India and Israel on Wednesday decided to scale up their relationship to that of a strategic partnership in the fight against terror, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the two countries have “agreed to do much more to protect our strategic interests” and to combat rising radicalization and terrorism including in the cyber-space.
On the second day of the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister, Modi, after discussions with host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to balance New Delhi’s traditional ties with Israel’s neighbours by saying India hoped that “peace, dialogue and restraint” will prevail in West Asia.
PM Modi is making a stand-alone visit to Israel and not combining it with a trip to Palestine. In his briefing, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said India favoured a negotiated, peaceful settlement of the Palestine issue.
Besides concurrence on strategic issues, India and Israel signed seven agreements and MoUs in space, water management and conservation and agriculture cooperation. One accord provides for setting up of $40 million fund to be spent over five years for technological innovation.
Netanyahu said the two leaders recognised that their countries faced forces of terror which seek to undermine peace and stability. “We have agreed to cooperate in this field as well,” he said.
The two leaders addressed the media after one-on-one and delegation level talks, with Jaishankar describing it as an “upbeat conversation as between two peoples and two cultures who can work together”.
A joint statement issued after the talks said “…strong measures should be taken against terrorists and terror organisations and all those who encourage, support and finance or provide sanctury to terrorists and terror groups”.
This, Jaishankar said, was a fairly clear and expressive description on the issue of terror and it was possible to reduce it to three words — cross border terrorism — which a reporter said was missing in the joint statement.
It also said that “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”.
In his remarks, Modi said India and Israel live in complex geographies. “We are aware of strategic threats to regional peace and stability. India has suffered first hand the violence and hatred spread by terror. So has Israel.
“Prime Minister and I agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interest and also cooperate to combat growing radicalization and terrorism, including in cyber space.
“We also discussed the situation in West Asia and wider region. It is India’s hope that peace, dialogue and restraint will prevail.”
Netanyahu said “we also recognise that we are charged by forces of terror who seek to undermine our countries’ peace and stability. We agreed to cooperate in this field as well”.
Modi said he and Netanyahu had productive discussions covering an extensive menu of issues not just in areas of bilateral opportunities but also on how their cooperation can help global peace and stability. “Our goal is to build a relationship that reflects our shared priorities and draws on enduring bonds between our peoples.”
Observing that Israel was among the leading nations in the field of innovation, water and agriculture technology, which were also his priority areas, Modi said he and Netanyahu agreed that efficiency of water and resource used, water conservation and its purification and productivity in agriculture were key areas in deepening bilateral cooperation.
He said both regarded the thriving two-way trade and investment flows as the bedrock of a strong relationship and they agreed to do more in this direction.
“Businesses on both sides should take primary lead in such efforts. This would also be our message to CEO forum tomorrow,” he said.
Modi said that people of the two countries have natural affinity and warmth for each other. “The Indian-origin Jewish community reminds us of these bonds. It also serves as a bridge to a shared future.
“I am confident the strength of these links, old and new, will hold us in good stead as we forge a partnership for the 21st century.”
Netanyahu said he had a feeling that India and Israel were today changing “our world and may be changing parts of the world.
“Because this is the cooperation, it is a marriage really made in heaven but we are really implementing here on the earth.”
The Israeli leader also talked about cooperation in fields of water, agriculture and health and said these affected the lives of people.
“Modi and I … like to have our feet connected. We try to look to the distance but our feet firmly planted on the ground. We have empowered ourselves to bring concrete plans in diverse areas by January 1.”
He said they also talked about cooperation in third countries including Africa.
Netanyahu thanked Modi for visiting young Moshe, the child survivor of the 26/11 terror attack on a Jewsih facility in Mumbai, saying the “important gesture… is a partnership to defend the good, to protect the good, to achieve the good”.
In his briefing, Jaishankar said there had been a long standing defence cooperation between India and Israel, specially in joint development of products and transfer of technology.
He said terrorism and counter-terrorism in all its manifestations were discussed. Like India, Israel also holds that there was no justification for terror on any grounds. “All those who finance and provide sanctuary to terror should be acted against.”
Jaishankar parried a question on Modi not visiting Palestine unlike other Indian leaders.