Israel President Reuven Rivlin’s visit to India in November 2016 is expected to pave the way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to that country this year, the first by an Indian PM. If that happens, it will mark a shift in India’s Israel policy, which has largely stayed under the radar since the two countries established full diplomatic relations in 1992. As the two countries mark 25 years of ties, Daniel Carmon, who was appointed Israel’s ambassador to India in July 2014, says “there was a policy in the past and it has changed”
Shubhajit Roy: When the Israeli President was in India recently (November 2016), he said Israel would like to participate in Make in India and Make with India. There was some concern in India about this partnership approach, whether that takes away from the Make in India campaign.
The President’s visit was important because it was in the backdrop of a very interesting, intriguing, historically exciting time in the relationship between India and Israel… Make in India or Make with India, I don’t see this as something that limits, but something that complements. Our President did not say Make in India and/or Make with India. He said “Make in India, Make with India”… Israel is very flexible on this, Israel is following the different paths, reforms and programmes that the government of India is leading. In fact, Israel is already a part of Make in India, one of the first countries that has endorsed this. Our President described our own history as a nation that built and developed itself from scratch in the late ’40s… our government did impose during the very austere time of our first years all sorts of policies to strengthen the industry and we have had a policy of Make in Israel… So, when we hear about Make in India, we can identify (with it) because we had something similar in Israel. Make with India is something that will strengthen our engagement in joining the various programmes of the Indian government, including the Make in India vision.
Shubhajit Roy: Are there any projects that are being talked about for Make in India?
The big change from… the past (is) a policy by the government of India not only to encourage Make in India but also to encourage the private sector to go into the defence field. (There are) more attempts and more negotiations and more processes of the Indian industry dedicated to defence and by the Israeli counterparts to try and enter into joint partnerships, with the ultimate goal of manufacturing in India.
Coomi Kapoor: India and Israel have been in talks for 25 years, but India has kept the relationship under wraps for its own domestic reasons or to balance its relations in the Middle East. Do you credit Prime Minister Modi for bringing it out in the open?
Let me phrase it this way. Much of what we see here is the result of more than two and a half years. When I look at the achievement that we have in the field of agriculture, it did not start two and a half years ago. The results of our defence relationship did not start two and a half years ago. But I do give much importance to the visibility, not because it satisfies one side or the other but because by making it visible… There was a policy in the past and now it has changed. I don’t want to make it a political issue within Indian politics, but facts are facts and we appreciate that those relationships are visible and it (was obvious) in the way our President and ministers were received.
Maneesh Chhibber: When PM Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, he would talk about things he had learned from Israel that he was implementing in his state. Do you think his love for Israel is a big factor in how India-Israel relations are progressing?
We are humbled and satisfied to hear every good word about Israeli capabilities. If this can be implemented in the real world, going down from declarations to deeds, it’s even better. The experience of CM Modi — before he became PM — in the field of agriculture, start-ups, irrigation and water is something we heard from him… We bring to the table whatever we learned ourselves when we built our nation. Technologies, systems, methods, concepts of building a new educational system from scratch, absorbing tenfold more population than we had when we started. When Israel got independence in 1948, we were 600,000 people and there was an influx of immigrants. We had to ensure food security, education, health… in a very complicated geopolitical surrounding, and now we are sharing this. I don’t have the exact figure but you can see drip irrigation all across India and you can also see manufacturing plants of Israeli companies that manufacture in India the system through which you irrigate. I can tell you that these days, when Israel is hosting conferences in all the fields where we can contribute — agriculture, water, cyber security — the interest from the Indian side is growing.
Shubhajit Roy: After the Army strike across the Line of Control, the PM, in one of his speeches, compared it to the Israeli Army’s operations. Was there any conversation between India and Israel on this?
We did not feel better or worse after this. I don’t think I should be commenting about this. We should be — and this is what we are doing on the ground — cooperating with India in fields which we identify as being of common interest: defence, water, agriculture and others.
Jamie Mullick: How does Israel see the election of Donald Trump as US President? What impact do you think his presidency will have on the Iran nuclear deal?
A popular question after such a high-profile election is, how would such an important election affect your own region or country? The answer sounds like an easy answer, but is a genuine answer: the President of the US should be a good president for the US. He has been elected by the people of the US and he should be good for the people of the US. The rest is speculation and may be in some way unjust speculation. But irrespective of Donald’s election or other elections in the US, the bond between the people of the US and Israel in all fields and levels is a very, very strong one. Israel and the US enjoy family-like relations and they are much stronger than anything else.
Rahul Tripathi: In 2012, there was an attack on one of your diplomats in Delhi, after which one person was arrested and later released on bail. Are you satisfied with the way the investigation has progressed?
Unfortunately, we have been victims of terrorist attacks all over the world, including in our own country. But part of confronting terrorism is bringing the perpetrators to justice — not only because it is right and just to do, but also it is part of preventing the next one. (In this case), there is a process going on… an ongoing joint investigation by India and Israel. It is never enough, until the process is over and the file is closed.
Sandeep Singh: Is there any technological help that Israel can offer India to check cross-border infiltration?
An important agreement on anti-terrorism was signed two and a half years ago. Israel is one of the — if not the — technological partners of India. Is it something that can be accounted in numbers? Does it compare to partnerships India has with other crucial allies? It’s a totally different concept and that’s what brings to our relationship a certain uniqueness — a unique uniqueness.
Srijana Mitra Das: We keep hearing about artistes in Israel, especially those with a more liberal outlook towards Palestine, facing tremendous pressure from the State.
I think we live in a world where one particular story here or there does not make a whole policy. Our democracy in Israel gives us our freedom of speech and our freedom to do whatever we want as artistes, writers or researchers. I can say I’m very proud of the democracy in Israel and of all our achievements in the world.
Rahul Tripathi: The US recently issued an advisory to its citizens in India, warning of lone-wolf attacks by the Islamic State. What is your assessment of the threat level?
I do think we have to be more conscious of this new battlefield of terrorism. By new, I mean that more and more countries are being subjected to terrorism. Unfortunately, India and Israel have been suffering from terrorism more than others. I don’t want to assess the chances of a lone-wolf attempt but I will say one thing: ISIS is an organisation and also an idea. It’s much harder to pre-empt a lone wolf because he is getting no directives or plans which intelligence agencies can detect and so there will be no warning of the attack. So this is a big danger. We need to unite, bring forces together to confront this new-old battlefield.
Shailaja Bajpai: The only topic of discussion in India these days is demonetisation and we’ve been told that several embassies have complained about the crisis of cash. Is the Israeli Embassy affected too?
I’ve read reports about the diplomatic community (being hit). Of course, it touches every person who lives in India and if there are those of our colleagues who feel that it hampers their abilities to do their job, then they would definitely feel so. But I do not see diplomats as a separate entity from others. It’s like saying we live with pollution in Delhi, do the diplomats feel it more than the others? No. We do have diplomatic immunity and we have different passports but while we all live in India, we all feel part of Delhi and we’re glad to be here. Yes, if I have difficulty getting notes, then I will say it like any other person… Before we go somewhere we should go withdraw from an ATM. This morning, I visited a specific ATM before going to the embassy and I got a few notes so I’m fine for the weekend. And I use more plastic. I’m not trying to promote the government’s policy but I do use more plastic and I think that’s one of the big things that this move is trying to do.
Coomi Kapoor: In India, criticism of the Army’s cross-LoC strikes was seen by many as unpatriotic. How is it in Israel? Say, if the country were involved in a conflict with its neighbours, would a citizen be able to question the government?
We are a free society, we participate in the democratic process every few years when we go to vote and everyone is entitled to (his or her) own opinion. It’s a vibrant democracy with a vibrant press, and when I discuss this with my Indian friends, they know exactly what I mean because that’s how it is here as well. I was born a few years after my country got independence, so much of the way we were brought up had to do with nation-building and Israel’s identity as a new country and society. I definitely identify with the priorities of my government, not just because I represent my government but also because we are all involved in this big project of nation-building and to confront its challenges. That is not to say, with each person having their own ideas, that we are not open to debate.
When I did my military service, like everybody else in Israel, or when I do my reserve for a few weeks a year, then we are all soldiers, all with one boss. The last thing one would want or should do when everybody is in the service of the nation is to say, ‘Yes, but I have a better idea. You want to attack here? No, let’s attack over there’. This is inconceivable. The mainstream Israeli society — and not because it is extra nationalist — understands the aims of the country, the challenges facing the country and how to solve them.
Coomi Kapoor: Is the refugee influx into Europe in some way reminiscent of the Jews fleeing Europe during WW II?
What the Jewish people have confronted during the Holocaust was a very unique attempt to destroy a whole people. This was the aim of those who perpetrated the Holocaust and was totally unprecedented. And for this reason, we — having been part of it, having suffered from it, having survived it — don’t compare this event with another event.
Shubhajit Roy: Will we finally see an Indian PM visiting Israel in 2017, the year that marks 25 years of India’s diplomatic relationship with Israel?
I certainly hope so. I think there were hints during the presidential visit about that and we have been in touch with our friends in the Indian government.