NEW DELHI—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived for an official visit in New Delhi on Sunday where he got a surprise welcome by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wrote on Twitter: “Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations. @IsraeliPM#ShalomNamaste.”
“Thank you to my good friend Narendra Modi for the warm welcome!” Netanyahu Tweeted in return.
Netanyahu was due to have been greeted by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, but Modi, whom the Prime Minister accompanied throughout the latter’s three-day visit to Israel last year, decided to break from protocol and receive him personally.
As Modi greeted Netanyahu with a bear-hug, Indian 24-hour news channel NDTV described the welcome as a “meeting between old friends” adding that the “bonhomie” was clear for all to see.
NDTV also noted the defense personnel at Netanyahu and Modi’s sides and the 130 strong business delegation that travelled with the Israeli Prime Minister as he seeks to boost military and economic ties between the two nations which established full diplomatic ties exactly 25 years ago.
Bilateral trade between the countries was $5.04 billion in 2016-17, rising 2.3 per cent in 2016-17 after four consecutive years of decline.
Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general in charge of Asia at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing last Wednesday that India and Israel would announce deals and joint investments in areas ranging from defense to renewable energy during
Netanyahu’s six-day visit is the first by an Israeli Prime Minister since Ariel Sharon visited the sub-continent in 2003.
Daniel Carmon, Israel’s ambassador to Delhi told local media that “something big” was happening between Israel and India, and that innovation would top the agenda of the visit.
“Innovation could be in the field of defence, innovation could be in the field of agriculture, innovation could be in the field of IT, of R&D,” he said.
Among the MoUs to be signed during the trip are agreements in the field of oil and gas, renewable energy, cyber security, and co-production of films and documentaries. Collaboration in diamond polishing and processing will also be on the agenda between the world’s two largest exports of polished diamonds.
In addition, Jerusalem’s Shaarei Zedek Medical Center will sign an agreement with India’s ministry of health and family welfare, including the sharing of knowledge in the fields of homoeopathy and Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. In addition, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will sign an agreement with the India’s ministry of science and technology, according to local sources.
From the airport, Netanyahu travelled with Modi to to Teen Murti Memorial to pay homage to soldiers who died fighting with the British Army in Haifa during World War I. The ceremony marked the formal renaming of the site as as the Teen Murti Haifa Chowk, for the battle fought by Indian soldiers at the port city.
Later Sunday, Netanyahu met with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj before a dinner with Modi. She told the Israeli premier: “Very warm welcome to India. The feeling is mutual. We were eagerly looking forward to your visit and after the visit of Prime Minister Modi, all of us were very excited to receive you in India. And today, that dream has come true.”
She also emphasized the warm and special friendship between the two countries and said that they want to deepen cooperation in all areas. She pointed out the fact that the reciprocal visits in the past year reflect the friendship between the countries.
Netanyahu stressed that ‘’it is important for the State of Israel that one of the world’s major powers wants to develop close relations in many areas – economics, trade, security and agriculture.’’
He added, ‘’But even where I am here in India, I think of you, IDF soldiers, and of the splendid work that you did yesterday in eliminating another tunnel. We are systematically eliminating the tunnel infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad; they should not try us.”
On Monday, Netanyahu will meet with President Ram Nath Kovind and have further meetings with his Indian counterpart. On Tuesday, he will visit the Taj Mahal and then attend the annual “Raisina Dialogue” India’s premiere policy conference, where he will deliver a speech, the first time a foreign leader will speak at the event.
Also on the agenda during the six-day trip are a stop in Mumbai, where he will meet with Bollywood stars and attend a memorial ceremony for the victims of the 2008 attack on the city’s Chabad House.
Netanyahu will also visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat and the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology in Ahmedabad, as well as attending a power breakfast with Indian CEOS.
EJP’s John Milner contributed to this report