been a mainstay of agricultural cooperation.”

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On his part, Netanyahu praised India’s tolerance and democracy, saying Jews in the country never witnessed antisemitism like in other nations. “Jews in India have never witnessed antisemitism like in some other countries. This is a tribute to India’s great civilization, tolerance, and democracy,” he said.

Lauding Modi for revolutionising India-Israel relations, Netanyahu, who is the second Israeli PM to visit India after Ariel Sharon, said despite the doubts and challenges, the nations were living proof that democracy worked. “Despite the doubts and challenges, India and Israel are living proof that democracy works and indicates something deeper — the intrinsic value of freedom. We are proud we are seizing the future to make lives better around the world,” Netanyahu said.

The 26/11 Mumbai attacks also found mention in Netanyahu’s address. “Indians and Israelis remember too well the savagery of terrorist attacks. We fight back, we never give in,” the Israeli PM said. About six Israelis were killed during the attack by Lashkar-e-Toiba on Chabad House. Eleven-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were killed in the attack, will visit the Chabad House next week.

Speaking on the shared past of the two countries, Netanyahu said, “Your visit to Israel was groundbreaking as it was the first time an Indian leader visited the country. You (PM Narendra Modi) are catapulting India into future and are revolutionising India-Israel relations.” Modi’s historic visit to Israel was remembered for more than diplomatic reasons and it was his camaraderie with Netanyahu that caught everyone’s eye, including the leaders walking barefoot on the beach hand in hand.

During Modi’s visit, Netanyahu had said ‘I’ for ‘I’ is India for Israel, and ‘I’ with ‘I’ is India with Israel. However, this time the Israel PM signed off by saying, “My friend Narendra, if anytime you want to do a yoga class, it’s a big stretch but I will be there, try me.”

Modi-Netanyahu personal chemistry displayed strategic ties

The Modi-Netanyahu personal chemistry was on display during that visit which was reciprocated as Modi personally received the Israeli leader at the airport when he arrived Sunday afternoon.

The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India (January 14-19) commemorates the 25th anniversary of the opening of an Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in 1992 and will further consolidate an important and strategically distinctive bilateral relationship for both nations. It has had a chequered past since the post-World War II birth of both countries but is poised for a pragmatic future trajectory based on shared interests.

With a population below nine million and a GDP of $350 billion, Israel is relatively small compared to the Indian behemoth with a population of 1.25 billion and a GDP of $2.5 trillion. Yet Israel occupies a very special niche in India’s security framework and has been a supplier of critical military technology. This was illustrated during the 1999 Kargil War, when precision-guided ordnance was obtained from Tel Aviv.

That India is among the world’s largest importers of military inventory and that Israel is a major arms exporter also provides a natural complementarity to the bilateral relationship. Over the last two decades, the quantum of military-related imports from Israel has steadily increased. It is estimated that India, which buys almost $1 billion worth annually, accounts for over 40 percent of Israeli defence exports.

The Netanyahu visit reciprocates that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2017, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. The Modi-Netanyahu personal chemistry was on display during that visit which was reciprocated as Modi personally received the Israeli leader at the airport when he arrived Sunday afternoon. The two leaders share many characteristics, including a visible political resolve in relation to Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Netanyahu will also get the Gujarat-special status, a detour to Ahmedabad, which Modi accords to certain leaders.

During the July visit, Modi said, “Israel and India live in complex geographies. We are aware of strategic threats to regional peace and stability. Prime Minister Netanyahu and I agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests.” The joint statement also added: “There can be no justification of acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever.”

While the bilateral with Israel has been described as a “strategic partnership”, India’s relations with Israel cannot be divorced from the larger West Asian geopolitical canvas where Palestine is a major factor.

The Jewish quest for a permanent homeland goes back a long way. Mahatma Gandhi had opined in 1931: “I can understand the longing of a Jew to return to Palestine, and he can do so if he can without the help of bayonets, whether his own or those of Britain… in perfect friendliness with the Arabs.” This sentiment shapes the Indian approach to the complex and tangled Palestine issue.

India has traditionally supported the Palestine cause on the international stage and has sought to maintain a fine balance regarding its bilateral with Israel in the competing regional politics of West Asia. It appeared that the Modi dispensation government had taken a bold decision to remove the hyphenation between Israel and Palestine, but it would be misleading to infer that the government has uncritically cast its weight totally with Israel and the US.

The recent vote at the UN over the Trump declaration about Jerusalem saw Delhi voting with the larger global consensus that censured the US over its announcement. Netanyahu, on the eve of his India visit, said this vote would not materially affect the bilateral. India and Israel are keen to expand the current bandwidth of the trade and economic relations to move beyond military sales and include energy, cyber security and innovation in desert/arid land agriculture, among other sectors.

The last leg of the Netanyahu visit will take him to Mumbai. The enormity of the November 2008 terror attack that targeted Chabad House will be recalled, though justice for the innocent victims — Indian, Israeli and other nationalities, remains elusive.

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