In an interview with Diplomacy & Beyond Plus, the Ambassador of Israel to India, H.E. Daniel Carmon talks about the growing India-Israel partnership. Israel has been cooperating with India by way of implementation of various projects in areas like agriculture and water. He discusses in detail the rich cultural heritage India and Israel have, and how both countries can take this strategic partnership to the next level.
- Excellency, this year marks the 70th birthday of the State of Israel. What are the events planned to celebrate this historic day?
Our Independence Day usually comes a day after the Israel Memorial Day. To achieve independence, there is a price we all paid because it wasn’t an easy task to do. And nationally, we are affixing those two days together; a day when we remember our fallen, the 23,000 Israelis who were killed during our conflicts and the wars that were imposed on us on the way to independence, to freedom and to our nation-building.
The day after is Independence Day, and we cannot detach one from another. Celebrating is important and we all do it, but we are both celebrating and commemorating events through our activities. Just a year ago, we celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel which is a landmark. I mean it’s a year, just a number, but it’s a number to remember because it has some symbolism. We celebrated through the activity that we have here in India in the various areas in which we cooperate. The highlight of the 25 years and of the 70 years, are the visits.
Our Prime Minister visited India after the visit of Prime Minister of India to Israel, which came after two reciprocal Presidential visits and a few other high-level visits. Those visits were the highlights of the activity that we have here in India and India has in Israel in various ways. In the last few years, we have witnessed strengthening of relations in various wings which highlights this special relationship.
Throughout May 2018, the NGMA is hosting a very important Israeli exhibition, which is also a part of the 70 years celebration. The main topic is the connection between men and the earth, man and land; it’s something that is very much common in our conversation. Israel and India converse together on the most basic elements of life, on the struggle for the well-being of mankind as a concept of something very real that is food, water, and our most basic needs. On the other hand, India and Israel are talking high-level technology cooperation, defense, homeland security, IT, communications, and health. So, you have a whole world of cooperation and partnership between the two very strong allies and friends.
- India and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992 and are currently marking the completion of 25 years of formal nation-to-nation ties. Please take us through this entire journey.
I think that I brought you to the end of the journey by answering your previous question. What I would say is the importance of looking at the process that we have gone through. I cannot detach the process from world politics, with how the world was structured in the past during the Cold war, or during the time when NAM (Non- Aligned Movement) was very strong and very strongly committed against Israel. If you go through this process,you can see a trend of development of bilateral relations, with and without the connection to the outside world.
We have had some better years and maybe a few less good years between India and Israel, and I am talking about 30-35 years ago when the world was defined in a much more bipolar definition. Throughout those years and despite this definition, India and Israel have managed to bilaterally identify common grounds of interest in various fields and have slowly and quietly developed a very strong relationship, that has tested itself and proven itself.
I am always reminded here in India of Israel’s cooperation with India in various conflicts, for example, the Kargil War in 1999, and a few other events that happened. This is the Indian side that reminds me, and I remind the Indian side that we are also very much cooperating in the fields that I would call development areas, such as water, agriculture and food security, where Israel is not only excelling within Israel, but also sharing its knowledge, know how and expertise with friends and India is definitely a friend. The cooperation, which was launched about 26 years ago, has developed into a growing partnership by doing things and by having confidence between both countries, and this confidence has grown. The cooperation has been tested successfully, and here we are, nowadays, in the last four years or so, really taking this relationship and making it visible, talking about it and showing that yes, we definitely can cooperate together and do great things together.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the India-Israel relationship is a ‘marriage made in heaven’. How can both countries take this extraordinary bilateral relationship to the next level?
You know Israel is a startup nation, and we have the biggest number by far per capita of startups in Israel; many of whom give solutions to very important aspects of life. Israel is an ideal place for huge Indian companies, who are interested in finding partnerships with Israeli startups or putting their own R&D apparatus in R&D centers in Israel. By joining hundreds, maybe 300 or more of the big, huge global companies who have set up R&D centers in Israel, Indian companies can benefit a lot.
Connectivity is a good example as in the last few months after the two prime ministerial visits, we have doubled the number of flights from India to Israel that bring both countries much closer together. We have the connectivity of people who feel that India and Israel are closer physically together.
You can get on a plane, and be there within a few hours. I would like to see the Indo- Israel relations less defined as special or unique but more of something that is natural, not something that we talk about as a first, historic, never happened before or unprecedented; all those words which are ranked should be put into a more normal avenue of normal relations between allies and friends. This is what we should aspire to.
- India and Israel have established USD $40 million Joint Innovation Initiative fund to increase economic cooperation and boost research and development within both countries. How exactly would the fund work?
First of all, the importance of the fund is by itself really a historic occasion to increase economic cooperation and boost research and development within both countries. The idea is to have joint, applied and industrial research. We want R&D inventors and entrepreneurs from both sides to cooperate.
There is a board that provides the grant. The idea is to take the best out of Israeli and Indian entrepreneurs, make them work together and develop a solution that would fit and benefit both sides. We have found that government encouragement is something which is very important for such endeavors.
We have very good experience in this, and we just wish this front to be successful in a way that we can go ahead to the next level with more funds after showing its success. We attach great importance to this initiative.
- Free Trade Agreement has the potential to take India–Israel ties to the next level. What are the major challenges in this regard?
FTA negotiations take time, and the idea is to take one step at a time. Our teams have been sitting together during the last few years for 8 rounds. We know that this is an issue within India and there are some demands from each side, but the teams must continue sitting and meeting as we don’t need to have a result within a couple of months. This process must continue. We know that there is an endgame that is the FTA, and it will bring us really to the next level in the area of trade.
Both sides must meet, which they will eventually. It will bring a huge change in our trade figures and numbers and will bring our countries very much together. The Israeli economy is a not a big economy. So for those who say that an FTA agreement will set precedents with other countries, not in the Israeli case; we bring something very unique to the table that is the technological partnership a cherry on the top of the cake if you wish and nobody should fear the influence of India-Israel FTA on other FTAs as we know that India has processes with others.
I am very hopeful that this will materialize one way or the other. We don’t have to wait too long for this but we also don’t have to rush. In the meantime we would very much like to go into what I would call— the road to FTA. These are some measures that will be taken before the actual FTA is signed or agreed upon.
If we embark into something like that, then, the road to FTA will be taken to show the confidence in building both systems. Then, it will become easier for both systems to talk later on the way to FTA.
- India and Israel are working together on a Five Year Joint Work Plan for strategic cooperation in agriculture and water. What are the other areas that can be tapped?
I would like to limit ourselves for the time being in agriculture and water, as there is a lot to do in these two areas. Both countries are aiming to strengthen our partnership in the farming sector. The challenge with agriculture and water is big. We already have a working three-year joint program which has already started, under which the Centers of Excellence (COEs) are being set up across the country to train farmers about Israeli farming and water technologies. At a later stage, we are planning to cooperate in science and technology, academia, and space to name a few.
- Israel has one of the most highly regarded higher education systems worldwide, with six of its universities ranking among world’s top 100. How can India leverage Israel’s expertise in higher education?
By having more connection between institutions and sending more students from India to Israel. As we now speak, 10 percent of the students in Israel who come from abroad are from India, which is a huge percentage, but we would like to do better. For this reason, we are encouraging more activity between universities, more visits from both sides. I can tell you that a few Israeli universities are working in India on a permanent basis. They come here encouraging students to study in Israel.
We also have a very special connection between institutions in Israel and particular government ministries in India in the areas interesting for these institutions, for example water and agriculture for capacity building or courses for specific areas that are of concern to the Indian side. With scholarships, these institutions do various programmes and the trainees gain Israeli experience. The main idea really is to strengthen the connection between academia from both sides.
One very interesting thing that is happening with students who go and study in Israel this is maybe unique compared to other places because in many cases students from India who study in UK, US or Australia stay there the students who go to Israel come back to India. Thus, it’s a very optimistic way of looking in case you want those educated and usually very proficient people to come back and serve the Indian economy, as per your wish. Academia is something that we would like to strengthen very much and are also aware of that.
- New technologies and massive solar projects have helped put Israel closer to its renewable energy goals. India is planning to meet the broader goal of increasing solar power consumption by 2022. How can Israel help India to achieve this target?
I don’t think that Israel can help, or maybe the word ‘help’ is not in my vocabulary. I would like to refer you to what I said before we should have more conversations, we should have more contacts, and we should find the Israeli solution supporting the Indian technological solution to the Indian needs and vice-versa. There is a possibility of using Israeli solutions in manufacturing in India. When we find this equation calibrated, then we can strengthen our business activity.
Israel has contributed a lot to solar technology decades ago, but this does not mean that the world has not advanced. We have advanced and the world has also advanced. India has a very prominent role to play of being the initiator of the International Solar Alliance. The Israeli technology is something that is very well-known.
There are many summits, congresses and conferences that are taking place in Israel. I am sure Indians will show their interest in participating and learning new technologies, and we would do the same with events that are happening in India.
- What is your message for the readers of Diplomacy & Beyond Plus magazine?
India and Israel are two countries which are very different in size and history. But we are ancient peoples with rich traditions, heritage, and similarities. You see many differences as well as similarities. We have both achieved our independence more or less at the same time. We have confronted external challenges, and we still are doing that. We have to confront challenges, borders, terrorism, but we are doing it with the understanding that it is important to self-sustain, to be independent, to be free, to speak our minds and be democratic. Despite the differences, we are on similar paths.
Despite the fact that we are old traditional historical societies, we are both very curious and live with the eagerness to do more, succeed and achieve. There is something very special that is happening between our people, and in the last few years with the encouragement of the government and with the tested successes, this special bond is growing. And all that we are doing and when I say ‘we’ I mean our leaders, governments, diplomats, traders, scientists, students, tourists, performers, chefs, pilots each one adds a little bit to something very big. This is a very special relationship and a bond between the people from both sides. Israel and India are going through a historical process, and on a personal basis, I am very glad that this embassy is part of this initiative.