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In Israel trip, push beyond defence

New Delhi, April 11: For years, defence ties were the only visible pillar of India's relationship with Israel. Now, the two countries want to ensure the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel isn't shadowed by that pillar alone.

India and Israel are rushing through a series of defence agreements and visits in the months preceding Narendra Modi's expected visit in June or July, keen to use the trip itself to pitch the relationship as more all-rounded, senior officials have told The Telegraph.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) - that country's leading aerospace technology firm - last week inked Israel's biggest ever defence deal, worth $2bn (Rs 13,000cr) to supply surface-to-air missiles to the Indian army and navy. The IAI is separately expected to sell 66 surveillance and radar systems, and 10 Heron drones to India soon.

In May, three ships from the Indian Navy's western fleet will sail into the Israeli port of Haifa on a goodwill visit aimed at underscoring the military and security partnership between the two countries.

But when Modi visits Israel later this summer, the two countries are expected to announce a slew of agreements demonstrating cooperation in science and technology, agriculture, education, culture, civil aviation and visas, officials said.

"India and Israel need to know more about each other in terms of heritage, culture, values, and interests," Israel's ambassador to India Daniel Carmon said at a conference organised by the Jindal Global University's centre for studies on Israel in late March. "We have already come a long way, but much needs to be done to overcome the challenges ahead of us."

The defence and strategic relationship between India and Israel precedes the formal diplomatic relations the two countries established in 1992. Israel had in previous years offered India military help. After India's nuclear tests in 1998, Israel - along with Russia and France - was among the few major nations that did not seek sanctions against New Delhi and, in fact, stepped up diplomatic and strategic cooperation.

Israel's prompt supply of drones, guns and other military equipment to India in the months leading up to the Kargil war in 1999 - despite US pressure to cool off on bilateral ties - proved crucial in India's victory.

India today counts on support from Israel's intelligence agencies to prepare for security threats from West Asia and beyond. The countries are not trying to mask that component of the relationship, officials said.

But they are keen to finally step out of the shadows of the portrayal of the relationship as just a security necessity for India - and to instead embrace it as a comprehensive partnership that touches diverse aspects of the shared interests of the two nations, the officials added.

Israel last week decided to issue Indian business leaders five-year multiple-entry visas, and India in March organised a photo exhibition jointly with the Israel embassy here on Indian Jews.

During Modi's visit, India and Israel are expected to announce additional scholarships to help students study in each other's countries. An existing exchange programme for scientists could be bolstered, the officials said.

Modi is also likely to address Indian-origin Israeli Jews during his visit, highlighting a people-to-people connect that officials argue is often overlooked.


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