Just one week after a hush-hush visit to Washington, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first in his position to visit Israel — and it was anything but subdued.
Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in three days of public exhortations of their two countries' deepening friendship, economic interdependence and shared history. Unusual for such a lengthy visit, the two leaders spent almost the entire time by each others' sides.
At a huge flower farm home to horticulture technology that India hopes to adopt from Israel, farmers even named a new fast-growing species of chrysanthemum after the Indian leader.
In a fitting cap to the warm buzz of agreements signed, smiles shared and hands shaken, Modi and Netanyahu spent a few of their final hours together on Olga Beach in the northern city of Hadera, cooling their toes in the Mediterranean. Netanyahu even gifted Modi a picture of them in the water, acclaiming their “deepest friendship.”
There was, in fact, a practical reason the two leaders went for this stroll beyond an endearing demonstration of their newfound affection. They were there to test drive a “mobile desalination buggy,” a kind of souped-up dune buggy that can make seawater potable.
“We went on a jeep,” Netanyahu said. “But you can say that it is a future-jeep.”
The buggy ride was indicative of the wider goals of the visit. India and Israel discussed trade cooperation in a number of sectors, including water technologies, pharmaceuticals, agricultural equipment, and last but certainly not least, massive defense contracts that total near $3 billion this year alone. India is Israel's biggest defense technology customer.
Another goal of the trip has been the “de-hyphenation” of India's relationship with Israel and Palestine. Unlike many world leaders, Modi did not “balance” his trip with meetings with leaders of the Palestinian Authority (though PA President Mahmoud Abbas was recently in New Delhi). India was the first non-Arab state to recognize the Palestinian Authority in 1988, but it also normalized relations with Israel four years later. Modi is signaling that he won't let geopolitics get in the way of trade deals, which lines up with his record of concentrating on deals rather than diplomacy while on trips abroad.
Modi also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, and called upon Moshe Holtzberg, a now-10-year-old boy who survived the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that took both of his parents' lives. He and Netanyahu also paid tribute to Indian soldiers who fought during World War I and are buried in a cemetery in the northern city of Haifa.