By Amit Mukherjee
India-Israel Relations are yet again at a new milestone with the forthcoming visit of President Reuven Rivlin to India from November 14-21. This visit is in continuation of both nations engaging in highest levels of exchanges that has recently seen the visits of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee to Israel while Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yalon visited India in February 2015.
The build up to President Rivlin’s visit is a well-balanced policy to engage Israel as a strategic partner in developmental projects as well as in the security sphere. Home Minister Singh during his November 2014 visit communicated that ‘India and Israel share very warm and cordial bilateral relations. We look forward to strengthen it further’. Mr. Singh’s visit was exclusive to the State of Israel and did not include a customary visit to Palestine. This raised a few eyebrows and was seen as indicative of a change in India’s foreign policy stance after the present government came to power in 2014. While no official explanation was given for Mr. Singh not visiting Ramallah, avoiding a Palestinian visit may have been a culmination of choices based somewhere between pragmatic rationality and time constraints.
Coming to the present visit, reports note that a large delegation comprising of government officials and business representatives from fields as varied as agriculture, cyber security, education, energy, and water technologies would accompany President Rivlin. The delegation size indicates the intent and interest of both sides in increasing cooperation across many areas. While India-Israel trade reached a peak of USD 6.5 billion in 2011-2012, it has remained steady at USD 4.5 billion since then. This of course does not include defense and security deals which have been kept under close wraps. Conservative estimates though indicate that their value is 2 to 3 times the amount of civilian trade.
The need to give a fillip to bilateral engagement would certainly be high on the visiting team’s agenda. New arenas of cooperation would include cyber security cooperation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had extended a proposal for close cooperation on cyber security initiatives when he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York in 2014. Israel is a leader in cyber security technologies.
IT giants Paypal, IBM, EMC, RSA, VMWare, General Electric, Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, Lockheed Martin, CA Technologies, McAfee, IBM and Ciscom, among others have set up cyber security research centers in the country. Israeli firm Cyber Spark is said to be in talks with TATA group, Reliance, and IITs for setting up startup incubators for cyber technology. Wipro invested USD 1.5 million in Insights Cyber Intelligence Limited recently, a firm which specializes in rapid mitigation systems. India is known to be vulnerable in terms of cyber attacks and in line with the growing threats, Indian IT officials have held discussions with their Israeli counterparts to set up cyber security initiatives that may get reaffirmation during the Presidential visit.
The recent attacks in India from across the border and the subsequent retaliation by India as witnessed in the form of surgical strikes, has again brought to attention the need to seal the difficult border areas. India would be interested in procuring Israeli laser fencing and monitoring systems in areas where physical fences cannot be placed. There is a possibility that Israel may enhance homeland security cooperation with India. It is also notable that, for the first time, a delegation of defence companies belonging to the private sector visited Israel in February 2016 to explore opportunities for strengthening collaboration.
India has also been keenly seeking cooperation on areas like food processing, storage and transport from Israel in the recent past. According to reports, 21 million tonnes of wheat every year perishes in India due to inadequate facilities. Another report noted that 133 billion Rupees worth of fruits and vegetable perish due to lack of cold chain storage facilities. Israeli post-harvest technologies could be very useful in this regard. Israeli Centres of Excellence in agriculture already are operating in India.
Due to acute water scarcity, there is scope for establishing more number of desalination projects involving public-private partnerships. IDE, a leading Israeli company in desalination, has several plants operating in India including in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Another Israeli company, Mekorot, has plants in Mumbai, West Bengal, and is setting up a waste water recycling plant along with a research center for water technologies in Rajasthan. In the renewable energy sector, there is considerable scope for research and development between India and Israel.
President Rivlin could probably extend an invitation to Modi to visit Israel. As and when it would take place, it would be the first Prime Ministerial visit to Israel, which would further strengthen the bilateral cooperation and mark the next milestone on the road to ever closer co-operation.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://idsa.in/idsacomments/rivlins-visit-to-india_amukherjee_111116