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SIA-Tel Aviv University joint international conference on India-Israel academic dialogues

05 April 2017
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Business Standard

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's much-awaited visit to Israel later this year is in the "right order," senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor today said and hoped he will travel there with a "bipartisan" delegation.

Delivering the keynote address at an international conference here, he also said terrorism has become a "major cementing factor" contributing to growing Indo-Israeli ties.

"We have the PM's (Modi) visit to Israel coming up. (Israeli) President has set a precedent (by visiting India) and for this PM to undertake this visit this time after he has shored up his relationship with the Arab world in the Gulf countries, is in the right order, the right way to do it.

"Many expected the order to be reversed, but that would have been a mistake because of India's dependence on the Middle East for oil, and the 6-7 million Indians working in the Gulf countries, those positions should not have been jeopardised," Tharoor said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's visit to India last November had set the stage for Prime Minister Modi's historic visit to the Jewish state which is likely to take place in the middle of this year.

"Having shored up the position of Indian government in those areas, I think the PM can travel with confidence to Israel, feeling in many ways that what he is doing is something that speaks for India's independent foreign policy without in anyway compromising its relationship with anybody else.

"And, I certainly hope that he travels with a bipartisan delegation of people from across the political spectrum," Tharoor said.

The Lok Sabha member also shared that he had once joked with an Israeli ambassador that "our's is a love that dare not utter its name"

"So much being done quietly and not acknowledged and PM's visit would finally bring in that public acknowledgment," he said.

Tharoor said besides shared history, other factors have contributed to boosting ties, like terrorism.

"What started off initially as a tactic of the Palestinians, as a people...To explicitly Islamist colouration, with some of the other entrants and variants in the terrorist cause.

"In India, similarly, some Kashmiris claiming greater autonomy, few arguing independence, took on explicit Islamist colouration, with the flourishing of groups like LeT, JeM, which drew inspiration much more from what they described the tenets of radical Islam or rather radical interpretation of Islam, rather than some national cause.

"So, the sense that we are facing similar threats from similar sources, this certainly contributed to the growing closeness, enhanced defence cooperation, increasing intensification of cooperation in areas of counterterrorism and intelligence sharing and sale of weapon systems from Israel to India, of which the most famous example is the Phalcon," he added.

India and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992 and Tharoor underlined the affinity that the leaders of Israeli Labour party and Congress felt for each other in 1950, but said, the ties should be expanded, including through academic programmes.

"Israel should actually surprise everybody by talking about everything else, from public information and sustainable development and role of UN in developing world. The conversation should be expanded," he said.

Israel's Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon, speaking on the sidelines, said, Prime Minister Modi's visit will definitely take bilateral ties to another level.

"Our President has visited India and there have been ministerial visits, but we certainly hope that our ties become more visible. Our relationship is growing, but still we have a long way to go," he said.

Carmon said, our growing cooperation in various sectors, from defence, security, counterterrorism, academia and culture would serve individual interests on both sides and joint interests for a better world.

Tharoor, who is an MP from Thiruvananthapuram, pointed towards the "dwindling" Jewish community in India.

"We have a Jew Town in Kochi, and then there are Ben-Israeli Jews and the Baghdadi Jews. Ancient history is worth talking about, and even if the numbers have dwindled, we still have reason to be proud of," he said.

He also hoped that India-Israel tourism flow would increase, both ways.

"We have about 35,000 Israelis tourists coming to India ever year and 40,000 Indian tourists go to Israel. But these numbers can go up dramatically," Tharoor said.

The MP said the two countries should not be stereotyped in narrow terms, be thought of principally in terms of defence, counterterrorism, and intelligence only. "It is important, it has its place and essential, but there are many areas which, relatively speaking, are below the radar".

Tharoor also said, the US has added an "extra element" in the Indo-Israel relationship and played a useful role in contributing to the closeness between India and Israel.

"Israel first tried to sell Phalcon (airborne early warning and control radar system) to China, but since it was jointly developed with the US, they (America) vetoed it. Israel then went to the US for selling it to India, to which they said yes.

"So, if I can say rather exaggeratedly or in a tongue-in-cheek way, the US is the local barber ('Nai') in a traditional Indian village, without whose permission, a wedding cannot be fixed," he said.

He also said that while after Independence the approach of India was marked with "diffidence rather than hostility" towards Israel, after 1992 it changed.

"The overall re-orientation of the Indian foreign policy at the end of the Cold War which included complete revisioning of India's geopolitical postures and its orientation to the world, manifested principally in the changed attitude in relationship with the US, but also in Look East policy towards South East Asia and ASEAN," he added.

The conference was jointly hosted by O P Jindal Global University and Tel Aviv University.