Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu expected in Delhi in September

He may make a case for India to align itself less with Iran and put pressure on the regime there

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to travel to India in September just days before he faces elections, official and diplomatic sources confirmed to The Hindu.

Mr. Netanyahu, who was due to be in Delhi in February this year, also just ahead of the last Israeli election, will make a “short visit”, possibly just for a day on September 9, where he is due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and discuss the bilateral relationship. However, the final date of the visit was being worked out, the sources said.

India-Israel relations have been growing rapidly in the last few years, and Mr. Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in 2017, a visit Mr. Netanyahu returned in January 2018, which marked 25 years since the establishment of full diplomatic relations.

Speaking at a Yoga day event last month, Indian Ambassador to Tel Aviv Pavan Kapoor said the relationship was moving in an “upward trajectory”. “Modi and Netanyahu share an excellent equation and it is in their tenure that we have had PM Modi coming to Israel for the first time and PM Netanyahu visiting India”.

February visit cancelled

Mr. Netanyahu’s February visit was cancelled due to “scheduling difficulties”, especially since both Israel and India were heading into election season at the time. Despite winning what appeared to be a convincing victory in April, Mr. Netanyahu was unable to build a coalition in the 120-member Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and was forced to declare fresh elections, which will now be held on September 17.

In the run-up to the visit, bilateral talks on defence issues have focused on the emergency procurement of ‘Spike’ anti-tank missiles and the purchase of more precision-guided munitions that were used during the Balakot strikes by the Indian Air Force. The two sides are also discussing a long-pending proposal to buy 2 Phalcon AWACS (warning systems) for more than a billion dollars that is believed to be awaiting clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit will also come amidst rising U.S.-Iran tensions, and he is expected to make a case for India to align itself less with Tehran to join Israel and the U.S. in putting pressure on the regime there.

In a tweet on Friday, Israel’s envoy to India Ron Malka said that Iran, “by promoting state sponsored terrorism around the globe, is the #1 threat to regional and global peace & security.”

While India has fallen in line with the U.S. sanctions on cutting its oil imports from Iran, it retains a strong relationship with the Iranian government, and has publicly expressed its concerns over the impact of a war in West Asia on the millions of Indians living and working in the region. During a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Mr. Modi listed Iran as one of the “four areas” for discussion, which also included bilateral, defence and telecommunication issues.

While there has been no official confirmation of the visit yet, a columnist in Israeli newspaper Haaretz has said that the quick trip by Mr. Netanyahu would be akin to an election “photo-op” to boost his chances at re-election.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a true friend. A friend indeed for a friend in need. It’s a good bet that Modi and his aides know why the bride’s in a rush to go under the ‘chuppah’ (Jewish wedding canopy), but, what are friends for?” columnist Yossi Verter wrote in the newspaper over the weekend.

(with inputs from Dinakar Peri)

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