Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel was indeed historic. The warmth exuded and the camaraderie witnessed were unprecedented in the cold world of modern day diplomacy. Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu pulled out all stops to ensure that the meeting between the two leaders would certainly be recorded in the chapters of history to be written in the future.
There were shades of Bollywood in the dialogues that were exchanged when Modi landed on the Israeli soil, the first Indian PM to do so. Netanyahu’s remark that his country had waited for 70 years for the occasion was replete with the same sentiment when Malika-e-Tarannum, Noor Jahan, the singing sensation of yesteryears had in 1982 visited Bombay to be given a rousing welcome. At a reception hosted in her honour, film thespian Dilip Kumar, who had the distinction of acting with her, was not taken aback when she told the audience that it took her 35 years to return to Bombay from Pakistan, where she had migrated following the cataclysmic partition. On the contrary, Dilip Kumar was at his charming best and shot back, “We waited for 35 years for you to make this momentous journey”.
Netanyahu is a no-nonsense leader, who is on record to have conveyed to the United States administration in the past that he would need no advice on how to deal with his country’s enemies and if his forces had killed civilians, it was no big deal. He did not mince words while welcoming Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State on an official visit to Jerusalem. Therefore, if he extended extraordinary courtesy to Modi, it was due to the fact that Tel Aviv considers New Delhi as an important strategic partner in dealing with the common threat from Islamist terror groups, as well as to cement this bond concurrently through business and cultural deals. Significantly, amongst the various pacts signed by the two countries, there was an added emphasis on cyber security, the recent state-of-the art element of modern warfare. Israel is a pioneer in cyber security and could definitely share consequential details of its importance with our scientists and experts.
The relationship with Israel was earlier hampered due to the various concerns expressed by the ruling dispensations of the past. However, P.V. Narasimha Rao was the first Prime Minister, who 25 years ago took the plunge and established full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Till that point, successive governments appeared inclined towards appeasing the West Asian countries, particularly the Arab world, in formulating their stance, which was heavily tilted in one direction.
Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader was a personal friend of the Nehru-Gandhi family, and top leaders from Abdel Gamal Nasser to King Hussain, besides the despots of Saudi Arabia, its adjoining countries and other top functionaries enjoyed a noteworthy rapport with them. Domestic political considerations were a contributory factor in forging these ties, as many in the political class believed that extending a hand of friendship to Israel could hurt the sensitivities of the large Muslim population in our country. Much has changed since those days and presently there exists immense commonality amongst nations such as India and Israel. This is the reason why Modi has gone ahead and clearly de-hyphenated New Delhi’s policies regarding Israel and Palestine. The visit was meant to send a strong signal that from now on, India would be dealing with relationships on merit and would in no way be influenced by the attitude and conduct of other countries in the region.
Israel has been assisting various states in the country in the domain of agriculture and technology, and has also emerged as a strong supplier of arms to India. Further, India is one place in Asia which receives a constant flow of tourists from Israel. Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa are just some of the places which host thousands of Israeli backpackers, as well as affluent visitors. There are a large number of tourists from India too, who tour various parts of that country. In other words, while there has been an affiliation between the people of the two countries in the past, the equation between the two governments has now reached a totally new level.
A series of comparisons have been made between India and Israel. However, the most interesting illustration is that all the major religions have originated from these two lands. The Jewish, the Christians and the Muslims have their seeds in Israel, while the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Jains and the Sikhs have their deep roots in India. It is no coincidence that the adherence to spirituality and mysticism are decisively striking and noticeable in these two nations. Another common ground is that they both have hostile neighbours, thereby underlining at all times the need for heightened security.
Every nation has the right to address its own concerns. In the past, there have been various mechanisms and institutions that have been used to further the apt-suited guidelines. The Cold War saw the emergence of the Non Aligned Movement, and antagonistic friction with the US-backed Pakistan propelled India towards the Soviet Union. New Delhi has come of age, and so has to decide what is good for India. The trip to Israel was a step in this direction. Between us.