“THIS IS a marriage really made in heaven and we are implementing it here on Earth,” declared Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the golden and indigo-hued ambassador’s hall at the historic King David Hotel here. Modi laughed. Minutes later, India and Israel decided to elevate their relationship to a “strategic partnership”, after negotiations and last-minute changes in the joint statement.
It was apt that the two leaders chose the hotel, where 91 people were killed in a bomb attack in 1946, to flag terrorism in their short statements. “India and Israel live in complex geographies. We are aware of strategic threats to regional peace and stability. India has India, Israel forge ‘strategic partnership’, send strong message on terror suffered first-hand the violence and hatred spread by terror. So has Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu and I agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also cooperate to combat growing radicalisation and terrorism, including in cyber space,” Modi said in his remarks after the talks.
Stating that the two countries need to cooperate in the field of counter-terrorism, Netanyahu described 26/11 as a “horrible terrorist attack”. He said the two countries are being challenged by “forces of terror” and have agreed to cooperate in countering terrorism. “We also recognise that we are being challenged. We are being challenged by the forces of terror, the forces of terror that seeks to undermine our world, our countries, the peace and stability of our common civilisation, and we have agreed to cooperate in this area as well… This is an expression of our commitment… ours is a partnership to seek good, defend the good, achieve the good. This is indeed a good day,” said the Israeli PM, after three hours of talks and a working lunch. He added that this was a “deeply moving moment for me, both in personal, but also in national and international terms”.
While the joint statement made a categorical reference to terrorism, it did not mention the phrase “cross-border terrorism”. “Recognising that terrorism poses a grave threat to global peace and stability, the two Prime Ministers reiterated their strong commitment to combat it in all its forms and manifestations. They stressed that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. The leaders asserted that strong measures should be taken against terrorists, terror organisations, their networks and all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, or provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups. They also underscored the need to ensure that terrorist organisations do not get access to any WMD or technologies. Both leaders also committed to cooperate for the early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT),” it said.
Responding to a specific question, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar pointed to the reference to “terrorists, terror organisations, their networks and all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, or provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups”, as an indication of “cross-border terrorism”, and remarked, “sometimes, people like longer sentences”. While the final joint statement included the “strategic partnership” component, there was some last-minute huddle and drama — an indication that negotiations on the formulation went down to the wire.
As officials waited for the two Prime Ministers to make their statements, Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Netanyahu’s military secretary Eliezer Toledano — who was wearing his uniform with a kippah — went into a huddle, along with PMO joint secretary Vinay Kwatra. Moments earlier, Jaishankar, India’s envoy to Israel Pavan Kapoor and Israel’s envoy to India Daniel Carmon chatted. The NSA and the FS also had a separate chat in a corner of the room. After the Prime Ministers arrived and sat on red wooden chairs, when the space cooperation agreements were announced, Netanyahu said, “The sky is not the limit”. The Israeli side later distributed a copy of the joint statement which said, “The historic first-ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel raised the bilateral relationship to a new level in order to solidify the enduring friendship between their peoples.”
When Jaishankar was told later that contrary to his claims, the joint statement circulated by the Israeli side had no reference to a “strategic partnership”, he expressed surprise. He quickly said that the Indian version was the updated statement. The Indian side, within minutes, distributed the document, which read, “This historic first-ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel solidified the enduring friendship between their peoples and raised the bilateral relationship to that of a strategic partnership”.
While the two sides kept defence cooperation in the background, and pushed for other issues including water and agriculture, the joint statement talked about defence cooperation in the context of “joint development” and “Make in India”, although Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and other officials said that they would like to see “Make with India”. There was no explicit reference to defence cooperation in Modi and Netanyahu’s statements, but the joint statement reaffirmed the importance of bilateral defence cooperation over the years. It was agreed that “future developments in this sphere should focus on joint development of defence products, including transfer of technology from Israel, with a special emphasis on the ‘Make in India’ initiative.”
Modi was effusive in his praise for Israel, as he called it “extraordinary” and said, “India admires the success of your people in overcoming adversity to advance, innovate and flourish against all odds. In our modern journey, our paths have been different, but our belief in democratic values and economic progress has been a shared pursuit.” This visit, he said, was an occasion to “rejuvenate the bonds of our friendship; to compose a new chapter in our ties; and to jointly venture towards new horizons of engagement.”
The two countries signed seven agreements pertaining to water, space and agriculture. When the two sides were signing one of the agriculture pacts, Netanyahu shook Modi’s hand. During the statements too, they embraced each other, continuing with their bonhomie. “Modi and I look ahead and, at the same time, have our feet firmly on the ground,” said Netanyahu.
“Israel is among the leading nations in the field of innovation, water and agricultural technology. These are also among my priority areas in India’s development. We agreed that efficiency of water and resource use; water conservation and its purification; productivity increases in agriculture are key areas in deepening our bilateral cooperation,” Modi said. The two sides decided to establish a bilateral Technology Innovation Fund worth US$ 40 million for research in industrial development.
On the regional security situation, Modi said, “We also discussed the situation in West Asia and wider region. It is India’s hope that peace, dialogue and restraint will prevail.” The joint statement said the two Prime Ministers discussed the developments pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “They underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region. They reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution between the sides, based on mutual recognition and security arrangements,” it said.