On the occasion of 25 years of the establishment of India-Israeli diplomatic relations, Israel’s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon spoke to Anando Bhakto. Excerpts:

Q: The year 2017 marks 25 years of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel. What are the achievements of the past and what may be expected from the next 25 years?

A: India and Israel are two countries that are very different in size, population, and geo-political surroundings. Yet they share very similar challenges and values, and they do share and could share similar solutions. As opposed to those who view these relations as that of help and assistance, I categorically do not accept this as a definition of the very special relations India and Israel have. We have developed a cooperation in which the two countries are contributing very well as per their comparative strengths. We plan the same for the next 25, 50, or 75 years. The relations are based on a lot of confidence. We have felt this confidence throughout the years, when we were always there for each other, despite the fact that total visibility in the relations was relatively quiet and relatively modest at times, if not very modest. 

Since our independence in 1948, when the British mandate was lifted, we started developing what can be seen today as a “development laboratory”. We had the task of starting from scratch and building a society, an economy, and institutions. The task of nation building involved all the aspects of daily life and we found many solutions in this so-called laboratory. What you see today in Israel is a vibrant society, vibrant economy. It is a very stable, secure country. Part of this laboratory is also about sharing our knowhow.

We have managed to build eco-systems of technology and to build what is called the Start-Up Nation which added so many solutions to the changing world in the area of technology, IT, health and medical solutions. With India we have developed very unique relations, and the completion of 25 years of those relations is an important date. We look back at those 25 years with much satisfaction. There are many success stories that we have achieved together.

Now it is time to reflect in what we have achieved during these 25 years and look into what we will achieve in the next 25. 

Q: The Presidents of the two countries have already made diplomatic visits to India and Israel respectively. There are reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would visit Israel in the first half of 2017, followed by a reciprocal visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Can you confirm this? What is the significance of such reciprocal visits

A: There are no dates fixed yet for those two visits, but they will happen and they must happen. In the last two years, there have been a growing number of reciprocal visits, with Ministers of Defence, Science and Technology, Homeland Security and Home Affairs visiting both countries. The Presidents have made visits, so it is natural the Prime Ministers of the two countries will visit each other, and we are in contact with our friends in the Ministry of External Affairs (regarding this).

These visits are not only symbolic visits, but reflect the richness and diversity of our relations. When Israel’s President (Reuven Rivlin) visited India, he was here for eight consecutive days, which is longer than a usual visit. He was received in the warmest way ever. We have offered, together with our Indian colleagues, another side to his visit: a program that reflects the richness and the diversity of our relations. Our President ventured out of the capital (New Delhi) to see India and where the cooperation is being implemented. Be it water projects in which Israeli technology adds up to India’s activity, or food security projects which benefit the farmers of the area of Karnal, or a big event in Chandigarh where the Israeli agricultural model is in use to create solutions for food security. So, the visits are beyond ceremonial. They are visits in which we could see our cooperation first-hand and hopefully this is what the Prime Minister of India will do when he comes to Israel; he will not concentrate only on the important political part, but also on the practical, operational implementation of the cooperation between India and Israel.

Q: Political analysts believe India, under Prime Minister Modi is publicly acknowledging that Israel is India’s natural ally and there are areas of mutual interest. India in June 2016 voted in favour of putting Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon in charge of the UN Legal Committee, and in October India abstained from a vote on a UNESCO resolution that ignored the Jewish people’s ties with Jerusalem’s holy sites. The Indian government in 2015 abstained from a voting on a United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) resolution condemning Israeli forces for committing “war crimes”. How do you see this shift in New Delhi’s policy where its close relationship with Israel is more publicly acknowledged?

A: That is a very important question. Our special relations with India are not limited only to traditional diplomacy. We have invented, so to speak, or maybe, have upgraded, a new kind of diplomacy in which India engages not only with Israel, but also other countries, and Israel also engages with other countries, but the very unique relationship between India and Israel is highlighted.

Diplomacy has many facets. They go beyond the traditional one, but still the traditional one is very important because it is the political context of bilateral relations. And yes, over the years, for various reasons, the relations with Israel were low-volume—which is an understatement—and had low visibility. The activity was there, but the volume and visibility were not. This has changed dramatically over in the last few years. In the last two and a half years, India has changed a few votes in the international arena; you mentioned some of them. It’s better, of course. I would not go as far as to declare—because it is not for me to do—that India has changed its trend of voting. But I hope it is a process that will continue. Of course, we are very satisfied by the changing of votes by any country towards being more in favour of the Israeli position, and even more satisfied when it comes from an important country and important player in international arena like India. 

I have to acknowledge and appreciate the way India is defining its foreign relations in which two venues, or two vectors, do not infringe on one another. One of them is India’s commitment to the Arab world, which is fine. And the second, India’s will and need to have good relations with Israel; and if I may add, relations that are unique, important and very special with Israel. And the minute that India says that one vector does not influence the other India can develop both vectors. And that’s a big, positive sign, a positive message to our country.

Q: President Reuven Rivlin said during his visit to India in November 2016 that “We are here to ‘Make in India’ and to ‘Make with India’, we are here to help economies flourish together in full partnership for the benefit of us all”. He emphasised to work together to make even stronger the powerful and strong market that the two countries have built. In this context, can you tell us if enough measures are being taken to pave the way for a free trade agreement between the two countries?

A: An FTA is in the interest of both governments. I can say on behalf of the Israeli government that we are very much for it. We understand that it is India’s position also. Our economy is relatively small, but it is stable and it is developed and we can bring solutions. Our governments will give incentives to the two economies, to companies on both sides to do more business with each other. I have to stress our economy is a small one, so an FTA agreement between both countries should not, and will not affect other negotiations that India has with other countries. When this will be finalised, we will see much more trade than now. 

Q: President Rivlin, during his visit to India said India and Israel can “make magic” on food security. Can you elaborate on that? And also, what can India learn from Israel’s knowledge and practices in areas such as agriculture and tackling water scarcity?

A: As I said before, the relations are not one sided, with one side having the knowledge and coming to assist or help, but we are really mixing the traditions, the knowhow and the comparative strength of each country. To give an example, mango growing in India is a tradition enjoyed by many generations. But in Israel, you will surprise to see how a short a period of time we have been experimenting in this. So, we are doing magic by mixing, by teaching, by learning from the environs of the other. 

Talking about food security, we have developed the concept of Centres of Excellence. The Ministries of Agriculture of both countries, governmental entrepreneurs and state governments have developed training and demonstration centres in the field of food security, encompassing value chain of agriculture from seed to marketing. It is a model created by Israel, which is being adapted to India. 

Water is definitely a big challenge in Israel. Israel does not enjoy too much rain, but Israel has developed throughout the years a variety of systems, methods and technologies, and is now enjoying a surplus of water. We are offering these technologies to India, focusing on good usage of water, like the technologies of recycling water. Some of it will come from governmental endeavours and some of it can be done by commercial endeavours. We are ready to bring any kind of technology, any kind of solutions in the field of water management and water recycling. We are developing solutions together. We have an experience of this kind of cooperation in the field of defence, and we have no reason to not do it in areas of water, agriculture and food security.

Q: Relations between US and Israel, which had soured during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, reached a low point late in December 2016 when Washington declined to veto the UN resolution which declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and demanded that the country cease construction in the West Bank and other territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel described the US move as “shameful”. But President Donald Trump has promised to pursue more pro-Israeli policies. How do you see your engagement with the US and how do you see India partnering in this engagement, in particular in areas such as the common fight against terrorism and radicalism?

A: First of all, the relations between Israel and US are strong and sound, and they go much, much beyond specific relations that sometimes have to do with the chemistry between leaders. Of course, it hasn’t been rose garden all the way during the last few years. But I cannot see a better and stronger relationship than between Israel and US, between their societies, between their economies, and at the working level between leaders and politicians. There may have been some hiccups, but the main objective, the main idea, the main values and the cooperation on the ground always have been, and make no mistake, will continue to be very, very strong. And I would not like to attribute it to one specific leader or one specific party that is in power here or there.

The vote in the UN was unfortunate. The vote in the UN missed one very basic point, which is that our relations with our Palestinian neighbours, who are on the other side of the conflict, are also our partners to making peace. There should be two players in negotiations. And we are the players at stake—the Palestinians and the Israelis. We should be sitting around the table. We should negotiate, and no fora in New York or in Geneva or anywhere else will tell both sides what we should tell each other.

Q: You recently said in an interview that bringing perpetrators of terror to justice is part of the global fight against terror. India has been at the receiving end of across the border terrorism of late. India has been drawing world attention to the fact that the masterminds of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack including Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi continue to move freely in Pakistan despite several dossiers provided by our country. What do you have to comment on the issue and do you believe enough has been done by Pakistan to bring perpetrators of 26/11 to book?

A: Terrorism is a very vast area. There is a very vast list of activities, situations, not of value chain but consequence chain, of what it means to fight terrorism. You have to be prepared, you have to have good intelligence, you have to know how to pre-empt and sometimes when terror acts happen, you have to know how to respond, you have to know how to catch the perpetrator, and you have to know how to bring them to justice. This whole chain of events should be confronted with in a way that is most efficient, most professional and most no non-sense. PM Modi spoke to US President Donald Trump last night and it (fighting terrorism) is definitely an agenda of so many who are the victims of terrorism. The more we are united, the more we engage our forces together, our national intelligence, responses, apprehensions and also our legal systems, the more vulnerable and weak our adversaries will become.

Q: Iran is India’s important trading partner and its major energy supplier. The two countries have been cementing their ties, with the agreement on the Chabahar port to cite as one example. How does Israel view the close nexus between India and Iran, which India sees as separate from its warming relationship with Israel?

A: We have a very clear view. Iran has a negative effect, because of the support it gives to international terrorism, including in the city of Delhi. It happened once in Delhi in 2012, when Iran actually engaged in terrorism against an Israeli diplomat. Iran has a negative impact on the stability of our region; it promotes extremism, fanaticism and terrorism. Iran is a country that denies the rights of a member state of the UN to exist. It is denying the holocaust and preparing for the next one, so to speak. Our point of view about Iran is not new. We have been very vocal during the time of the negotiation on the Iran nuclear deal, because Iran has been developing nuclear capabilities, nuclear military capabilities, which is contrary to the spirit of the agreement. Having said that, we are not commenting on the relations between India and third parties.