Netanyahu turns to yoga in illustrating warm ties with India
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Netanyahu turns to yoga in illustrating warm ties with India

Speaking alongside visiting counterpart Modi, PM depicts Israel and India as kindred democracies in a difficult region

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands following a statement on July 4, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AFP PHOTO / POOL AND AFP PHOTO / DEBBIE HILL)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands following a statement on July 4, 2017, in Jerusalem. (AFP PHOTO / POOL AND AFP PHOTO / DEBBIE HILL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used some yoga know-how during his meeting with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi Tuesday, as he sought to drive home his message of the two nations’ shared values and warm relations.

During the two leader’s joint statements in Jerusalem, Netanyahu entered meditational territory when he said: “When I do a relaxing talasana pose in the morning and I turn my head to the right, India is the first democracy that I’ll see.”

He added: “And when Prime Minister Modi does a relaxing pose of vasistasana and he turns his head to the left, Israel is the first democracy that you can see.”

While it is somewhat doubtful that Netanyahu regularly engages in lotus postures or downward-facing dog exercises when he rises every day, the gesture was surely appreciated by Modi, a known yoga aficionado.

Ahead of his visit to Israel, Modia had said jokingly Monday that a little more time spent on the practice might help solve some of the Middle East’s problems.

Interviewed by Israel’s Channel 2, Modi was asked at one point if he would invite Netanyahu to join him in a yoga session. The prime minister laughed and noted that many Israelis appreciated the ancient Indian discipline.

When his interviewer suggested Yoga could help solve the Middle East’s problems, Modi laughed and said “That would delight me.”

Netanyahu greeted Modi at Ben Gurion International Airport on Tuesday and is accompanying the Indian leader throughout the three-day visit. Israeli officials said the warm treatment goes well beyond diplomatic protocol and reflected the importance of the visit.

Modi, who will not be meeting Palestinian officials while he is in town, was welcomed with an honor guard and warmly hugged Netanyahu as he descended from the aircraft.

“We receive you with open arms. We love India. We admire your culture, we admire your history, your democracy, your commitment to progress,” Netanyahu said. “We view you as kindred spirits in our common quest to provide a better future for our peoples and for our world.”

Modi said it was a “singular honor” to be the first sitting prime minister of India to visit Israel.

“Alongside building a partnership for shared economic prosperity, we are also cooperating to secure our societies against common threats such as terrorism,” he said. “A progressive partnership in all these areas will shape the scope of my conversation with prime minister, my friend, Netanyahu.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits in a car with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after the latter arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on July 4, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits in a car with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after the latter arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on July 4, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

During the Cold War, India was a leading member of the Nonaligned Movement of developing countries and sided staunchly with the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel. Before ties were established in 1992, India would not even allow its citizens to enter Israel on an Indian passport.

But over the past quarter century, the two countries have cultivated warm ties, particularly in the areas of technology and defense cooperation.

India is a major purchaser of Israeli arms. This year, Israel’s state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries has announced over $2 billion in contracts to provide air and missile-defense systems to India.

Rafael, another state-owned defense contractor, is trying to finalize a deal to sell 8,000 “Spike” anti-tank missiles to India in a deal that is reportedly valued at some $1 billion, according to an industry expert familiar with the deal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Netanyahu is joining Modi at virtually every stop of a packed schedule that includes working meetings, a trip to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, meetings with high-tech executives, a stop at a cemetery for Indian soldiers killed during World War I, a cultural event with Indian Jews, and observing an Israeli desalination machine.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) look at pictures of Jewish Holocaust victims on July 4, 2017, at the Hall of Names during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Dan Balilty)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) look at pictures of Jewish Holocaust victims on July 4, 2017, at the Hall of Names during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Dan Balilty)

Yuval Rotem, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the decision for Netanyahu to spend so much time with Modi is not a standard practice for visiting dignitaries and indicated “the highest level of importance” attached to the visit.

Mark Sofer, the ministry’s deputy director for Asia and the Pacific, said the meetings would focus on various areas of technology, including cybersecurity and space research, with a particular focus on Israeli water and agricultural technologies. He said a joint statement is to come on Wednesday.

At the airport ceremony, Netanyahu announced the establishment of a $40 million innovation fund to promote technological cooperation.

The two leaders later visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev (L) visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on July 4, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev (L) visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on July 4, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

Modi is also set to visit an Israeli boy whose parents were killed in a massacre by Islamists in Mumbai in 2008, along with the Indian nanny who rescued him. The boy, who is now 10, returned to Israel with the nanny after the attack, and the woman still lives in the country.

In a departure from standard protocol, Modi will not be visiting the Palestinians, though all sides have tried to play down the decision.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Modi in India in May, and Indian officials say they handled all their business at the time.

Palestinian officials likewise say that Abbas’s meeting in May was a sign of strong relations, and that India remains a close ally. Abbas, in any case, is out of the country for the next week.

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