The Israeli media has gone berserk with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to the Jewish state from 4 to 6 July, and their unprecedented coverage includes even tiny details of the food menu and the arrangements that have been made for his accommodation.
The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s largest English daily newspaper, has reserved a section on its website for news reports focused only on PM Modi’s visit. A welcome video has been released by the Israeli embassy in India featuring Israelis extending their greetings to PM Modi in Hindi, while waiting for his arrival. The gesture has been reciprocated by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which has published a video commemorating 25 years of diplomatic ties with Israel.
The Israeli media is flooded with articles outlining the significance of the visit by PM Modi, India’s first Prime Minister to visit the West Asian nation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to accompany his Indian counterpart throughout most of the three-day visit.
Netanyahu, who has termed PM Modi’s visit as “historic”, will receive him at the Ben-Gurion Airport, along with a “top protocol team”, including 50 Israeli dignitaries and officials, in a gesture that is usually reserved for visits of US Presidents and the Pope. In a press statement, Israel’s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon had said that Israel would be treating PM Modi’s visit with “unprecedented importance”.
Over the past three months, eight Indian delegations have gone to Israel to check on details about PM Modi’s visit.
Dr Adil Rasheed, research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), said, “The reaction of the Israeli media to the visit of the Indian Prime Minister is obviously a highly encouraging sign for the progress of relations between the two countries. It is a sign of the goodwill which would facilitate the success of the trip. However, the ‘excitement’ in itself can only be a catalysing agent and one should not be too worried about its ebb and flow.”
PREPARATIONS FOR MODI
According to the Jerusalem Post, PM Modi will be given the same luxury suite at the King David Hotel that US President Trump stayed in during his visit. Modi’s delegation will be welcomed on the hotel’s red carpet by Michael Federmann, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the group, which owns and operates the hotel. Federmann’s interest in PM Modi’s arrival in Israel is noteworthy, as he is also the chairman of Elbit Systems, a defence electronics company, which has considerable deals with India.
Special adjustments have been made to the hotel’s menu to suit PM Modi, who is a vegetarian. Fish will be served to guests, but poultry and meat have been ousted. Israeli-Indian restaurateur and television personality Reena Pushkarna has been hired to head the special kitchen. The director of operations at the King David, Sheldon Ritz, has overseen the preparations for Modi’s trip, and has noted that he could not recall anything as intensive as Modi’s visit, in terms of arrangements prior to arrival. Ritz was previously responsible for the arrangements for visiting royals, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other high-ranking officials from around the world.
To facilitate frequent media briefings by PM Modi and accompanying officials, the hotel has moved its bar to make room for a temporary space where press conferences can be held. Ritz is reported to have said, “There are not too many hotels that would be willing to relocate the bar.”
Pranay Kotasthane, research fellow at the Takshashila Institution, said, “India decided to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. With Russia’s decline, India had become a key market for defence equipment manufactured in Israel. Israel also positioned itself as a conduit for India to explore economic and trade opportunities with the US in the post-Cold War era. After this change, Israel increased its collaboration with India in technical sectors such as agriculture and defence. Going beyond the traditional areas of technical cooperation, Israel now views India as an economically powerful actor—as a source for tourists, as a source of investment in its acclaimed start-up ecosystem, and as a buyer of advanced defence and agriculture technologies.”
However, closer ties with Israel have attracted speculation whether, or not, this might change India’s equation with other West Asian countries. Dr Adil Rasheed of the IDSA said, “Prime Minister Modi has already reached out to Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a highly significant and unprecedented manner in the first half of his term. The Indian government has not mitigated its stance over a negotiated solution to the Israel-Palestine issue, resulting in a sovereign, independent and viable state of Palestine. Today, Arab countries face more adversaries in the region than the perceived Israeli threat, and India’s relations with any country are not viewed by any of them as a zero sum game.”
But Kotasthane noted that “This visit will place some strain on India’s engagement in West Asian politics. Hitherto, India has managed a fine balancing act—it has voted for the Palestinian cause at the UN on one hand, and has managed to consolidate its relationship with Israel on the other. India has placed itself quite uniquely by maintaining a non-adversarial relationship with every West Asian nation. Modi’s visit to Israel will cause a few jitters to the other players in West Asia. A strong economic growth engine and a pragmatic view in international policy will be the key to assuaging the partnerships with other West Asian countries.”
However, Indian states and Israel already share a close relationship. Kotasthane said, “The period after 1992 has seen several visits by Indian Chief Ministers to Israel. On one such occasion in 1996, Maharashtra Diwas in Israel was celebrated in the presence of the then Maharashtra CM (there is a community of Bene Israelis who migrated to Israel from India’s west coast). Going ahead, a ‘stronger’ partnership between the two countries rests on this direct partnership between Indian states and Israel.”
A couple of months ago, India and Israel signed deals worth $2 billion for advanced surface to air missile systems. India is also the biggest buyer of Israeli military hardware at an average over $1 billion annually and also draws immense benefits from Israeli expertise on issues of counter-terrorism and homeland security.
“Israel has proven itself as a reliable partner in the field of defence supplies even in trying times. For example, during the West’s arms sanctions on India after the 1998 nuclear tests, Israel continued its defence supplies to India,” said Dr Rasheed.
Experts maintain that the willingness of Israeli companies to transfer technology and to enter into joint ventures with the Indian defence industry, in both production and R&D for hi-tech military equipment, has been seen as a boost for PM Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. However, in terms of trade, Israel enjoys a huge surplus with India, with its non-defence exports being worth $2.4 billion to India, while imports of Indian merchandise standing at $1.76 billion in 2016.
In addition to defence and trade, the two countries are exploring new avenues for cooperation, covering water management, food security, space technologies, cyberspace, healthcare, data protection, digitisation and even cinema. Israel’s hi-tech innovative environment is renowned for groundbreaking advancements: for instance, Firewall (Check Point), voicemail (Converse), USB flash drive (M-Systems), digital printing (Indigo) etc., have come from that country.