Inaugural Session: Keynote Address by Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, formerly Prime Minister’s special envoy on West Asia and Middle East peace process.
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  • Welcoming the BESA delegation headed by Prof. Efraim Inbar, Director, BESA Centre, Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair (LBSC) Dr. Arvind Gupta stated that the interaction provides a useful opportunity for exchange of views regarding bilateral and regional developments between two important partners. He said that the interaction was taking place amidst the backdrop of momentous changes in West Asia and the remarkable pace of interactions in the India Israel bilateral relationship. Dr. Gupta gave a brief overview of global and regional strategic developments including the financial crisis in US and Europe, uncertain trajectory of US-China relations, changes in the Arab world and dynamic changes in India’s neighbourhood. Dr. Gupta closed his remarks by noting pertinent developments in India-Israel relations across the economic, technological and defence fields and hoped that discussions that follow would add weight to understanding the above mentioned dynamic developments.

    In his remarks, Dr. Inbar noted that BESA cherished the relationship with IDSA given the policy-oriented nature of work that the two think tanks were engaged in. He articulated that it was the duty of think tanks to pose the right questions, think creatively about strategic challenges and inform the policy makers as well as general public about those. Dr. Inbar noted that despite differences of opinion on certain issues, India and Israel share the same kind of challenges. These according to him included radical Islam, Iran’s nuclear issue, rise of China and perceived decline of US influence in the region.

    Delivering the Keynote Address, Amb Chinmaya R. Gharekhan stated that India-Israel ties are not a one-sided relationship but one in which both sides have important benefit. The Indo-Israeli relationship has taken solid roots and it is growing exponentially. He stated that even between friends, there are differences of opinions. In this context, he mentioned the strong public support for the Palestinian cause in India. However, he noted that such differences are no obstacles for strong bilateral relations. Amb Gharekhan noted the success of Israeli diplomacy in moderating mainstream/elite opinion regarding Israeli policy decisions. India has also stopped co-sponsoring Palestinian-related resolutions at the UN. However, he said that India would continue to express its support for the Palestinian cause at multilateral forum.

    Special Address by His Excellency Alon Ushpiz, Ambassador of State of Israel

    In his special address, his Excellency Alon Ushpiz, Ambassador of State of Israel said that India and Israel, young nations and old civilisations, share a “special relationship”. Highlighting the key elements of India-Israel relations he said that the ultimate cliché of India-Israel relations is that both nations have almost identical values, interest and challenges. This has become clearer and stronger in the past twelve months. India and Israel are the only two nations in the region where people can express their opinions freely, as seen with the recent debate on corruption in India, and housing protests in Israeli cities a few months ago. The psychological element is an important factor in bilateral relations. As early as 1951, both nations were corresponding on cooperating on food security, with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion writing to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru regarding Israeli assistance to India in cooperative farming and agriculture. An engaged bilateral relationship requires certain chemistry between people of both nations; this ‘click’ is apparent when Israelis and Indians come together. This does not mean that both nations need to and can agree on everything. As seen with Israel’s relationship with the US, though both sides have their disagreements, they still remain close allies. The best proof that the India-Israel relationship is a special one is that both nations cooperate in the most important sectors– in the fields of security and food. Cooperation in these two areas generally requires a high level of intimacy between two countries.

    Amb Ushpiz stated that the main leg of the relationship is ‘security’ which is “thick and stable”. It is one of the hearts of this bilateral relationship. Security cooperation goes beyond buying and selling of items; it is about building partnerships and developing and introducing solutions.

    The second leg is trade. India-Israel bilateral trade has increased in worth from an amount of $ 180 million in 1992 to $ 4.7 billion in recent times. Problems of composition in bilateral can be decreased by signing a Free-Trade Agreement (FTA). An FTA can gradually increase bilateral trade as well as shift the composition in trade to focus on high-tech agricultural items. As generally seen, it can also lead to an increase in commercial and business air traffic between the two countries with the potential to boost business ties.

    The third leg of bilateral cooperation is agriculture. In this context, he talked about mutually beneficial cooperation in agriculture wherein Israeli technologies can be shared and applied rather than just focussing on technology transfer. It was noted that the best way to cooperate in this area was through technology. Here again, it is not about buying and selling; instead, Israel has been working on the ground to create model farms that employ Israeli technology to boost production. A joint action plan has also been established between the Israeli government and India’s Ministry of Agriculture. Israel is in the process of setting up seven centres of excellence in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, to facilitate the transfer of cutting edge agricultural technologies to Indian farmers. It was pointed out that close to 30 projects spread across three baskets of vegetables and fruits, water and dairy have been identified. These projects are being financed by the Government of India. Another important aspect of this cooperation is the recognition that the future is in seeds. Israel is aware that Indian public opinion is very sensitive on this issue but they believe that once the right seeds are brought into this market, larger and better quantities in agricultural outputs can be expected.

    The fourth aspect of relations between India and Israel is the need to develop cooperation on R&D. Platform of investment already exists in scientific and industrial R&D cooperation. Israel also hopes to increase the number of Indian students in Israel, as well as invest in public diplomacy, especially to bring Israeli culture to India.

    Ambassador Ushpiz, while providing details of the Indo-Israeli bilateral relations, observed that differences of opinion on some issues have not affected the bilateral relations. He also talked about increasing the public diplomacy footprint of the Embassy in order to better convey Israeli approaches to foreign policy and security. It was noted that India and Israel have identical views on ‘Arab Spring’ and face the same dilemmas. Both sides’ views are manifested in their genetic yearning for democracy on the one hand and the constant desire to see stability. It was noted that both nations hold different view on Palestinian issue but this is not an obstacle in bilateral relations. It was pointed out that Iran remains the most important foreign policy issue for Israel. Israel does not believe that India would want to see the emergence of another nuclear state. Israel’s stance towards this issue is to pursue political isolation and economic sanctions. He also pointed out that Afghanistan is very high on Indian agenda but not on Israeli agenda.

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