Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to visit Delhi, as the two leaders signed a raft of agreements aimed at bolstering anti-terror and economic cooperation.
Modi is currently making the first-ever trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel, where he is being feted by Netanyahu for three days as Jerusalem touts its growing ties with the second-most populous country in the world.
At the end of a ceremony in Jerusalem to mark the signing of several bilateral agreements, Modi formally invited Netanyahu and his family. Netanyahu immediately responded: “I accept.”
According to the “India-Israel Joint Statement” that diplomats from both countries issued during the ceremony, Modi extended a “warm invitation” to Netanyahu to visit in India “at a mutually convenient time.”
The visit had already been in the works and Indian officials said last week the trip would likely take place toward the end of 2017.
“We are hoping that we will see a visit by the Israeli prime minister to India by the end of the year,” Amar Sinha, a diplomat in New Delhi said on June 29.
Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit India in 2003, 11 years after the countries established ties, though he cut short the visit after a series of deadly suicide attacks in Israel. President Reuven Rivlin visited late last year.
Netanyahu said that Modi’s visit and the bilateral agreements signed are the first step of a “historic journey.”
“You are making history. We are making history together,” he said, adding that this was a “deeply touching moment” for him.
Looking to deepen ties beyond high-dollar defense deals, the two leaders presented a series of agreements between India and Israel for cooperation on satellite technology, water and agriculture, as well as the creation of a $40 million innovation fund.
Modi vowed to increase cooperation with Israel on a wide range of fields, notably water technology, agriculture and counter-terrorism.
“Israel and India live in complex geographies,” Modi said. “We are aware of strategic threats to regional peace and stability. We have witnessed terror, so has Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu and I agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also combat growing radicalization, including in cyberspace.”
According to the joint statement, both prime ministers reiterated their strong commitment to combat global terror. “They stressed that there can be no justification of acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever.”
The statement also hailed bilateral defense cooperation, noting that India and Israel agreed that “future developments in this sphere should focus on joint development of defense products, including transfer of technology from Israel, with a special emphasis on the ‘Make in India’ initiative.”
India is the world’s biggest importer of defense equipment, and Israel has become one of its major suppliers.
In April, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said India would buy nearly $2 billion worth of weapons technology, making it the military exporting giant’s largest ever defense contract.
The deal will see IAI provide India with an advanced defense system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology.
Netanyahu and Modi have greeted each other warmly throughout the three-day trip that began on Tuesday, calling the visit “historic” and “groundbreaking.”
“I have a feeling that today India and Israel are changing our world and maybe changing parts of the world,” Netanyahu said after talks with Modi.
He added that they had asked their staffs to put together concrete plans for further cooperation in a range of fields by the end of the year.
In a moment of levity, Netanyahu recalled a date he had 30 years ago in an Indian restaurant in India with his future wife Sara. “It produced two fine children,” he quipped. “The food was great.”
The Israel-India relationship, too, was a “marriage made in heaven,” he went on, “but one grounded in reality.”