ALSO READBenjamin Netanyahu's visit to India: Diamond trade, investments on agenda Linking of Israeli anti-tank missiles deal likely as Netanyahu visits India India-Israel ties are based on own merit, says Professor Harsh V Pant Netanyahu visit: Modi to reciprocate warm reception he received in Israel Periscope: Modi-Netanyahu roadshow of bonhomie; Rahul Gandhi's court date
Relations between India and Israel are like a "marriage made in heaven" and just one negative vote at the United Nations (UN) cannot change the dynamics between the two nations, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a six-day visit to India that started on Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday set aside protocol to personally receive his Israeli counterpart and "friend" with a warm hug as he arrived in New Delhi on a six-day visit to step up growing trade as well as military and strategic ties between the two countries. As Netanyahu and his wife Sara stepped on the red carpet at the airport, a smiling Modi embraced the Israeli leader and then shook hands with the couple.
"Welcome to India, my friend Netanyahu! Your visit to India is historic and special. It will further cement the close friendship between our nations," Modi tweeted in English and Hebrew. Netanyahu quickly responded. "Thank you to my good friend Narendra Modi for the warm welcome."
Modi and Netanyahu, who have developed a close friendship, exchanging greetings on social media on various occasions and hugging each other heartily, will hold talks on a range of issues on Monday after President Ram Nath Kovind formally welcomes the Israeli leader at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The visit, which marks 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, comes six months after Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Jewish state in July last year.
What Netanyahu said about India-Israel ties:
1) India is an 'important world power': Before embarking on the flight to India, Netanyahu said his trip was intended to strengthen bilateral relations "even more".
"This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power," he said. "Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit." He said that strengthening the relationship between Israel and "this important world power... helps us with security, the economy, trade, tourism and many other aspects".
2) One vote at the UN won't impact ties: In December last year, India voted in favour of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the UN opposing the United States' decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The resolution was approved with 127-9 at the UN General Assembly.
However, Netanyahu set aside concerns that the vote in question would hamper ties. "I don't think one vote affects a general trend you can see in many other votes and everything and these visits," Netanyahu said when asked to comment on India's vote at the UN, in an interview on an Indian TV channel.
3) But, Israel was 'disappointed': While India's vote at the UN would not hamper ties, Netanyahu did add that Israel was "disappointed" by India's position in the matter. "Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts, be it political, technological, tourism, security and so many other areas. Ultimately, you see it reflected in all UN votes, not just now but soon," he said.
4) A 'marriage made in heaven': Describing India-Israel ties as a "special relationship", the Israeli Prime Minister spoke of people to people ties and the relationship between the leaders of the two countries.
"First of all, there is a special relationship between the two countries, between their people and then between the leaders. The partnership between India and Israel is a marriage made in heaven but consecrated on earth," Netanyahu said, adding that he respects his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi "as a great leader" because he is "impatient to bring the future to his people".
5) Israel has helped stop 30 major terrorist attacks: A key facet of India-Israel ties over the past years has been the cooperation between the two nations and their security forces in fighting the menace of terrorism.
On cooperation in counter-terrorism, Netanyahu said that intelligence is the key. "And Israel has, on the whole, superb intelligence. I would say none is better. And we share with you our intelligence and have stopped over the last few years some 30 major terror attacks, which we shared vis-a-vis not India alone but with dozens of countries."
"Israel protects lives of so many people. When you board a plane, you want to know that plane won't be blown up mid air. It will take off and land safely. When that happens, usually Israel has something to do with it, not on every flight but on many flights," he said.
6) Fight terrorism by 'fighting it': Asked if he approves of India's counter-terrorism strikes launched across the border with Pakistan, he said that India makes its own choices and "you fight terrorism by fighting it".
As the interviewer persisted, a smiling Netanyahu said: "Well, I am trying to be a foreign minister. I am trying to be a diplomat, because I hold two portfolios — the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at the same time."
7) Helping with China: Asked if Israel can use its good offices with China to persuade it to not veto a resolution against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Netanyahu said: "I think these things are best discussed not on television, especially if you want to make progress."
However, he also said: "But our defence relationship is quite significant and comprises many things. I think the key word here is defence."
"We want to defend ourselves, we are not aggressive nations. We are very committed to making sure that none can commit an aggression against the either one of us," he added.
8) The future belongs to those who innovate: On the bilateral trade relations, the Israeli Prime Minister said that "there is a whole world that is erupting, exploding".
Advocating a free trade agreement (FTA) with India to boost and deepen bilateral economic relations, he said: "Israel is changing so rapidly. We are creating industries. We have just created a car industry in just last five years. We have 500 start-ups dealing with automation of cars."
"And there are other areas like water, agriculture, energy, health, transportation. There is a whole world that is erupting, exploding. Future belongs to those who innovate... Israel is an innovation nation. India has innovations. In Silicon Valley, there are two dialects you hear Hindi and Hebrew and only a little English."
9) Here in India on 'a historic visit': External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discussed various aspects of the Indo-Israel ties aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership.
According to a statement by Netanyahu's media adviser, the Israeli Prime Minister told Swaraj that there is a lot of enthusiasm for improving ties not only in the meetings at the level of government and leaders but also among the people of the two countries.
"We are here in India on a historic visit. It is important for the state of Israel that one of the major powers (India) wants to develop close relations in many areas -- economics, trade, security and agriculture," the statement quoted Netanyahu as saying during his meeting with Swaraj.
10) 'Closing a circle': Netanyahu said that when he visited the iconic Teen Murti war memorial at Haifa circle, he felt "an expression of gratitude" because it was Indian soldiers who laid down their lives while defending the city of Haifa (now in Israel) during the first world war.
"It's closing of a circle 100 years later," he said.
In a sign of growing importance of India's ties with Israel, the government on Sunday renamed Delhi's Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti-Haifa Chowk after the Israeli city.