By SM.14 Jan, 2018
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to the Delhi airport today to welcome Benjamin Netanyahu, the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in more than a decade. PM Modi hugged and shook hands with the Israeli leader, with whom he had developed a warm rapport during his visit to Israel last year. PM Modi also tweeted a photo of their meeting with a message: "Welcome to India, my friend PM @netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations". Accompanied by a 130-member business delegation, Netanyahu is in India on a six-day visit, during which two nations hope to deepen ties in trade and defence. The Israeli PM will hold comprehensive talks with PM Modi and also visit his home state Gujarat, where the two leaders will hold a joint road show on Wednesday.
Netanyahu and PM Modi are attending a ceremony at Teen Murti Memorial to pay homage to soldiers who died in Haifa of World War 1. The ceremony will mark the formal renaming of Teen Murti Chowk as the Teen Murti Haifa Chowk, after the battle fought in 1918 by Indian soldiers at the port city, which is now in Israel.
In Delhi, Netanyahu will have dinner with PM Modi and meet Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. Tomorrow, he will call on President Ram Nath Kovind and have further meetings with PM Modi. On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu will visit the Taj Mahal and then attend the annual "Raisina Dialogue" geo-political conference.
One of Netanyahu"s stops on the trip, the first by an Israeli premier since Ariel Sharon in 2003, will be in Mumbai where he will meet on January 18 with stars and executives of India"s mammoth film industry.
Netanyahu"s visit is seen to be an effort to build on the July decision taken last year to elevate ties to a "strategic partnership" and deepen trade ties between the two countries. Israel needs large markets for its export-driven economy and has been working towards deepening ties with India and China.
Israel and India will announce deals and joint investments in areas ranging from defence to renewable energy, Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general in charge of Asia at Israel"s Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing on Wednesday.
Netanyahu"s 130-member delegation will include the head of the Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, which lost out on $500 million deal to purchase Spike anti-tank guided missiles in November. Army Chief Bipin Rawat has said the army and the government are discussing ways to revive the order. India is one of Israel"s biggest arms market, buying around $1 billion worth of weapons every year.
Last month, India joined 127 other countries to vote in the UN General Assembly in favour of a resolution opposing the recent decision of US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel"s capital. The status of Jerusalem is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
PM Netanyahu has said the UN vote wouldn"t hurt ties. "Well I would have preferred a different vote to be frank, but I don"t think it materially changes the tremendous flowering of relations between India and Israel," he said ahead of the visit. Israel"s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, too said "The vote at the UN is important, but it will not mar the big picture of the India-Israel relationship."
PM Modi had received a rousing welcome during his visit to the Jewish state in July last year. Netanyahu, who referred to the Indian leader as his "dear friend", received him at the airport and spent the next three days at his side. The bromance was seen to be carefully choreographed, complete with shots of bear hugs and them walking barefoot together through the Mediterranean surf.
11-year Moshe Holtzberg will also accompany PM Netanyahu and participate in a function at the Chabad House in Mumbai. Moshe"s parents were killed in the 26/11 terror attack at the Chabad House.