Bennett receives invitation to his first state visit in India

Visiting FM Jaishankar extends overture on PM Modi’s behalf, as bilateral ties continue to move forward in post-Netanyahu era; no word on potential date

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Composite/AP)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Composite/AP)

Indian premier Narendra Modi on Wednesday invited Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to his first official state visit to the South Asian nation.

The invitation was extended to Bennett by Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who was in Israel for meetings with senior Israeli officials. A date for the trip has not yet been set.

Though New Delhi recognized Israel in 1950, ties were long frosty between the two nations, owing largely to India’s large Muslim population and its leadership role in the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement.

Full diplomatic relations were established in 1992.

Under the leadership of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ties blossomed between India and Israel, culminating in the late prime minister Ariel Sharon’s 2003 visit to the country, the first by an Israeli premier.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wave to the media before talks in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Defense, economic and diplomatic bilateral ties continued to grow in recent years, and Modi — like Vajpayee a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party — became the first Indian premier to visit Israel in 2017.

Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu and Modi are close personal friends who often showered each other with public praise and good wishes. Netanyahu placed a framed photograph of himself with the Indian premier strolling barefoot on an Israeli beach in his Jerusalem office, where all visiting leaders can see it.

Though Netanyahu is out of office, bilateral ties continue to move forward.

Last week, Jaishankar lauded the business relationship between his country and Israel, saying at a meeting with CEOs and government officials that India regards Israel “in many ways as perhaps our most trusted and innovative partner.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi visit the water desalination plant at Olga beach on July 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

The next day, US Secretary of State State Antony Blinken held a Zoom meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Jaishankar and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed — a signal that the countries are creating an emerging trade and security alliance.

The four top diplomats discussed “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that they also discussed expanding scientific cooperation and combating COVID.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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