India and Israel are working toward a closer, more open, relationship under the Narendra Modi administration, according to local media reports. The two countries have signed a series of deals in technology and defense since Modi became prime minister in May.
Last week, an aerial defense system jointly developed by India and Israel passed a major trial, Reuters reported. In October, India had signed an agreement to buy Israeli anti-tank missiles in a deal worth $520 million. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment while the latter is currently India’s largest customer after Russia, according to Reuters. Both nations also conducted bilateral trade worth $3.4 billion in the first nine months of 2014, and officials expect a record trade volume this year.
"Unlike what we are going to see with China anytime soon, the Israeli government pushes us to go for the maximum in any defense or arms agreement with India,'' an Israeli official, said, according to The Times of India (TOI).
The countries are also looking to increase collaboration in agriculture technology -- a sector that Modi had expressed interest about when he visited Israel in 2006 as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, according to Reuters.
While India currently has an annual trade volume of about $5 billion with Israel, officials estimate that this figure will double if the countries sign a free trade agreement, which is currently being negotiated and is expected to be finalized by next year, TOI reported.
C. Raja Mohan, head of strategic studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, told Reuters that India's relationship with Israel is now out in the open as compared to how it was during the previous administration led by a Congress-led coalition, which chose to hide it so as not to offend the country's Muslim minority.
"Cynics in Israel would point out that Delhi was treating Tel Aviv like a mistress - engage in private but refuse to be seen with in public," he said, adding: "The Modi government is having none of that."
Senior Israeli officials also said that a visit to Israel by Modi is not ruled out, according to TOI, and if it happens, it would be the first time in 22 years that an Indian Prime Minister visited Israel.