Indo-Isreal ties for economic development
The size and the population of Israel, when compared to those of India could be very small but the value of its relations with this country is increasing with every passing year. With the well established fact that the defense and the strategic ties between the two countries are augmenting, it is necessary that trade, cultural and educational relations also prosper. In order to gain insight into the state of affairs, I interviewed Smt Orna Sagiv, the Consul General of Israel in Mumbai. Her knowledge about the ground realities and how the economic relations between the two countries can be provided a fillip, no doubt, is commendable.
We started with discussing trade relations. She informed that twenty years ago the bilateral trade between the two countries stood at paltry 180 million dollars, whereas today the non-defense trade is touching 5 billion dollars. A Free Trade Agreement is going to be signed between the two nations which will catapult the total trade figure to between 12 to 15 billion dollars. She maintained that the countries complement each other in respect of resources; Israel does not have natural resources but is technologically advanced and India on its part has both human as well as natural resources. Therefore, if the resourcefulness of both the countries is brought together, a new kind of synergy can be developed which will help them grow at a faster pace.
She informed that agriculture is among the sectors in which there exists tremendous scope of co-operation between the two countries; only 2.4 percent of Israeli population is engaged in agrarian sector but produces that much amount of food grains which is sufficient to cater to the needs of the whole country. This has been possible due to the advanced agro-technology being followed in Israel; the major factor is the prudent consumption of water in the agriculture sector. Owing to the drip irrigation methods, the total requirement of water for a particular plant, is calibrated and in accordance with that, the water is supplied to the same ensuring that there is no wastage. Dairy farming is another area in which Israel is way ahead of some of the leading milk producing countries; the average yield of milk per cow per annum is more than twelve thousand liters. It is needless to say that in the above mentioned areas, the collaboration between the two countries can accrue tremendous benefits for each of them.
Orna spoke comprehensively about water conservation methods being adopted in her country. She said, water shortage is becoming a global problem and her country has successfully endeavoured to find solutions for the same. According to her, water conservation values are inculcated in the citizens from a very young age only, therefore, wastage of the same is almost negligible. Waste water recycling is extensively done and almost eighty per cent of the used water is recycled. They have the world’s largest desalination plant installed in Israel and water harvesting projects are assiduously implemented. Besides, it is ensured that no water leakage takes place during the distribution process. Utmost attention is paid on the safety and security of the lakes and reservoirs.
On the question of how Indian private security agencies can learn new methods from their Israeli counterparts, she told that after the dastardly terrorist attack of 26/11, internal security scenario has changed a lot in India and quite a few of the private Indian security agencies are entering into joint ventures with the Israeli companies. She, however, opined that a security mindset has to be evolved at the grass root level; for example, no one in Israel will ignore an unattended bag or any item camouflaging a potential bomb lying at a public place and will immediately inform the law enforcement agencies.
The subject of Indo-Iran relations also cropped up during our discussion; Orna was very forthright in her comments on the said relations. It is a well known fact that Iran is trying to acquire strategic nuclear capability and the development is going to precipitate a kind of nuclear race in the neighbouring countries including Saudi Arabia, which has already announced that in the event of Iran amassing nuclear weapons—in order to protect its own national interests—it will also start nuclear arms development programme. She opined that the scenario apart from being dangerous for Israel, will be equally threatening for world peace, therefore, the economic sanctions being initiated against Iran must be forcefully implemented by the world community. On being asked that for a country like India whose twelve per cent of total requirement of petroleum is imported from Iran, how participation in the sanction regime will be possible? She said, countries like Japan and South Korea also were importing huge quantities of petroleum from Iran but now they have started looking for alternative suppliers. She further added that even on moral grounds, the international community should refrain from supporting the Iranian regime which has a history of perpetrating terrorist violence in many countries.
Orna appreciated the Indian tradition of giving respect to all the faiths and said that anti-Semitic sentiments have never existed in this country. She believes that more cultural exchanges should be started between the two countries and enumerated the initiatives which are being taken by her country to strengthen the cultural ties. She said, shortly the Ministry of Tourism is going to open an office in New Delhi to facilitate the tourist traffic; other efforts include the making of TV commercials showcasing tourist destinations and more co-ordination with the tour operators. At present around forty thousand Indian tourists visit Israel annually and the figure certainly will go up in the future. She disclosed that around one lakh Jews of Indian origin live in Israel and are brand ambassadors of the Indian culture over there.
On the academic front, she expressed her opinion that joint research in various fields by both the countries can prove to be very fruitful; at present Israel is investing 4.7 per cent of its GDP— highest in global terms—in the research and development programmes. It has recently launched plans designed to boost research co-operation with India and China; it envisaged to attract researchers and students from both the countries to Israel’s research institutions. The first programme to be launched will be for post-doctorate students to expose them to the research capabilities in Israel and the second one will be for outstanding students to study in various universities in that country. As a part of these programmes, scholarships will be awarded to hundreds of students and researchers.
Orna visited India as a youngster and a backpacker for the first time many years ago; today as the Consul General one can see the same amount of energy – while she speaks with aplomb about the relations of her country with India – which normally is associated with a youngster, exuding out of her persona. From the talks I had with her, it can be assumed that 21st century is going to witness that kind of relations developing between Israel and India, which will be not only economically beneficial for both the states but will be conducive for world peace also.