New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) Though India and Israel share strong cooperation in the defence sector, it is areas like agriculture, water management, innovation and start-ups that are expected to come under focus during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel from July 4 to 6, marking 25 years of bilateral diplomatic ties.
This will be the first ever prime ministerial visit from India to Israel. In October 2015, Pranab Mukherjee became the first Indian President to visit Israel since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1992.
This was followed by the visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to India in November 2016. Earlier, then Israeli President Ezer Weizman visited India in January 1997 and this was followed by a visit by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in September 2003.
“We are continuously working to diversify and strengthen our bilateral cooperation besides exploring new avenues of cooperation,” B. Bala Bhaskar, Joint Secretary (West Asia and North Africa) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said while briefing the media here ahead of Modi’s visit.
He said that Israel has expressed its “great willingness” over the last three years to participate in India’s flagship initiatives like Make in India, Clean Ganga, Smart Cities and Digital India.
Stating that there has been cooperation going on in the agriculture sector, he said: “With the help of Israel we have established centres of excellence in various states aimed at increasing productivity, crop management, and water management .”
According to Indian Ambassador to Israel Pavan Kapoor, India can draw many lessons from Israeli in water management.
Speaking to public broadcaster Doordarshan, Kapoor said that Israel, which used to be a water-deficit country, is now a water-surplus country and actually exports water to its neighbour Jordan.
“They have through a very strong policy of water conservation, of water pricing, of increasing water supply and tremendous use of water for recycling and reuse, achieved this,” he said.
Though defence is an important area of cooperation, Kapoor said it will be the areas of development that will be under focus during Modi’s historic visit.
“Israel has been an important defence supplier to us, and a reliable defence supplier which we appreciate,” he said.
“But our relation has gone beyond into many other areas. And I really think our entire area of development is where we will be focusing on. When I say development, I mean the area of agriculture, I mean water, I mean science and technology, innovation and start-ups.”
In terms of science and technology, Bhaskar said that both sides were cooperating in the area of space.
As for economic cooperation, he said that bilateral trade stood at $4.16 billion but added that it was in favour of Israel by $300 million.
“We are importing around 20 per cent of phosphate from Israel. It is an important contributor to the energy sector,” he said.
New Delhi will also seek to develop greater cooperation on homeland security when Modi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu hold bilateral talks.
On the international stage, Israel supports India’s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
After landing on July 4, Modi will have his official engagements, including bilateral talks with Netanyahu and a call on President Rivlin, the next day.
Apart from his official engagements, Modi will interact with Israeli business leaders and also address the Indian diaspora.
According to the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv, there are about 85,000 Jews of Indian origin settled in Israel.
This apart, there are about 10,000 Indian nationals in Israel, of whom around 9,000 work in the care-giving sector, while the rest are mostly diamond traders, IT professionals and students.
During the course of the visit, Modi will also pay homage to Indian soldiers at the Haifa Indian Cemetery that contains the graves of 49 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War.