Tel Aviv: Narendra Modi on Tuesday became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to step on Israeli soil, undertaking a ‘ground breaking’ visit and declaring cooperation in tackling terrorism, while his host Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed that they want to forge a historic partnership with India for which even sky is not the limit.
Israel rolled out a red carpet welcome as the Air India One aircraft landed at Tel Aviv’s International Airport on a warm afternoon with Netanyahu setting aside protocol and receiving Modi, who is making the visit 25 years after India established diplomatic ties with the Jewish nation, with a handshake and a hug.
Normally Israeli Prime Ministers go to the airport to receive only the US Presidents and a few western leaders. As Gujarat Chief Minister Modi has visited Israel on an earlier occasion.
“Excellency and friends, my visit marks a path breaking journey of engagement, a journey that we are excited to undertake together for the good of our people and societies. As we march together a strong and resilient partnership with Israel will be my intent and focus,” he said in a brief speech after he was welcomed warmly by his host.
“It is my singular honour to be the first Prime Minister to undertake this ground breaking visit to Israel,” Modi, clad in an off-white bandhgala suit, said in a brief speech to reciprocate the welcome given by Netanyahu and his cabinet.
“I want to thank my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu for the invitation and receiving me with so much warmth,” he said, adding this symbolises the centuries-old links between the two societies.
India, he said, has maintained a strong and sustained upswing in the ties after establishing full relationship 25 years ago.
He said people of Israel have built a nation on democratic principles and nurtured it with hard work, grit and spirit of innovation. They have marched on regardless of adversity and converted challenges into opportunities. “India applauds your achievements,” he said.
He also recalled that on July 4, 41 years ago, Netanyahu’s elder brother, Yonatan was part of the commandos in the Operation Entebbe in Uganda to rescue over 100 Israeli civilians in the airport, and in the process sacrificed his life. He became an inspiration for the younger generation.
Modi said in India, a very old civilisation, there were 800 million people below the age of 35 years and they were the driving force and propelling his vision to transform India, its industry, its economy, its way of doing business and its interface with the world.
Modi said in India’s path of sustained high growth and all round development India counts Israel among its important partners. They need to rely on science, technology, innovation and hard technical education to overcome the developmental challenges that are common to both the countries.
He said alongside building a partnership for shared economic prosperity, India and Israel are also cooperating to secure their societies against common threats such as terrorism. “A progressive partnership in all these areas would share the scope of my conversation with the Prime Minister, my friend Netanyahu,” he said.
Modi said he was also keen to interact with the Indian diaspora in Israel, including a large number of Jews of Indian origin who have enriched both the societies.
In his welcome address, Netanyahu said Israel has been waiting for a long time for this visit. “Apka swagat hai mere dost. We have been waiting almost 70 years, in fact, because your’s is a truly historic visit. It is the first time that an Indian Prime Minister is visiting Israel. We receive you with open arms. We love India. We admire your culture, your democracy and your commitment to progress.”
Recalling his first meeting with Modi three years ago at the United Nations, Netanyahu said both of them agreed to breakdown the remaining walls between India and Israel.
“We shook each others’ hand and forged a historic relationship. We met again in Paris and since then we have spoken many times on the phone. But I remember my friend what you said in that first meeting.
“You said when it comes to India-Israel relations, the sky is the limit. But actually my friend the sky isn’t the limit because today even our space programmes are working towards reaching even greater heights,” he said.
The host Prime Minister said that the ties between the talented and innovative peoples of both the countries is natural. “It is so natural that we can ask what took so long for them to blossom. Well, it took a meeting of minds and hearts. it took a commitment of our governments we have that today,” he said.
Netanyahu said in this visit Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative meets his ‘Make with India’ policy. “We are setting up a $40 million innovation fund as the seed for even greater cooperation on technology between us,” he said.
Hailing him as a great leader of India and a great world leader, Netanyahu said, “Your visit to Israel is a testimony to that.”
Earlier, the two leaders inspected a guard of honour by Israeli defence forces in honour of Modi. Netanyahu introduced his ministers, officials, including the present and former ambassadors of Israel in India and his National Security Advisor.