Israel is going all out to make Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, the first ever by an Indian premier, a memorable one with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu in a rare gesture planning to accompany “his friend” to major events. Netanyahu would be present at the Ben-Gurion airport along with the protocol team on July 4 to welcome Modi where national anthems of both the countries would be played during a ceremony. Indian-origin Israeli singer, Liora Itzhak, who learnt Indian classical music in Mumbai and Pune as a teenager and later also sang songs for Bollywood movies, has been chosen to sing both the national anthems. The Israeli premier would be hosting Modi the same evening over dinner at his official residence where they will have their first one to one interaction. The two leaders would be meeting on July 5 again over a working session followed by which the Israeli premier would host Modi for lunch. Netanyahu, in a rare show of warmth, would also take Modi personally to the Israel museum in Jerusalem to show some of the rare exhibits related to the Indian-Jewish heritage. The museum has a replica of the Jewish synagogue in Cochin on display.
On top of all this, Netanyahu would also be accompanying “his friend” during his much awaited address to the Indian community at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv on July 5 in the evening. No other foreign leader seems to have been extended such a warm welcome by an Israeli Prime Minister in the past few decades. The “personal chemistry” between Netanyahu and Modi has been widely discussed in the Israeli media with some of the commentators crediting “this bond” for a perceived “change in policy” and deepening ties. Netanyahu hailed Modi’s visit to Israel on Sunday during his opening remarks at the weekly Cabinet meeting as a “very significant step” in strengthening bilateral relations that are on a “constant upswing”. “Next week, the Indian prime minister, my friend, Narendra Modi will arrive in Israel. This is a historic visit to Israel. In the 70 years of the country’s existence, no Indian Prime Minister has ever visited and this is further expression of the state of Israel’s military, economic and diplomatic strength,” Netanyahu had said. “This is a very significant step in strengthening relations between the two countries,” he added.
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The two leaders have already met twice on foreign soil on the sidelines of UN-related events and are said to be constantly in touch with each other over the phone. The Indian prime minister would also be meeting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and the leader of opposition Isaac Herzog on July 5. The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved major decisions to deepen Indo-Israel ties. Among the measures proposed include the establishment of a 40 million US dollars joint fund to encourage Israeli and Indian business cooperation, agreements permitting and extending incentives to Bollywood filmmakers looking to shoot in Israel, efforts to promote growth in tourism and a joint government project in the fields of water and agriculture. Several MoUs are likely to be signed to carry out these objectives during the Indian Premier’s three day visit between July 4 and 6. His other important engagements include a visit to Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum), laying wreath on the memorial of Indian soldiers who died in the region during the World War 1 in the northern city of Haifa, a meeting with leading CEOs, seeing demonstration of some innovative technologies, visiting an agricultural farm and water treatment site, and a possible meeting with Indian students.
Modi is also likely to meet Moshe, who survived the terror attack at the Nariman House in Mumbai in 2008 under dramatic circumstances saved by his brave Indian nurse who has since been felicitated by Israel for the rare display of courage. The Indian leader’s visit has generated massive interest here also in the media with a feature article in one of the leading business daily titled, “wake up: the most important PM of the world is coming”. Business daily The Marker in a feature story in its Hebrew edition discussing Indo-Israel ties a few days ago said that Israelis had set up huge expectations from US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Jewish state but “he didn’t say much” while Modi, a leader of 1.25 billion people enjoying massive popularity and representing one of the fastest growing economies of the world deserves a lot of attention. Other local newspapers and news portals have also given a lot of attention to the much publicised three day trip of the Indian Premier with The Jerusalem Post even creating a separate link, “Modi’s Visit”, where it has put up stories related to India.
Most of the local commentators have emphasised on Modi “skipping Ramallah” and it being a standalone visit focussing only on India’s ties with Israel. “Unlike most world leaders, however, Modi, who governs the world’s largest democracy and second largest nation, apparently is refusing to visit Ramallah during his Israel trip and will not schedule meetings with Palestinian Authority (PA) chief Mahmoud Abbas or other PA leaders,” Arutz Sheva said in a report. Modi had met Abbas during the PA leader’s trip to India in May, and senior Indian officials have visited Abbas at his Ramallah residence during their trips to Israel, it added. President Pranab Mukherjee had visited the region in October 2015 when he had met both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. India related activities in Israel have also attracted far more attention in view of Modi’s visit than ever before. International Yoga Day celebrations in Israel saw massive coverage by the Israeli media with some commentators talking about the “soft diplomatic power it arms New Delhi with”.
Modi’s visit is aimed at commemorating 25 years of establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. The defence ties between India and Israel have often drawn worldwide attention and acquired strategic dimensions. It is believed that Modi’s visit would further solidify security ties as Israeli defence industries have shown greater inclination towards participating in joint ventures to give a boost to NDA government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. His visit has been preceded by several other high-profile visits, including the trip of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, several senior secretaries, Minister of State for Agriculture S S Ahluwalia-led 11 member multi-party parliamentary delegation and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba’s five-day visit earlier this month. All these visits have laid the ground work for several MoUs that are likely to be signed during Modi’s visit. Doval and Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar would be accompanying the Prime Minister during his three day Israel visit.