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Israel is ‘our most trusted partner,’ says India’s foreign minister in Jerusalem

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will meet PM Bennett, President Herzog and FM Lapid on Monday; will participate in Zoom call with Blinken, UAE’s Bin Zayed

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speaks to Indian-Israelis at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, October 17, 2021. (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)
Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speaks to Indian-Israelis at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, October 17, 2021. (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)

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

“The degree of trust between us is very high,” said India’s top diplomat during the business roundtable at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on Sunday night.

Jaishankar landed in Israel earlier in the day, ahead of his meetings on Monday with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar.

India’s foreign minister will be in Israel until October 21.

He noted that it was no coincidence that his first substantive meeting on the trip was with Israeli business leaders. “I’m starting with the tachlis,” he said to laughs, using the colloquial Hebrew term — with roots in Yiddish — for getting down to brass tacks.

Facing questions from the Israeli executives about India’s prodigious red tape,  Jaishankar stressed that India was involved in a major effort to improve ease of doing business and cut down on bureaucracy.

Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (C) speaks to India’s ambassador to Israel during a meeting with business leaders at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, October 17, 2021. (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)

Ron Malka, the Economy Ministry director-general and a former ambassador to India, said that Israel’s ties with India are “the biggest achievement we have done with any country in international affairs.” He called the relationship “a key strategic partnership.”

On January 30 of next year, Israel and India will mark 30 years of diplomatic relations.

Jaishankar began his visit Sunday afternoon with a visit to the Indian cemetery in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, where some of the 900 Indian World War I soldiers interred in the country lie.

“I am deeply honoured to pay homage to the valiant sons of India who fought with bravery and courage in this land during WWI, bringing glory to themselves, their comrades and their motherland,” he wrote in the guestbook, according to The Indian Express.

Other highlights of Jaishankar’s trip will include joining Elharrar as she signs on to Israel’s accession to the International Solar Alliance; observing the Blue Flag international air combat exercise; and taking part in a Zoom meeting Monday evening with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Lapid, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the State Department in Washington, May 28, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

The four diplomats are expected to discuss environmental issues, energy, and trade, during their virtual meeting.

Water and agriculture technology are expected to feature prominently in talks during the visit. Mashav, Israel’s international development organization, has a permanent water expert in India, an indication of how important Israeli expertise in this field is to the relationship.

Israeli officials will also seek to advance an emerging free trade agreement with India, which has been in discussions for years. They will also seek to conclude an agreement on opening a Green Passport agreement with India, so that Israelis can travel there once the country opens to tourists on November 15.

The visit is the first by an Indian minister in two years, and the first since the Bennett-Lapid government came to power.

The two countries will sign a series of agreements on trade, culture, and technology.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi visit the water desalination plant at Olga beach, on July 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

High-level ties between the two countries have been especially warm in recent years. Bennett’s predecessor Netanyahu and Indian PM Narendra 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.

Modi visited Israel in 2017, the first Indian leader to do so. Modi’s jam-packed itinerary included political talks with the government and the leader of the opposition, and secret talks on improving counterterrorism coordination.

Netanyahu visited India in 2018, where he was feted by enthusiastic crowds.

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