Jerusalem, Dec 10: The biggest dream of Israeli President Shimon Peres is to go to India, if he gets an invitation, said one diplomat. Shimon Peres would very much enjoy his visit to India, said another.
That was the broadest hint one got of Israel's keen desire to take its relationship with India to the next level, somewhat on the pattern of New Delhi's strategic partnership with the United States, which is the closest ally of the Jewish state too.
As it is, despite India's support for the Palestinian cause, New Delhi and Tel Aviv have a wide-ranging relationship encompassing defence, economic cooperation, agriculture, food security and scientific cooperation.
India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest military partner of India after the Russian Federation with a military business worth around $9 billion.
India is also the second-largest Asian economic partner of Israel with bilateral trade, excluding military sales, standing at about $5 billion, up from a mere $200 million in 1992 when the two established formal relations. An extensive bilateral free trade pact is also in the works.
“There is a huge interest in India,” officials told a group of Indian journalists from Washington during a recent visit, noting that some 50,000 Israelis visit India every year with many a youth taking advantage of the time off they get after doing compulsory military service, three years for men and two for women, on turning 18.
But lack of exchanges has kept the profile of relationship low, lamented officials seeking a dialogue at the top with more high-level visits on both sides.
“I believe India has all kinds of interest in the Arab world,” said one senior official. But notwithstanding that, India can still raise the level of its relationship with Israel too as “there is a lot to aspire.”
With “Iran working hard to acquire a nuclear weapon, though there is evidence that they are there yet,” the Israelis would like India “to be more active in efforts to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions”.
“There are many ways to do it,” said an official ambiguously without spelling out how even as he acknowledged that “India of course is respecting and implementing the UN sanctions” against Iran.
Indian diplomats in Tel Aviv too took note of the “thriving” relationship with Israel thanks to their similar societies, a long and peaceful Jewish presence in India and presence of 70,000 Indian Jews in Israel.
The then External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited Israel in January against the backdrop of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai followed subsequently.
But given Israel's increasing isolation over its defiant actions after the United Nations General Assembly voted to grant “non-member observer state” status to the “Palestinian entity,” a visit at the highest political level may be hard to come by any time soon.