Israeli premier on 6-day visit to India to deepen ties

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center left, is welcomed by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center right, on his arrival at Palam airport in New Delhi Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu arrived Sunday for his first visit to India to expand defense, trade and energy ties. (AP Photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begins his first visit to India to promote defense, trade and energy ties.

NEW DELHI — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived Sunday for his first visit to India to expand defense, trade and energy ties.

During his six-day stay the two countries are expected to sign agreements on cybersecurity, energy and space cooperation and film production, India's External Affairs Ministry said. They're also expected to review progress in implementing agreements on cooperation in technology, water and agriculture that were signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel last year, the first by an Indian prime minister to Israel.

Before leaving for India, Netanyahu told reporters in Israel that the trip "serves our security, economic, trade and tourism interests, as well as many other areas."

"We are strengthening ties between Israel and this important global power," he said.

The visit marks 25 years since India and Israel established diplomatic relations, but comes just weeks after India voted in favor of a U.N. resolution denouncing President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Daniel Carmon, the Israeli ambassador to India, played down India's vote.

"I think that the relationship is much stronger than one vote at the U.N.," he said.

Bilateral trade between the countries has skyrocketed from $200 million in 1992, when India and Israel established diplomatic ties, to $4.16 billion in 2016. But that remains far below Israel's nearly $40 billion in annual trade with its largest partners, the United States and the European Union.

Still there are irritants in the growing relationship, including India's cancellation of a $500 million anti-tank missile deal with Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. It wasn't clear why India scrapped the deal before the contract was signed.

During the Cold War, India didn't have open relations with Israel, leaning heavily in favor of the Palestinians. But over the past quarter century, the two countries have developed close ties.

Carmon said that Israeli-India ties would withstand any troubles.

"The relationship is an all-weather relationship," he told reporters Friday, adding it was "so strong and so important to both countries that our feeling is that nothing can reverse it."

He said Netanyahu was bringing with him 130 businesspeople, "which reflects the enthusiasm in Israel to do more business with India."

Modi received Netanyahu at New Delhi airport on Sunday. Netanyahu's office put out an announcement saying that Modi's greeting was a "surprise welcome" because a Cabinet minister had been scheduled to attend instead.

"I very much appreciate the gesture," Netanyahu said.

On Monday, Netanyahu will have formal discussions with Modi and call on President Ram Nath Kovind as well as attend an India-Israel CEO Forum Meeting.

In Mumbai, Netanyahu will meet with Jewish community leaders, Indian business leaders and representatives of the Bollywood film industry. Netanyahu will also visit Modi's home state of Gujarat in western India.

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