JERUSALEM: Contending that India and Israel face challenges of terrorism, the two countries on Monday agreed to intensify coordination to deal with the menace as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met top Israeli leadership and discussed a wide-range of bilateral and regional issues.
Swaraj, who is on her first visit to West Asia as the External Affairs Minister, called on President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top leaders.
“It was emphasised that the region around India and around Israel are both in turmoil. That there were special circumstances posed by terrorism that required coordination between the countries, especially between India and Israel,” an official here said, sharing details of the meetings. “It was agreed that the exchange of information (between the two countries) will continue in the future,” he added.
Swaraj said she hopes get an assessment of the situation in the region and identify areas where the two sides can cooperate.
She said, “India attaches the highest importance to the full development of bilateral ties with Israel. Our bilateral cooperation has grown in a number of areas over the past two decades but the potential of our relations are much more.”
Netanyahu, who also heads the Foreign Ministry, said that there has been a great flowering of relationship and friendship between the two countries in the recent years.
“I take special pleasure in welcoming you here and sending my regards to my good friend and colleague Prime Minister Modi. The expression of this growing relationship has been in the visit of the (Indian) President, the first ever by an Indian Head of State,” he told Swaraj.
He said the two countries are intensifying their contacts and cooperation in fields such as science and technology, cyber, defence and agriculture.
“India and Israel are at the cutting edge of so many innovations and by working together we can do a lot more for our people and the world,” he said, adding that Israel admires India and view it as a great friend. Emphasising on the importance attached to India by Israel, he said his country is putting “special effort towards building a special relationship with a special country”.
President Rivlin pushed for a boost in bilateral economic ties during his meeting with Swaraj and said the two partners should quickly finalise the Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
“It is important that we work to open a Free Trade Agreement between Israel and India – there can be no better way to celebrate 25 years of our relations, which we will mark next year,” Rivlin told Swaraj.
An Israeli team is currently in India for preliminary talks on FTA to ensure that whenever the delegations meet in full strength all related issues can be addressed with clarity and special attention is being paid for the revival of the talks, a few rounds of which have already been held, an Indian official here said.
“We are both looking to the future. We know very well the challenges we face, at time same time, we must realise the opportunities. Our friendship is defined by our working together for a better future for our peoples – in security, but also in cyber, hi-tech, medicine, agriculture and water,” the Israeli president said.
Swaraj told him that Indo-Israel bilateral ties that are wide ranging have been growing “from strength to strength”.
She hoped that the bilateral relationship that is so far concentrated around too many areas of defence and agriculture would expand to other areas which are emerging, especially water, sanitation and in the field of education in particular.
“We have the volumes and you have the technology”, she said, urging Israel to participate actively in the clean Ganga, smart cities, digital India and Make in India initiatives.
Netanyahu, who has met Modi twice in the past year and a half, has said that “sky is the limit” that can be achieved between the two sides with “limitless” potential.
The Israeli Prime Minister has in the past said that his Indian counterpart has told him that New Delhi needs Tel Aviv to achieve major developmental projects outlined by him.
Swaraj also visited the Yad Vashem and paid tribute to the victims of Holocaust.
She will be also meeting the Indian community in Israel. There are four groups of Indian Jewish communities in Israel with a strength of approximately 80,000.
Her visit comes barely three months after the historic visit of President Pranab Mukherjee, the first by an Indian Head of State to Israel, and aims at encasing on the goodwill generated by that visit.