India readies red carpet for Israeli PM Netanyahu


by S Venkat Narayan - Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, December 28: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will pay a four-day official visit to India from January 16. It will be the first by an Israeli premier in 14 years after the 2003 trip by Ariel Sharon.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will spend four days with Netanyahu weeks after India’s Jerusalem vote at the UN on December 21, prompting a diplomatic protest by the Israeli government which "expressed its comments and sentiments" through diplomatic channels.

Netanyahu’s visit is expected to mark a new high in bilateral relations. He has a packed schedule. While the formal part of the visit will be in the national capital, where he will also deliver a keynote address at the Raisina Dialogue, Netanyahu will take a break from his official engagements to see the Taj Mahal in Agra with his wife. Modi will then accompany him to Ahmedabad where, as then Gujarat chief minister, he had intensified ties with Israel.

Netanyahu will meet India’s business leaders in Mumbai and spend some emotionally charged moments with young Moshe, who will be returning to the Chabad House, the place where his parents were killed during the 26/11terror attack in 2008.

Modi had met Moshe during his visit to Israel in July, and had promised him a life-long visa for India. Netanyahu then asked the teenager to accompany him when he goes to India.

Netanyahu had been by Modi’s side during his three days in Israel, and Modi will return the gesture. Like Modi, Netanyahu will make this a stand-alone visit. A few weeks later, Modi will undertake a visit to Palestine, his first.

While agriculture and water dominated Modi’s visit to Israel, innovation is likely to be the highlight for the Netanyahu visit. The Israeli leader will be accompanied by over 75 companies in different sectors, hoping to make a match of it with their Indian counterparts, The Times of India reported today.

Israel is now home to over 500 start-ups in the auto sector, something that is of interest in India. In addition, the joint statement is expected to have a progress report of the things achieved after the last summit.

Bollywood is expected to play a big part. For the first time, a group of Bollywood producers, including well-known director Imtiaz Ali, had toured Israel to scout for co-production opportunities. Netanyahu is likely to meet some stars and directors during his stay in Mumbai.

Netanyahu has been focusing on Asia, Africa and Latin America as new areas for Israel’s foreign policy, with 2017 seeing three Asian visits and, for the first time, a Latin American sojourn.

The Jerusalem vote in the UN last week saw Mexico, Colombia and Argentina abstain among the 35 countries abstaining, indicating that Israel was no longer the international pariah it used to be. For Israel, India’s vote was a disappointment while Bhutan’s abstention was a source of happiness.

But gradually, Israel is taking such disappointments in its stride and getting to a place where it is leveraging strong bilateral relations for multilateral recognition.

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