India on Sunday accorded a red carpet welcome to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who arrived here on a six-day landmark visit that is expected to further tighten the embrace between the two countries in fields ranging from defence and counter-terrorism to trade, agriculture, water and health.
Setting aside the protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally received his ‘friend’ with a bear hug as the Israeli PM and his wife Sara disembarked from the special aircraft, reinforcing the personal chemistry between the two leaders.
The visit comes six months after Modi’s own visit to Israel and days after India voted at the UN against the US move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Though disappointed over New Delhi’s vote, Israel has chosen not to make it a big issue, given the burgeoning partnership between the two nations in key areas.
Netanyahu is the second Israeli PM to visit India in the last 25 years after the two countries established diplomatic relations. The first was by Ariel Sharon who visited India in 2003, with the then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee being his host.
Netanyahu’s visit, which is likely to be high on symbolism, will be keenly watched in Pakistan and the Arab world, concerned as they are over the increasing strategic alliance between India and Israel ever since the NDA government assumed office in New Delhi in May 2014.
Shortly after the Israeli entourage landed, the two Prime Ministers drove straight from the airport to the Teen Murti Memorial in the heart of the capital to participate in a solemn ceremony to pay homage to Indian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate Haifa in Israel in 1918. The two leaders laid wreaths at the memorial and signed the visitors’ book. The ceremony also marked the formal renaming of Teen Murti Chowk as the Teen Murti Haifa Chowk.
The Israeli PM would be formally welcomed on Monday morning at the Rashtrapati Bhavan before the two PMs hold delegation-level talks. It will be followed by inking of several MoUs between their two nations in different areas. Sources said the MoUs would be in the field of oil and gas, renewable energy, cyber security, co-production of films and documentaries, aviation and health. The two countries are also expected to issue a joint statement, declaring, among other things, their resolve to combat terrorism and enhance security cooperation.
The two countries are also expected to sign mega business deals during the visit since Netanyahu is travelling with a high-powered delegation, comprising nearly 130 businessmen from more than 100 Israeli companies. A meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind is also scheduled for tomorrow.
Netanyahu and his delegation would be travelling to Agra to see the historic Taj Mahal on Tuesday and return to Delhi later to participate in the ‘Raisina Dialogue’.
Modi would be accompanying the visiting leader on Wednesday to his home state of Gujarat where the two leaders would participate in a road show in Ahmedabad, similar to the one organised for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September last year.
Netanyahu would arrive in Mumbai on Wednesday evening to meet members of the Indian Jewish community. His scheduled in India’s commercial capital would also include a breakfast meeting with top Indian business honchos. He will also attended memorial services for the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks at the iconic Taj Hotel and the Nariman House. He will also meet top Bollywood directors and actors for exploring the possibilities of cooperation between the two countries in co-production of films.