Naor Gilon is Israel’s Ambassador to India. A veteran diplomat, he has been Israel’s envoy to Italy and The Netherlands too, among other important positions he has held. He has done Masters in International Relations from Corvinus University in Budapest (Hungary). In an interview with Ashok Tuteja and Nikhil Vyas, Gilon spoke at length about India-Israel relations and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, among other issues. Excerpts:
Q. When is Israel’s Prime Minister expected to visit India and what is the agenda of his visit?
A: I hope we will be able to do the visit this year. The last two meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a very strong boost to relations between the two countries. Our cooperation in technology is a very strong element in the relations and I think it will be a driver of the relationship towards the future. A full range of topics, including defence, foreign policy and economic ties, will be discussed between the two Prime Ministers.
Q. How do you look at the personal chemistry between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Netanyahu?
A: They have many similarities in terms of their point of view of the world. Their personal chemistry has been a game-changer in relations between India and Israel. These two visits upgraded the relations towards strategic partnerships. I believe every time they meet good things will come out because of their personal chemistry.
Q. Cooperation between India and Israel has been increasing in multiple fields. Can you throw some light on this cooperation, especially in the defence and counter-Insurgency areas?
A: From the late 1960s, defence cooperation started between the two countries. The formal relations happened only in 1992 but over the years we already had cooperation in the field of defence. Israel understands the logic behind India’s need for the ‘Make in India’ programme when it comes to defence. We also understand India’s need for technology. Israeli defence companies have over 80 joint ventures in India. We have a lot of cooperation in different fields. When it comes to counter-terrorism, India and Israel share the same vision against terrorism. We were the victims of terrorism together in the past. The Mumbai attack was one example when Israeli citizens also were targeted and murdered.
Q. What is the progress in negotiations between India and Israel on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA)? When do you think the agreement will be signed?
A: I hope the FTA will be there sooner rather than later. We think India is a very important partner. When you look at the trade between India and Israel, in 1992 it was about 200 million dollars. Today 30 years later, trade is 10 billion dollars and it is without defence. FTA can be a good supplement to further increase and enhance our relations.
Q. Both India and Israel are members of the I2U2 (India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States) alliance, which aims to cooperate on joint investments and new initiatives in water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security. Has the alliance identified any projects for cooperation among the four countries?
A: First, two projects are to be implemented in India. One is in the field of food security that is in food farms in India by a UAE company using Israeli technology. The other project is in Green Energy. So far, none of them have turned into projects. We hope things will be settled. At the end of day, the idea is tie-ups in I2U2 will be done between private sector companies. It is not government to government. The governments will support the execution. The agreements will be private sector to private sector that is B2B. I2U2 is a very important mechanism. These four countries are getting together for a certain purpose which is development, economics, food security, green energy and making the world a better place.
Q. What is Israel’s position on the India-China military standoff in eastern Ladakh?
A: This (issue) is not connected to us. We have good relations with both India and China. Like India, we try not to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries.
Q. There have been reports from time to time that Israel may establish diplomatic ties with Pakistan now that the country has diplomatic relations with many countries in West Asia. How credible are these reports?
A: So far, I don’t see any sign on the Pakistani side to have anything to do with Israel. We now have good relations with many countries in the Middle East, including UAE and Bahrain. We hope to have good relations with Saudi Arabia and Oman too in the near future but I don’t see any sign that Pakistan is trying to approach us.
Q. What is Israel’s position on the Ukraine conflict?
A: Any conflict is bad. To see civilians dying now in the world today is very sad. The conflict might stop tomorrow but there is no sign of an end. We believe that it should be stopped as soon as possible. We have given humanitarian support to Ukraine. We have a significant Jewish population in both Russia and Ukraine. This is another area of concern to us. When India evacuated its huge number of students from Ukraine, we at the same time had to evacuate people, most of them already Israeli citizens. There were people who were Jewish, they got Israeli citizenship and they went back to Ukraine.
Q. Does Israel support India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council?
A: We want friends of Israel in the Security Council. India by any parameters should be its member, by the size of its population, by the size of its economy that is already fifth in the world.
Q. How do you look at people-to-people links between India and Israel?
A: As a diplomat who has worked in many countries in the world, I have seen popular and wide support for Israel in India. People in India are huge supporters of Israel. Many Israelis after military service come to India as tourists. We do a lot of women empowerment here. By the end of October, if everything works well, four weekly flights from Israel to Mumbai will start and two weekly flights from Israel to Delhi will start. More flights will enable more communication, more business and more tourism between the two countries.