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Israel, India sign series of agreements

Opposition Labour chief loses re-election bid

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left), with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center right), meet with Moshe Holtzberg (center), an Israeli boy, whose parents were killed in the Nov 26, 2008 terrorist attack on the Mumbai Chabad House, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 5. Israel and India signed several agreements on cooperation in the fields of technology, water and agriculture Wednesday, the second day of a landmark visit by the Indian prime minister to the Jewish state. (AP)

JERUSALEM, July 5, (AFP): Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday on the first ever visit by an Indian premier to Israel as they sought to deepen ties beyond high-priced defence deals. The two leaders sign a series of agreements between India and Israel for cooperation on satellite technology, water and agriculture, as well as the creation of a $40 million innovation fund.

The agreements are part of efforts to extend relations in civilian areas between both countries, with Israel already selling India an average of $1 billion per year in military equipment. Netanyahu and Modi have greeted each other warmly throughout the three-day trip that began on Tuesday, calling the visit “historic” and “groundbreaking”. “I have a feeling that today India and Israel are changing our world and maybe changing parts of the world,” Netanyahu said after talks with Modi in Jerusalem. He added that they had asked their staffs to put together concrete plans for further cooperation in a range of fields by the end of the year.

Modi said the discussions extended beyond bilateral projects to “how our cooperation can help the cause of global peace and stability.” The Indian premier also said they “agreed to do much more together to protect our strategic interests and also cooperate to combat growing radicalisation and terrorism, including in cyberspace.” Modi’s visit marks 25 years since India and Israel established diplomatic relations. Netanyahu and other officials gave him a red carpet welcome at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv as he began his visit on Tuesday.

Israel, constantly searching for allies at the United Nations and for new business partners, has portrayed the visit as a major diplomatic victory. Israeli analysts have noted that Modi is not scheduled to travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders during his three-day stay, as is common for visiting dignitaries. Modi did however meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in New Delhi in May.

India has traditionally voiced its support for Palestinian statehood, long shunning ties with Israel. But the frost has thawed in recent years, with India seeking closer defence ties — particularly as it moves away from relying on traditional ally Russia for its military hardware. India is the world’s biggest importer of defence equipment, and Israel has become one of its major suppliers.

In April, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries said India would buy nearly $2 billion worth of weapons technology, making it the military exporting giant’s largest ever defence contract. The deal will see IAI provide India with an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology.

The Hindu nationalist makes the trip after his visit last week to Washington, where he and US President Donald Trump embraced each other as friends, vowing to work more closely on combatting terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and defence cooperation. While ties with some US allies have been strained by Trump’s complaints that Washington has been the loser in trade agreements, Modi appeared sensitive to his host’s emphasis on transactional diplomacy.

Modi has seemed to find similar common ground with Netanyahu, Israel’s longtime right-wing prime minister who hosted Trump in May. Meanwhile, the head of Israel’s main opposition Labour Party lost a re-election bid Tuesday as the party which once dominated the country’s politics faces dwindling relevance. Isaac Herzog was knocked out of a leadership primary election that saw veteran politician Amir Peretz and former environment minister Avi Gabbay proceed to a head-to-head second round set for July 10.

Peretz, 65, who served as chairman of the Histadrut labour union, defence minister and previously as Labour chairman from 2005-2007, took 33 percent of the vote. Gabbay, 50, won 27 percent of the vote. Gabbay quit his post as minister in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2016 in protest at the appointment of ultra-nationalist hardliner Avigdor Lieberman to head the defence ministry. He also quit the centre-right Kulanu party to join Labour.

While around 31,000 party members voted in the primary, neither Peretz or Gabbay took the 40 percent of votes necessary to win outright. Labour began as an incarnation of the Mapai party that controlled Israeli politics following the state’s inception in 1948 to the 1977 rise of right-wing Likud. It has seen its infl uence drop significantly in the past 25 years, during which it saw no less than 10 different leaders. The country’s last Labour prime minister was Ehud Barak from 1999 to 2001. Israeli politics has seen a shift rightward in recent years, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party in power since 2009. Ahead of the 2015 general elections, Labour joined forces with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua to form the Zionist Union, which won 24 seats to become the largest opposition to Netanyahu’s government.

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