Modi’s visit to Israel to focus on agriculture, defence ties

NEW DELHI/TEL AVIV: Narendra Modi is making a first visit to Israel by an Indian prime minister next week, in a public embrace of a country that he has long admired for its military and technical expertise but which his predecessors kept at arm’s length.
But now Modi is lifting the curtain on a thriving military relationship. He will hold three days of talks with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, to advance sales and production of missiles, drones and radar systems under his signature “Make in India” drive, officials in Delhi and Tel Aviv said.
In previous decades, under the left-leaning Congress Party, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was a regular visitor to New Delhi, pictured hugging then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when the two were championing the Non-Alignment Movement.
In May, Modi hosted Arafat’s successor, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, and offered help in health and information technology, but the trip was low-key.
The scale of the ongoing collaboration with Israel dwarfs anything India is attempting with the Palestinians, officials say.
“We have a wide ranging partnership with Israel that ranges from agriculture cooperation to homeland security,” said Bala Bhaskar, head of the foreign ministry’s West Asia division.
He said India’s ties with Israel and Palestine were important in their own right and neither should be viewed through the prism of the other. But an Israeli diplomat said Modi’s standalone trip to Tel Aviv was an important signal.
The two sides are expected to announce strategic partnerships in areas including water, agriculture and space technology during Modi’s visit.
But it is the defence relationship that is most advanced — India is now Israel’s biggest arms market, buying weapons at an average of $1 billion each year.
Eli Alfassi, executive vice-president of marketing at state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the country’s biggest defence firm, said it was supplying India with drones, radar, communication systems and cybersecurity.
The centrepiece of the collaboration is the Barack 8 air defence system, built jointly by the two countries in a boost for Modi’s campaign to develop a domestic defence industry.
“We are adjusting to the ‘Make in India’ policy which says only local companies will win tenders, so we are setting up three joint projects in India with local companies,” Alfassi said.
IAI has signed a memorandum of understanding to build missiles with India’s state-run Bharat Electronics Limited, launched a joint project with Dynamatic Technologies to make drones and is scouting for a partner for a joint venture for its subsidiary Elta, which specialises in electronic warfare and communication systems, he said.
Avi Mizrachi, executive vice-president of business development for Israel and Southeast Asia at Elbit Systems, which supplies electro-optic systems and upgrades of helicopters and combat vehicles, said it would be bidding for a tender to supply drones in partnership with India’s Adani group.
The two countries stress, though, that there is more to the relationship than arms deals.
Modi will be discussing a plan for Israeli help in boosting India’s food security, officials said.
The plan is to expand 26 agriculture expertise centres that Israel has set up in 15 Indian states to help increase output of everything from vegetables to mangoes and pomegranates. — Reuters