Last year, India and Israel agreed in principle to set up a joint fund to explore ways the two countries can deepen their economic relationship. The purpose of the fund, as Indian Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal reported to the Jerusalem Post, is to enhance trade in a number of hi-tech areas including security and consumer electronics.“ We know for a fact that Israel is one of the most innovative nations in the world,” Sibal said. “We believe that to translate innovations into goods and services requires the marriage of industry with innovation. India provides an ideal environment with a low-cost environment and a high-quality workforce.”
Indeed, economic cooperation between India and Israel is booming. Since India and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992, relations between the two countries have greatly flourished. In 1992, the annual trade between Israel and India stood at a mere $180 million but a mere twenty years later, trade between the two countries in 2011-12 has exceeded an astounding $ 6.5 billion. For Israel, India is the 5th largest market for its exports, accounting for more than 4.5% of its global exports (2011). In terms of imports by Israel, India is the 10th largest source of import of Israel’s total imports. Last year, India and Israel signed a $50 million academic research agreement. Currently, the two nations are negotiating an extensive bilateral free trade pact, focusing on areas such as information technology, biotechnology and agriculture. This is expected to triple trade between the two countries. About 265 Indian information technology companies are doing considerable business in Israel and both nations are experiencing a mutual cooperation of interests in the varied fields of agriculture, farm research, science, public health, IT, telecommunications, military and intelligence cooperation, joint research and even collaboration in space. In 2008, India launched an Israeli satellite into orbit.
Last year, for example over 16,000 Indian farmers were trained at the Indo-Israel Center of Excellence for Vegetables in Gharaunda. Experts from Israel organize free training sessions, teaching farmers to increase their crop yields while using fertilizer and water optimally. At present there are 10 such Centers of Excellence. By 2015, their number will increase to 28 as they branch out to flowers, bee-keeping and dairying.
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Both countries face similar challenges. Like India, Israel has suffered from drought-like conditions and little rainfall and both countries face the challenges of water and energy scarcity. Israel has been a global leader in the fields of drip irrigation and desalination which allowed it to navigate out of a severe water crisis in the early 2000s. India and Israel began cooperating on water technology in the late 1990s and in 2011 after more than a decade of joint research, development and shared investment in the countries’ respective water technologies, the two countries signed an agreement to foster cooperation on urban water systems. Together, India and Israel benefit from the exchange of innovative technologies in desalination and water conservation which address these water shortages affecting their respective populations.
With terrorism responsible for more deaths in India than almost any other country, India has looked to Israel for advanced weapons systems. Recently, India has approved the procurement of 15 Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel to boost surveillance capabilities along the borders with China and Pakistan. Indeed, Israel’s defense industries supply India with radar, sea-to-sea missiles, warning planes, communications systems, and ammunition. Today, Israel is India’s second-largest military partner after Russia with trade worth over $9 billion and is the largest purchaser of Israeli military equipment.
While economic cooperation between Israel and India is on the rise, the two countries share more than an alliance based on economic expediency. The relationship between the two nations is unique, and built on a foundation of shared values and strategic interests. Indeed, the two countries have much in common. India and Israel, whose diplomatic ties were officially inaugurated in 1992, each gained independence from the British within a year of each other (1947 and 1948). Both countries established vibrant parliamentary democracies with open and free societies, respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech and expression. Both countries face threats from its neighbors and suffer from the scourge of terrorism. Both India and Israel are ancient nations with strong cultural and religious traditions. In Israel, India is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations with more than 40 000 Israelis visiting India every year. Indeed, sixty thousand members of the Bnei Israel community– Indian Jewish communities which thrived in India for two thousand years free of persecution– live in Israel, enriching Israeli culture with Indian traditions. It is the shared challenges and shared values which make the relationship between Israel and India unique.
In a state visit to Israel in February 2010, the Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiradithya Scindia described the relationship between India and Israel as a ‘relationship between two souls’, based on shared morals and principles.
Indeed, through shared morals and principles, comparable challenges and the spirit of innovation and cooperation, India and Israel can look forward to greater reciprocity and a strengthening of the unique relationship which characterizes both great nations.