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Visiting Israel in January, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said he was there to “chart out a road map for the next two decades of India-Israel cooperation.”
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A particular focus of the cooperation between New Delhi and Jerusalem is the field of agriculture, India’s largest employer.

Israel and India:
Celebrating a 20-Year Partnership

India, the largest democracy in the world, and Israel, one of the smallest, share a great deal beyond their longstanding democratic traditions. Both countries’ decades-long experience with Islamist terrorism, their booming economies fueled by vibrant hi-tech sectors, and a mutual admiration of each other’s ancient culture offer a unique launching point for bilateral relations. Indeed, in the 20 years since the establishment of full relations in 1992, India and Israel have created a strong and mutually beneficial partnership based on common values and interests.

“India and Israel are two ancient peoples seizing the future: in technology, in innovation, in enterprise, and I think we can seize it even better by our cooperation,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he hosted Indian Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna earlier this year.

Natural Allies

Krishna’s visit to Israel in January commemorated the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel and set the course for further developing these relations.

“We have learned so much from Israel, particularly in the field of agriculture and science and technology innovation,” Krishna said. “And India is naturally an ally of Israel in all these frontiers of science and I look forward to an increased economic content to our existing political relationship.”

Economic ties between the countries have progressed rapidly, bilateral trade growing from a mere $200 million in 1992 to more than $5 billion last year. India is now Israel’s second-largest trading partner in Asia after China.

The two countries have been working to finalize a Free Trade Agreement by the end of this year, which is expected to triple the volume of bilateral trade. This agreement was one of the topics Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz discussed with his Indian counterparts during a December visit to New Delhi. Steinitz also offered to export to India natural gas from Israel’s recently discovered gas reserves in the Mediterranean.

Hundreds of Israeli and Indian companies are cooperating in a variety of fields, ranging from security through alternative energy to pharmaceutics. Israeli entrepreneurs benefit from India’s huge market of 1.2 billion people, while Indian firms take advantage of Israeli knowhow and technologies.

Investments have gone in both directions. Indian pharmaceutical giant Sun Pharma, for example, has acquired Israel’s Taro Pharmaceutical Industries and the State Bank of India, the country’s largest bank, operates a branch in Ramat Gan financing trade deals involving the two countries. Meanwhile, Israeli hi-tech companies, such as Amdocs, employ thousands of people at R&D centers in India and conglomerates like Elbit Imaging have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian real estate.

Diversified Cooperation

A particular focus of the cooperation between New Delhi and Jerusalem is the field of agriculture, India’s largest employer. Israeli experts have traveled to India to train local farmers, and the two countries plan to set up joint agricultural centers of excellence across India.

“On the one hand, about 700 million people in India are dependent on farming and agriculture; on the other hand, Israel is one of the most advanced countries in the world in the development of sophisticated modern agriculture technologies,” said Israeli Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, following a visit to India in May last year. “Therefore, it is only natural that the two work together to improve the welfare of their people.”

Collaboration in science and research extends beyond agricultural technologies, to sectors like nanotechnology, biotechnology and space. India and Israel have had a joint industrial R&D fund in place for a number of years, focusing on investment in these sectors, and recently agreed on a program to bring Indian postdoctoral students in technological fields to study in Israel.

Joint projects in space and aeronautics serve both countries’ security needs. India’s Space Research Organization launched a spy satellite on Israel’s behalf in 2008, and a year later launched its own Israeli-made reconnaissance satellite.

These launches underscore the strong defense ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem, which grew even closer in the wake of the attacks by Islamic extremists on Mumbai in November 2008. Israel has become India’s second biggest defense supplier, behind Russia, and trade in this area is reported to top $1 billion annually. This includes Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles and, in one of the biggest deals of its kind, three Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) purchased by India from Israel Aerospace Industries.

The 2008 Mumbai attacks also spurred further cooperation in homeland security and intelligence sharing. Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited India late last year as a guest of the Indian home affairs minister, and Foreign Minister Krishna emphasized the need to jointly address the “scourge of international terrorism” during his January meeting with Netanyahu.

Out of the Closet

Once limited to secret meetings and a negligible trade flow, the India-Israel relationship has come “out of the closet,” as one Indian commentator recently put it. India is able to maintain close and open relations with both Israel and the Arab world at the same time. And whatever perceived political differences the two governments may have on Iran or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these do not bear on the multidimensional ties the countries have developed over the past 20 years.

As their neighbors struggle with varying degrees of instability and economic woes, India and Israel stand out even more as islands of democracy and success, providing the two countries further opportunities to deepen their partnership.