A fanatic regime with nuclear weapon is very dangerous; JCPOA not perfect: Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon

Israel-India relations are embracing new dimensions, reaching up to new kind of alliance in geopolitical space. I2U2 is the alternative. Long drawn into defence cooperation with India, the making of FTA with Israel will unfold immense opportunities. In an exclusive interaction, Israeli Ambassador Naor Gilon speaks with Manish Kumar Jha of Financial Express on a range of issues that span from the burgeoning trade relations beyond defence. Amb Gilon also highlights the Iran’s role in destabilizing nations through terrorism, JCPOA as a bad idea and the ultimate solution for the Palestine.

Iran Nuclear Plant

Israeli Ambassador to India Naor Gilon

Manish K Jha: Israel and India share great relations. We hit about $6 billion in our two-way trade. Why did it take such a long time to formulate a free trade deal with India? What are the exceptions and the potential areas to enhance the trade and investment?

Amb N. Gilon:

I think that it was somehow raised the idea of FTA a few years ago, but it was not executed. In the beginning, India was very cautious with FTAs. I think that the big push came when S. Jaishankar went to Israel last October, and there was an agreement to put forward the agreement. Now India is in parallel working with a few countries and also Israel is working on a new field. And if you want to understand, frankly, the problem, unfortunately, the visit of Prime Minister was delayed because of his Covid-19. I think this visit could have expedited, because if you know the pressures to perform to finish it.

So, I think that the differences are not that big. There was already one round of discussions when the Indian side went to Israel for a few days on negotiations. Maybe this month, there will be a continuation.

Manish K Jha: But what are the main barriers?

Amb N. Gilon: Certain products is not necessarily the only main problem. It’s just to sit down and agree that this is important to do and do it. It’s easier when there is a high-level visit because there is pressure on the system to deliver. Everything takes time. It is slower. I hope it will it will happen in the coming months.

Manish K Jha: Do you consider security as a part of trade pact? Does it come under the realm of such treaty?

Amb N. Gilon: Security comes on its own. It’s with its own terms of reference, you know, it’s totally different. It’s not part of the FTA.

Manish K Jha: You also red-flagged the issue regarding the IP problem in the context of broader ‘Make in India’ initiatives. How serious are such breach of IPs and if you could outline the measures that you seek?

Amb N. Gilon: I think first of all, there is high level of trust, you can see both in the defence sector where we cooperate on the most advanced technologies in the world, but also even on the civilian trade. You see that in Haifa. Israel in the Mediterranean has two ports. One of them is now a strategic asset of Israel, because Israel is the de-facto Island and we felt comfortable enough to think of the country to give it to India. Now, there are three cases, for example, of Israeli companies, who they feel that their IPs were breached, or treated in different ways, it’s different in each case.

It’s in court, it’s in the patent office. Israel is a small market. We don’t want the reputation to be such a country that because of such a few small players to be bad, and we want to do a lot within the ‘make in India’ in the defence sector. I think the trust is there. But it’s important to prevent these small mischiefs.

The legal process, or the patent legal process, takes now ages and, you know, for the companies, it’s a big issue. So that’s the point.

Manish K Jha: Is it happening for a long time and it took time to highlight it as it has come to the scale that it is being questioned now?

Amb N. Gilon: It’s accumulated in less than one year, three different cases in three different fields. The stories are not that different from each other. This is on the fringes.

Manish K Jha:  Adani port has acquired Haifa. How significant is the development in terms of the commercial transaction and was it under discussion for a long time? How will it unfold in realizing greater potential?

Amb N. Gilon: There was a long process of tender in Israel and attorney made the shortlist. I think there were four companies.

I think about two years ago when it was out and I was Ambassador to the Netherlands. I tried to interest the Dutch elements. We wanted serious players. I think there were four and they had initial proposals, and Adani came on first. And you know, Adani is a serious player and they have a lot of experience in the ports. I think it can be also strategic. And now it’s going to give an opening to the Mediterranean towards the west and other opening.

And now with the Abraham Accords, we can imagine of ideas of finding new routes. Saudi Arabia now allows Israeli overflights. you can think of your routes, can be railways, it can be roads, it could be things that can will enable to transfer. But I think so far, it’s an opening of a new direction altogether.

I must say that Adani group and also other big Indian players already involved in the Israeli market for quite a long time.  I think that just on the fence; we have about 10 new joint ventures already with Indian companies.

Manish K Jha: I2U2 looks like a significant achievement but critics point out, it is the result of the clumsy geopolitical situation that four parties come together.  So how do you define it? The recent I2U2 alliance led a $2 billion project financed by the UAE focused on agriculture in India. What are the propositions from Israel within the framework?  Do we see the greater security cooperation and multilateral military exercise taking shape under I2U2?

Amb N. Gilon:

I will give you the wider scope. I believe the title I2U2 is a very interesting initiative. Because if you look at the ITU2, we have no common borders, none of the four has gotten borders with another. And we do share common values and common interest. I think this is the important thing. And it was enabled to a large extent, probably by the Abraham Accords. UAE suddenly sees Israel as an ally, as a potential partner in many fields. Of course, India is very strong in the UAE and so the triangle is very strong and having the Americans is always the bonus as they bring into the system, the technology and the investment.

I think it’s a wonderful Alliance.  If you will take four countries, probably an analysis of the international arena, we will agree on 90% of the things.

Usually, yes, our approach towards Iran probably is different than the Indian approach.

So, we see it differently, we see this destabilizing terror supporting force, which is seeking to a combination between an extreme ideological, religious regime and nuclear weapon. We think, it’s very dangerous, because you give capacity to the wrong people, or this combination can be dangerous. So, this is really purely the uniting of these four countries in order to better the situation of their own population and the situation in the world. When you see that the two first projects that were elected are, first of all, both of them in India.  Not only one is food security, the big technological food farms, there is the green technology and farms for wind and solar.

Manish K Jha:  What are the plans for investment through I2U2?

Amb N. Gilon: They had on the table and list of a few projects because the whole concept is that the government will decide on the projects and the private sector in the countries will do. Money can come also from Israel, India, also from the US. This is not a question but once the private sector is the floor then we have to only facilitate.

Manish K Jha: Will the forum also be a coherent voice in geopolitical arena?

Amb N. Gilon: I don’t think so. In the paralysed international organizations, people are looking for alternative like-minded organizations and groupings.  And this the I2U2, is another grouping with another aim and another country. So, I think this is an outcome of paralysed international system.

Manish K Jha: Israel has initiated various projects in areas like water resources, agriculture, energy based on its famed tech innovations. Could you talk about some of breakthrough projects and innovations in India?

Amb N. Gilon: First of all, Israel is known as the startup nation. If you look at the numbers of Israeli startups, we are present in most categories, the leaders in the world, from the number of startups to capital investment. Israel’s government investment in R&D is the highest in the world. It’s almost 5%. It’s a mix of both government and private sector interest. One in 10, unicorns in technology comes from Israel. And we started with agriculture in Israel, because Israel was an agriculture country. And then that’s how we started drip irrigation and different things that we developed over the years.  We are the net exporters in agriculture.

This is the starting point. Now when it comes to India Israel, we started in the defence even before we had diplomatic relations. In agriculture, we opened around India and about now we are going to open our 30 Centres of Excellence which have spread over 16 states in India.

Manish K Jha: Is it fully funded by Israeli government?

Amb N. Gilon: So, by next year, we hope to reach about 40 Centres of Excellence. The concept there is that we understand what is the need of the Indian farmer because the average Indian farmer holds very small plot and hard pressed to pay for technology.

Our technological inputs in drip irrigation, smart fertiliser and fertilising system brought substantial changes. I’ve visited with these places and they say that the crops will be four times the crops he had before, because he has two cycles a year instead of one. And each cycle is more or less doubled because of yield.

The local government is our partner. What happens is that the local government brings the funding, land, infrastructure and the technology. We work on capacity building, we bring the experts regularly, we bring the planning and technology that we advise to put into it. That’s done by Israel and that’s our investment, then the rest of the investment is done by the Indian side. The Centre of Excellence also produce seeds, and they sell it to the farmers in affordable prices. The farmer would get usually 70% subsidy for the for the new technology.

Manish K Jha: Our defence budget remains at $74 billion; is it time to talk about the industrial defence cooperation. What are the areas of cooperation advanced technologies? How can Israel cooperate with Indian in developing UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and defensive capabilities?

Amb N. Gilon: So first of all, I think that the ‘Make in India’ is the right approach for India in general. You can see how vulnerable is dependency in the current Ukraine crisis. India, being a superpower makes total sense to be indigenous.

It’s not my idea, also your Prime Minister when I met him together with the Minister of Defence spoke about ‘Make in India’ very substantive. He thinks that Israel would be probably an ultimate partner in defence you have to have trust. Our systems are all being used in combat one way or another. We are a country under constant situation of security needs. So, it is all about trust that we have.

Manish K Jha: Could you talk about the joint production military on UAVs in India?

Amb N. Gilon: UAVs will start. We have already about more or less 10 joint ventures in the defence between Israeli defence companies and local companies and we are very happy.

Heron TP UAV

Money is not an issue here. I think the issue is getting things going into these joint ventures.

Once India decides on the Heron TP, it will be very well into the guidelines of ‘Make in India.’ So, a big part of it will be make in India.

According to your guidelines, we are prepared to do that. We think that there is a good potential for Israel, because it goes beyond just India, as it opens the possibility for third markets for [Export]. The potential is big and Israel is a strong partner in that because of the trust between us, but also because our industries are relatively agile. We are not huge.

Manish K Jha: Further on collaborating on advanced technologies like jet engine?  

Amb N. Gilon: Since we have very deep trust with the US and US is very strong on certain technologies. For example, we don’t develop defence platforms, we base ourselves on American platforms, airplanes, but we will add our different mediation system. So, the radar, missiles, or electronic defence, all of them will probably be Israeli, not American.

It’s a two -way road with us and American. So, again, we are the world leaders in UAVs, we are world leaders in smart ammunition and in some cases in cyber warfare, cyber defence, etc.  Our reason for developing usually will be a need of our defence system.

So now we have tested for the first time in the world a laser testing interceptor against rockets. And this is a huge thing. So, idea was always there, but they were always technological issues. It’s not the final version but take another year or two.  And then we intercept it very smartly. I mean, Iron Dome for me, is really genius.  How do you meet a metal flying with no navigation?  So, it is the lights that are running one towards the other end, like dance in the sky. So, if you have laser capability, you can very fast and cheap.

Manish K Jha: Equally effective, isn’t? The laser is equally effective against that 


Amb N. Gilon: Now, it is the chemical reaction and it’s a different league. And you know, now, our radar and our systems are the basis of the interceptor. In quantum computers, India is more advanced than Israel. So here, there is an interest of Israel to cooperate within the country, because India has an added value.  You don’t have to be indigenous in everything in life. We tried to be self-sufficient, as much as needed to have a reliable partner as the US as a supplier. India hopefully sees in Israel the same as a partner, that will always be there for you. And I think these are the basics.

Manish Kumar Jha: On a wider geopolitical level, how do you look at the new level of complexity in your relations with Iran and especially over the JCPOA? It is also to be noted that Iran has halted any monitoring of its nuclear enrichment program?

Amb N. Gilon: To start with the JCPOA was a very bad idea. Why was it a bad idea? Because of a few elements, first of all, what is the biggest problem with Iran before nuclear. It’s the attitude. What happened in the Middle East? Most people admit strategically about this. For many years, the most of the Middle East countries were ruled by Sunni leaderships even in countries where the Shiites were the biggest majority of the population. The only country they took over was Lebanon through Hezbollah– the de facto ruler of Lebanon, today’s proxies. They are also political power. It’s not only that they are the strongest military power, stronger than the Lebanese army, but they are also political party, no coalition without them they are they are the coalition.

So, in this sense, Iran started to destabilise countries that are not playing in their favour. So that you can look at the map of Iran, Iraq, we don’t have to say as we see what’s happening now, with the system with most of them, they’re systemic. And there is a crisis now, with Iranian involvement, is inability to create the government. Iran is playing in Iraqi politics and they came into Syria then they stayed there.  Lebanon, which used to be called the Paris of the Middle East now looks like a hellish place.

Yeah, this is what the agreement created this a situation where the Iranians can make the process of manufacturing, nuclear, accumulating nuclear fissile material, more efficient and better. And they are not working on a civilian, really, there is no record in the civilian place for 60% of enrichment.

Usually, civilian goes up to 20%. Nuclear bomb is 90%. There is fissile material that will shorten the exit time. So, what’s happening here, the time has elapsed, they were not in the agreement. And even when they want to go back to the bad JCPOA they are not extending the timetable. Iran was accumulating things against the agreement. So, this agreement is dead-on arrival.

Manish K Jha: How serious I mean, given that Iran has stopped the monitoring system, and they are now openly enriching it?

Amb N. Gilon: They are just using the agreement in order to legitimize to blame the EU or the US or Israel. And I’m saying again, the problem of Israel is not the nuclear weapon per se. It’s the combination between a very fanatic religious leadership that people like even Akbar Rafsanjani, a former president, who was not a religious fanatic, spoke about one bomb that could destroy all the State of Israel. I think that the combination between a very ideological, fateful regime and nuclear weapon is very dangerous.

Manish K Jha: Israel-Palestine conflict continues to escalate. It is alleged that Israel is further pushing its boundary beyond the segregated West bank while Hamas continues to strike across Israel, targeting civilian indiscriminately. What is the everlasting peace proposal for the Palestine? What is your take?

Amb N. Gilon:  You know, it’s a long process that has been going with the Palestinian Authority from the early 90s. We were close in some times for the final agreement. But we failed, especially because of terrorism. But at the end of the day, it’s a big risk. You know, we saw what happened in Gaza when Israel disengaged from Gaza.  When we left, the Palestinian Authority was in power. They had like 10 times more soldiers than Hamas. And Hamas just took over like nothing happened.

Since then, we understand that Gaza is really a hostage in the hands of Hamas, because every time they shoot Israel, they shoot Israeli civilian population.

The population of Gaza is the one that suffers. I think that in the environment today, there is much less trust with the Palestinians. We are still living together. Palestinians are working in Israel; many licenses to work are given so it is the engine of their economy and so that we are integrated together. I think that there is no political leadership now on the Palestinian side.

Manish K Jha: So, there is no peace talks because of the lack of political leadership in Palestine?

Amb N. Gilon: You have to have a strong partner in order to take risks. And I think that we feel the condition is not right now, but we are trying to create some kind of coexistence. Now, the speaking of new industrial parks, and new cooperation, we are trying to elevate the level of living of the Palestinians as it will also facilitate peace, when the conditions will be will be right.

Better education, health services, and openness in economy give you readiness for democracy for abandoning arms and terrorism. We are working on that; we are working with that element of the relations.

Manish K Jha:  So, are you taking moral responsibility to create a situation in Palestine to have an environment for mutual dialogue and discussion?

Amb N. Gilon: It’s the Palestinian people’s decision. We can work with elected leadership, when it will be elected, I hope we will not have a repetition of what happened in Gaza. That’s the nightmare for everyone. And I hope that with time the Palestinians, when they have the next elections, they will go for people who are for state building and capacity building of their own country. Now, most of the energy is taken out on the diplomatic war against Israel in international arena. It gives them some satisfaction, but it doesn’t promote them in any way to better lives for the people. And so, it’s a useless waste of energy. World is already tired from the Palestinians.

I think that for a long time, they were protected but it led nowhere. Money was poured into it, but went into corruption. And I think people are tired. And I think that this is already the approach of the world.

And I think once the Palestinians will understand that now time has come and challenge Israel in a positive way like building State, then Israel will have to start having an internal debate.

Manish K Jha: So, in your larger vision, in the future, you still want to see a Palestine, a smaller state, a democratic and independent nation living next to you. And as a good neighbour, do you see that?

Amb N. Gilon:  There are different visions that are put on the table. If the trust will be built under good conditions it will be on both sides. Probably the definition will be less important. The formal definition was given to the to the relations of whether it’s two states or it’s something else. It will be less important because the bond will be there. So, the way of handling things is not through conflict through cooperation and discussion. And if we would reach one day in this situation, the definition will be less important. We will find the destination. If we work out the practicalities on the ground, the definition will come down.  

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