Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will visit India next week. A number of agreements across several sectors are slated to be signed during the visit.
Cohen will be on a three-day visit to India on May 9-11. Several memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to boost bilateral trade with a focus on agri-tech, energy, tourism, and healthcare are expected to be signed during the visit.
Cohen will also inaugurate the 'Jewish Trail' during his visit, an initiative to open Jewish monuments in Maharashtra to tourists.
The India-Israel relationship has been on an upward trajectory in recent years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Prime Minister of India to visit Israel in 2017. He is understood to share a rapport with Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Visit's focus on economic and trade ties
A business delegation of 25 multi-sectoral companies will be accompanying Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen during his visit.
The delegation will explore opportunities along with members of leading economic organisations, who will be signing MoUs with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Anat Bernstein-Reich, President of the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, told PTI.
Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce, The Israeli Manufacturers Association (IMA) and the Israeli Export Institute will all be signing MoUs with CII.
"The growing trade relations between Israel and India require a stronger collaboration between the economic organisations of the two sides. CII has been a close friend of our Chamber and we are planning to host several of their delegations in the near future. As part of the I2U2 programme, we hosted in Israel a delegation of CII from UAE and India. We are planning an I2U2 event in India soon", Bernstein-Reich said.
From a humble beginning of $200 million in bilateral trade (primarily in diamonds) in 1992 when full diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, merchandise trade has diversified and reached $7.86 billion (excluding defence) during the period 2021–2022.
In addition, bilateral trade in services in 2021 $USD 1.1 billion and in FY 2022-23 bilateral merchandise trade from April to December 2022 stood at $8.09 billion (excluding defence).
I2U2, a Quad comprising India, Israel, UAE and the United States was unveiled during External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's visit to Israel in October 2021 and since then it has held several meetings, including one in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated along with the top leaders of the other three countries involved.
The Quad has indicated a firm commitment to enhancing the economic interests of the involved nations by putting in place projects related to ensuring food security and strengthening the renewable energy sector.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this week conducted the India Forum with the participation of several ministries with the aim of enhancing governmental coordination leading to a larger trade, innovation, tourism and cultural collaboration, Bernstein-Reich said.
India-Israel cultural ties to also be the visit's highlight
Bernstein-Reich also pointed out that the Israeli Foreign Minister will inaugurate in Mumbai the 'Jewish Trail'.
Under this initiative, important Jewish monuments in Mumbai and Maharashtra have been identified and will be opened to tourists around the world.
Jewish people have been living in Maharashtra for more than two thousand years and have always taken pride in the lack of anti-semitism in India.
Some 3,000 Jews still live in Maharashtra even though the majority of them have immigrated to Israel. Known as Bene Israel, the Jews from the Maharashtra region are the largest Indian Jewish community in Israel.
There are about 90,000 Indian Jews living in Israel drawn from four communities - Bene Israel, Cochinis, Baghdadis and Bnei Menashe (from Manipur and Mizoram).
Many Israelis and Jews around the world visit Mumbai for work and tourism and have shown interest in visiting their ancestral places.
In view of the interest, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and the Consulate General of Israel in Mumbai have been collaborating on a project that can boost tourism in the state.
The idea of the project is based on the research work conducted by Prof. Saul Sapir of the Hebrew University who published a book, "Bombay: Exploring the Jewish Urban Heritage".
The Consulate General of Israel in Mumbai with the help of the local Jewish community has been installing plaques at the Jewish monuments giving information about their history and significance.
As per an MoU, MTDC will be preparing multiple travel itineraries, ranging from one to three days, and offer it as packages with tour guides and hotels etc. to tourists.
The embassy of India in Israel has also been actively putting in place an "India trail" which prominently displays India's presence in the region and especially the display of valour by Indian soldiers that has somewhat helped shape the history of the region.
The liberation of Haifa by Indian soldiers from the Ottomans during World War I has been included in the curriculum of local schools and the tales of the valour displayed by them have become a part of the local legend.
India-Israel relationship in recent time
It is the third high-level visit by senior Israeli officials in less than three months, coming in quick succession after Knesset (Israeli parliament) speaker Amir Ohana's visit at the end of March-early April and also Economy Minister Nir Barkat's visit to India last month.
The Israeli Foreign Minister will also be advancing a consular agreement being worked out to bring Indian workers to Israel to work in construction.
The high-level visits are being seen as a prelude to the much-anticipated visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India later this year.
Netanyahu is considered to be a strong advocate of a closer India-Israel relationship and is believed to have a personal friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi in 2017 became the first Prime Minister of India to visit Israel. Netanyahu accompanied Modi 'like a shadow' during the visit and extended to him the welcome reserved for the US President and the Pope. The famous picture of the two leaders at the Olga beach, standing facing each other barefoot, had the social media buzzing with talks of ‘bromance’.
(With PTI inputs)