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PM Modi, in Israel visit, seeks to break barriers in trade and history

New Delhi did not recognise the Jewish state until 1950, two years after its establishment

Isabel Kershner Ellen Barry | NYT 

PM Narendra Modi pays his respects during a visit to the  Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays his respects during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, on Tuesday. Photo: AP/PTI

Prime Minister Benjamin has long argued that, far from being diplomatically isolated because of its policies toward the Palestinians, is constantly being courted by countries seeking help in technology, intelligence and counterterrorism.

That narrative was reinforced on Tuesday when Prime Minister Narendra of India arrived in for a three-day visit, the first by an Indian premier in the 25 years since the two countries established full diplomatic relations.

“We’ve been waiting for you a long time. We’ve been waiting nearly 70 years, in fact,” since the state of was established, Mr said in his welcoming remarks at the airport.

and India already share extensive defence ties, and India recently agreed to buy about $2 billion worth of Israeli missiles and air defence systems, the largest order in Israel’s history, experts said. The two countries are now looking to expand trade and cooperation in areas like agriculture and water management.

India has long embraced the Palestinian cause and kept its distance from to protect its interests in the Arab world. But Mr seems as eager as Mr to delink from the Palestinian question and, notably, will not be combining his trip with a courtesy visit to the Palestinian Authority.

Hundreds of guests were invited to greet Mr at a red-carpet ceremony at the airport. Mr has described him as “my friend” and both have hailed the visit as “historic.”

Israel, a sliver of a country, has a population of 8.5 million, while India is a vast land with 1.3 billion people. Despite the apparent mismatch, both have developed as vibrant democracies in adverse conditions and have many joint interests.

“We have the same enemy: radical Islam,” said Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “Like us, they live in a difficult neighbourhood,” he added, alluding to Pakistan and China.

Professor Inbar said that Indian weapons procurements from amounted to more than $1 billion a year and that the countries made “good partners” in other areas of security and innovation.

“The sky is the limit in this relationship,” he said, with India now an economic power and the strength of the Arab world declining. “We are just scratching the surface.”

For India, the visit is the culmination of a gradual policy pivot.

PR Kumaraswamy, a professor of international affairs at Jawaharlal Nehru University in and the author of “India’s Policy,” compared it to a clandestine love affair that has, at last, been brought out into the open.

“You have a relationship, but you are not ready to admit it in public,” Professor Kumaraswamy said. “If I’m going to have an affair with a woman, I’m not going to make her part of all my decision-making. But if you marry a person, it’s the whole package: where you want to live, how you see your life 20 years from today.”

India’s position traces to the last days of the British Raj, when its nationalist leaders saw common cause with the post-colonial Arab world. With independence came a far more practical consideration: The governing Indian Congress party was desperate to secure the loyalty of India’s large Muslim minority, which was also being wooed by the Muslim League.

did not recognise the Jewish state until 1950, two years after its establishment. The militaries of the two countries steadily built ties starting in the 1980s, as India sought suppliers outside the Soviet bloc, but the two governments did not establish full diplomatic relations until 1992, under Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.

“When the Cold War ended, India had to say, ‘I know there is a new world,’ and the most effective way of doing this is establishing relations with Israel,” Professor Kumaraswamy said. “By changing the relations, he said, ‘I am breaking from the past.’”

For Mr Modi, this visit serves a similar purpose. Unlike its nemesis, the socialist Congress Party, his Hindu nationalist party has always argued for better relations with Professor Kumaraswamy said Mr hoped his visit would allow India to gain access to both civilian and military technology.

“At a much larger level, by coming out into the open, by visiting and not Palestine, he is going to communicate the message that is part of the Middle East,” he said. “He is normalising as part of the larger Middle East.”

Mr met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in in May, and assured him of India’s “unwavering support” for the Palestinian cause and for the “realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, coexisting peacefully with

Mr Modi’s first stop, after the airport, was an Israeli farm that exports cut flowers to more than 60 countries. He then visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.

At a large event on Wednesday for the Indian community in Israel, Mr was expected to meet Moshe Holtzberg, an Israeli boy who, as a toddler, was spirited out of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish centre in Mumbai by his Indian nanny during a deadly terrorist attack in 2008. Moshe’s parents, who operated the centre, were killed along with four other hostages. Moshe and his nanny came to live in

Kabir Taneja, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank, said the meeting was likely to be significant because the siege on the Chabad centre “cemented a certain narrative between India and on counterterrorism.”

Shortly before Mr landed, the Israeli police announced that they had thwarted an attack after arresting six Palestinian suspects in a vehicle at a West Bank checkpoint. The police said that a bag in the vehicle contained knives, stun grenades and materials for firebombs, and that the suspects had been heading for

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