Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in New Delhi on Sunday to give a fillip to 25 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries during a six-day trip that will also take him to Ahmedabad for a roadshow with “friend” Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Netanyahu is also likely to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra and will be in Mumbai for a business meeting before he flies home next Friday. The visit comes months after Modi’s trip to Israel in July last year — a first by an Indian Prime Minister since the two countries established diplomatic ties only in 1992 even as India had recognized the Jewish state soon after it was founded.

During Modi’s trip, the two leaders were seen hugging each other and addressing each other repeatedly as “friend”. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told reporters on Thursday that Modi and Netanyahu would first visit the Sabarmati Ashram — the abode of Mahatma Gandhi — after they arrive in Ahmedabad on January 17. “(They) will be accorded a grand welcome.” After his arrival in New Delhi on Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu will hold meetings with President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, the Israeli Embassy said in a statement.

He will have a bilateral meeting with Modi and also attend the annual “Raisina Dialogue”, a geopolitical conference, and address an India-Israeli CEO forum in the capital, said Joint Secretary in External Affairs Ministry B Bala Bhaskar. Bhaskar said the ties between the two countries have been expanding in the areas of agriculture, water, innovation, entrepreneurship development, space, education, culture, homeland security and defence. “We have upgraded our relationship to strategic level with special focus on agriculture and water,” he said.

He said the bilateral commerce between the two countries stood at $5 billion in 2016-17 which did not include defence trade. He refused to give defence trade figures saying “they are not exactly measured like that and as such (there are) no exact figures”. Bhaskar parried a direct reply when asked about the reported revival of talks on India’s purchase of 8,000 Spike anti-tank missiles from Israel that was cancelled last week. “These issues have set mechanism. India has a long and wide-ranging defence cooperation with Israel. This covers defence equipment as well as defence industry and technology cooperation which are developing very well. “New areas of cooperation are actively being explored. I am sure you will be updated on that.”

Asked to specify business or defence deals the two countries were likely to sign during Netanyahu’s visit, Bhaskar said: “This is a very very special relationship and the visit is to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic ties. It was decided that both Prime Ministers should exchange visits. This visit is actually visited accomplishment of 25 years of ties.” He said Modi and Netanyahu would hold talks on a wide range of matters and “I am sure (the Palestine issue) is also going to come up”. Israeli Ambassador Daniel Carmon called Netanyahu’s visit to India as the “grand finale to the celebrations of 25 years of growing partnership”. “The visit will focus on the progress made between India and Israel since Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel last summer, and on shaping the next 25 years of relations between our countries and our peoples,” Carmon said in a statement.

In Gujarat, Modi and Netanyahu will also visit the Centre of Excellence in Vadrad and inaugurate a Centre of Excellence for date palms in Bhuj via video conference. They will also visit the iCreate innovation campus and centre. In Mumbai, Netanyahu will meet Jewish community leaders and select members of the Indian business community. He will reach out to Bollywood in an exclusive “Shalom Bollywood” event.

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