Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived here on Sunday to a warm hug from his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to kickstart a six-day visit that will also take him to Mumbai and Gujarat.
A smiling Modi embraced Netanyahu and then shook hands both with him and his wife as they stepped on the red carpet at the airport here.
This is the first visit to India by an Israeli Prime Minister since Ariel Sharon came in 2003, 15 years since Ariel Sharon came here.
"A special welcome for a special visit... Modi personally receives Israeli PM at Delhi Airport," the Prime Minister's Office tweeted.
The two leaders attended attend a solemn ceremony at the Teen Murti Memorial here to mark the formal renaming of Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti Haifa Chowk. The two leaders laid a wreath and signed the visitor's book at the memorial.
As it happened:
10:00 pm: Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a private dinner for his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and wife Sara at his 7, Lok Kalyan Marg residence here tonight. “Delighted to welcome Mrs. Netanyahu and PM @netanyahu to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. @IsraeliPM,” Modi tweeted.
07:00pm: My first visit to India, a world power that is strengthening its relations with Israel. I am excited about this historic week that will further strengthen Israel's international standing.
03:15 pm: "Teen Murti Chowk is now Teen Murti Haifa Chowk in memory of supreme sacrifice by Indian soldiers to liberate Haifa in Israel in 1918. PM@narendramodi and @IsraeliPM Netanhayu laid wreath at Teen Murti memorial. #ShalomNamaste," MEA tweeted.
03:00 pm: PM Modi's inscription in visitors book at Teen Murti:
"It is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War-1. Many golden pages of the sacrifices of Indian braves are written in the history of both World Wars.
"One of these pages was written 100 years ago, in the sacrifice of Indian soldiers at Haifa. The sacrifice commemorated at Teen Murti observes its centenary. Naming this spot as Teen Murti - Haifa Chowk, marks this historic occasion. In the presence of the Prime Minister of Israel, we pay homage to the brave soldiers.
"Salute to the great Indian traditions of selfless sacrifice and penance."
02:20 pm: PM Modi, Benjamin Netanyahu pay tribute to martyrs of 61 cavalry.
02:04 pm: PM Modi, Isareli PM Benjamin Netanyahu leave for Teen Murti Chowk
02:00 pm: PM Modi receives Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara at Delhi Airport
01:16 pm: PM Modi to receive Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at Delhi airport shortly.
01:14 pm: On this visit I intend to strengthen bilateral relations even more. This visit is an opportunity to enhance cooperation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power: Netanyahu
01:12 pm: Indian Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit: Netanyahu
01:11 pm: "We are strengthening ties between Israel and this important global power. This serves our security, economic, trade and tourism interests, as well as many other areas. This is a great blessing for the State of Israel," said Netanyahu.
01:10 pm: Just before leaving for India today, Netanyahu said, "This evening I am leaving on an historic visit to India. I will meet with the Prime Minister, my friend Narendra Modi, with the Indian President and with many other leaders. We will sign very many agreements".
During his visit in July last year, PM Modi was received by Netanyahu at the airport, and was accorded the kind of welcome by every religious sect that is reserved for popes and US presidents.
Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will hold talks on Monday covering entire expanse of ties and explore new areas of cooperation to further deepen the “very very special relationship”, the external affairs ministry had said on January 11, 2018.
Netanyahu's first official meeting will be with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. PM Modi will host Netanyahu for dinner on Sunday night. During his three day visit in Israel, Indian delicacies were specially cooked for PM Modi by an Israeli chef of Indian origin, a personal favourite of Netanyahu's.
Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu had said, “Well I would have preferred a different vote to be frank, but I don’t think it materially changes the tremendous flowering of relations between India and Israel.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the Jewish state in July last year, becoming the first Indian premier to do so. Netanyahu will be in India on a six-day visit from January 14, during which he will hold comprehensive talks with Modi. The prime minister will also host a private dinner for the Israeli leader.
During his stay, he will also visit Gujarat and Mumbai. Without confirming whether an agreement for Israeli Spike missiles will be signed during Netanyahu’s visit, Carmon said the Spike project is an example of “Israel engaging in Make in India” because it can be implemented through partnership between an Israeli company and Indian firm.
In November, the defence ministry had decided to retract from the process to acquire a batch of Spike missiles from Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. Now, it is learnt that the government is considering buying the missiles through government-to-government route.
The envoy also referred to the personal equation between Modi and Natenyahu. He said the Indian prime minister will host Netanyahu in his home state and termed it as an “important gesture”.
On the strong bond between the two leaders which was driving the current Indo-Israeli ties, Carmon said the relationship between India and Israel is an “all-weather friendship”. He also said in the case of Justice Dalveer Bhandari at the International Court of Justice, Israel not only supported the Indian candidate but it adopted, with four more countries, along with India, Bhandari’s candidature.
“Since we talk about democracies, similar values, similar challenges…, the relationship is so strong between both the countries that our feeling is (that) nothing can reverse it,” he said. Touching upon the trade and business aspects of Netanyahu’s visit, Carmon said a 130-strong delegation of businessmen involved in technologies related to agriculture, water, cyber, defence industries, food processing, will accompany the Israeli leader.
Carmon said 11-year Moshe Holtzberg will also accompany Netanyahu and participate in a function at the Chabad House in Mumbai. Moshe’s parents were killed in the 26/11 terror attack at the Chabad House.
Netanyahu’s visit comes days after India voted against Israel at the UN on the Jerusalem issue.
Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon on Friday down played India’s stand at the UN General Assembly over the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in place of Tel Aviv, saying New Delhi’s view “cannot influence” Indo-Israel ties.
“I don’t think it can influence the relationship. The relationship is much stronger than the one vote here and there,” Carmon said, but maintained that it was “not a happy” situation when members of the international community did not vote in favour on the issue at the UN.
The envoy also said that sometimes India comes with a request (at the UN) and sometimes Israel does. “We cannot always fulfil those requests and this is why we are two different countries,” he told reporters here.
India had last month joined 127 other countries to vote in the UNGA in favour of a resolution opposing the recent decision of US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.