Israeli ambassador in India Daniel Carmon sheds light on the other major areas of bilateral cooperation – namely, agriculture and irrigation
Aditi Bhaduri | January 7, 2017
India and Israel mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations in January 2017. While relations between the two countries have been soaring for much of this time, in recent years and under the current BJP-led NDA government a new era of visibility has ensued. While president Pranab Mukherjee went to Israel in 2016 in a historic first visit, Israeli president Reuven Rivlin paid a week-long visit to India in November 2016. In between there have been several other high-profile bilateral visits of ministers. While ties between the two countries are perceived to be all about defence and security, Israeli ambassador in India Daniel Carmon sheds light on the other major areas of bilateral cooperation – namely, agriculture and irrigation – in this interview with Aditi Bhaduri.
India and Israel are celebrating the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations. How would you evaluate the ties?
This month of January 2017 is the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel. I can say those relations have seen a revolutionary improvement from their initial settings till today. Those two countries, representing different regions, are so different in their initial settings, their numbers, size, Israel is such a small country, compared to India, in the side of the population, in the background, and yet we have found in those 25 years, common grounds, common values, similar challenges.
India and Israel have learnt to partner in areas that are complementary, like in health and are counting on each other. In no uncertain terms, they are going through a wonderful journey of friendship and partnership in which two countries, and their governments and populations benefit respectively.
We are two nations and two people with long historical traditions who got independence around the same time, in 1947 and 1948 respectively, from the British and we have the same heritage and learnt to develop our own identity and independence and democracy and liberty. We are both relatively young people and very eager to develop ourselves as we look to the future and we both have a lot of interest in doing it together.
That’s something we keep saying but the more we experience our relations the more we understand the potential it has. We are not just talking the talk but also walking the walk in various fields according to our own experiences.
President Rivlin recently visited India and in 2015, president Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel. Prime minister Modi is yet to visit. A little too slow?
Well, if you look back at 25 years one of the characteristics of India-Israel relations... despite the fact that they are good and sound and very constructive relations, yet for some reasons the visibility of those relations was low key. That was part of a larger policy that India had in the past which we feel is changing but which amongst others did not encourage visibility of the relationship with Israel. This is not true anymore. One of the characteristics of our bilateral relations is being visible and not shying away from talking about it and this gives more strength and dynamism to the relations. The fact that we see more high profile visits, of ministers, of high level officials, joint secretaries and of course heads of states. In 2015, president Mukherjee visited Israel in what was a historical visit and last month president Rivlin visited this great country.
This is important and it’s part of the relations becoming more visible, but it is far beyond just being ceremonial. The visibility itself sent a very strong message to the people, to the world, to those who would be implementing them and to the practitioners that not only is it okay to do business with Israel, politically and in all other aspects, but it’s also something we as governments are encouraging.
President Rivlin during his visit said India and Israel can ‘make magic’ on food security. Can you elaborate?
I think, by doing magic together. And if we do more, we will be doing more magic. I think both countries through their institutions and administrations have developed a partnership in areas that are important to both sides where each side brings its own comparative advantage and experience. It is no secret that when Israel gained independence in 1947, we had to build a nation. We usually describe it as a ‘development laboratory’. I have to say that 60 years before the international community has said what is called ‘global development goals’, we have been practicing these goals and giving solutions to those challenges.
But we have not only been a development laboratory but we have been sharing success stories in this with our friends.
As the former head of Mashav (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation), have you taken any initiatives/measures for closer agricultural cooperation?
We have been sharing with India a very special kind of concept of projects. These are the agricultural centres of excellence. Our president visited some of these projects and saw for himself the magic that is being done.
Engaging the Indian owners of the project and the Israeli contributors or partners in these projects which are Indo-Israeli centres of excellence, where each side brings its contribution. This type of partnership is a good model in other areas of development where each side brings its strengths and it can be in agriculture, in dairy farming, which are going into in the future, it can be in defence, in homeland security.
Each brings whatever it can – we are not in the business of teaching and learning. We are in the business of cooperating, where it is a partnership between equals where there is no better or a more knowledgeable one. Those two parties know exactly what they have on each side of the table and they make a joint table and contribute. That is the beauty of those relations.
And definitely through the centres of excellences. There are currently 40 centres of excellence across the countries in various stages of implementation and of them 15 centres are fully functional, and are bearing fruits, flowers, and vegetables, citrus.
These centres benefit more than 10,000 farmers each and we hope they will serve as a model for future privately owned business dedicated centres – with Israeli technology, adapted to the Indian arena.
We are talking about agriculture and food security but other areas of socio-economic development that Israel has excelled in can also be shared in other types of projects. Water [for example], being one of them, which is very important for both India and Israel, and a big challenge for both countries. Israel has in the past suffered from water scarcity because we are located in a region which does not enjoy too much rain to say the least and we are using technology like recycling technology, water conservation, and desalination.
And now from a country which was recently in a national water crisis just a few years ago, Israel, using technology, now has water surplus. So this is one big area where we can cooperate. We are in talks with the Indian government and state governments to see how we can walk the walk and do things together.
Bilateral trade between the two countries hovers around $6 billion. But we don’t see too many investors from Israel. One of the criticisms leveled against the relationship is that Indians do all the buying, Israelis all the selling.
I’m surprised by this criticism because everyone who knows the nature of the relations between our two countries knows that at this stage there is interest in investments on both sides. But we are still building the basis for a sound economic relationship which would make it easy for Israeli investors to invest in India and also for Indian investors to invest in Israeli startups – Israel is a startup nation as you know. But I refuse to accept the fact that the relation between India and Israel is a seller-buyer relationship as such. This minimises the nature of the relations, which are deep, involve joint R&D, involve transfer of technology; they involve very deep commitment and of course also buying and selling, which is something you can’t do without in this world. The agricultural cooperation we talked about is something way beyond buying and selling, where we are sharing our expertise, our knowledge in the field of food security, in dairy, in defence. There is buying and selling, of course. There is low investment, of course. But in order to have investments we have to build the confidence, and it is being built.
We always hear criticism that it is not easy to do business in India, but we know it’s getting easier because some steps have been taken and I hope this will improve even more. And I’m sure this will open the doors to even more investments from Israel.
Our forte is in technology, which is essential to the innovation needed to develop solutions in various fields. However, if an individual businessman decides to invest in Indian companies, they will certainly do so and from time to time, I do hear about Israeli investors exploring the possibilities.
PM Modi called for broad-basing bilateral relations and president Rivlin said that Israel can both make in India and make with India. This is important as the government has to create jobs. How can that be actualised?
By doing it, and we are doing it. And there are few partnerships where products and systems and processes that were initially manufactured in Israel will be manufactured in India with Indian partners. This pertains mostly to defence but there are other areas too where Israeli companies with the encouragement of the Israeli government are manufacturing in India. We have irrigation companies from Israel who have opened Indian affiliates.
The main objective of the Israeli government is to make in Israel, of course, just like any other government. But we are very aware, and part of the equation and relation between Israel and India, is the flexibility to the concept of ‘Make in India’. That is why our president said it on his visit and the minister of defence said the same thing two years ago. Without going into details, there is [in defence] an India-Israel ‘Make in India’ partnership.
The irrigation companies for instance began manufacturing in India even before the concept of ‘Make in India’ was announced. And they are continuing to manufacture.
US president-elect Donald Trump has said that he will ensure a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can we expect a settlement of this decades-old conflict any time in the near future based on the two-state principle?
Referring specifically to what president-elect Donald Trump said, like in other areas which have suffered from political conflict, it’s about time to also see our region going through such a process. But I caution to say that today’s world, including our own region, is seeing some opportunities but also quite a lot of dangers emanating from terrorism, from states that support terrorism, from destabilisation, from extremism, and the international community should exert efforts, should not save any efforts from trying to solve human tragedies. One of the worst human tragedies, even as we speak, is taking place in Syria, the effect of extremism, the fact that many people in our region do not feel safe except maybe our own country which is an island of stability and calm. So yes, there is conflict between us and the Palestinians which has to be solved, but I would say let’s look at the real, immediate, imminent humanitarian problems and tragedies and the real imminent threats the world is witnessing and try to solve them first.
And finally, as India and Israel mark the 25th anniversary of establishment of full diplomatic relations, what are the plans ahead?
Twenty-five years is a good opportunity to celebrate the achievements, the success stories in this wonderful partnership and this wonderful journey which our people, our governments and our nations are going through. It is a good time and plans are afoot for many cultural events and ceremonies.
Twenty-five years is also a good headline to encourage activities, upgrade activities. It is a good opportunity to look ahead to the next 25 years and there is so much potential in the relations between our countries and I’m sure the potentials are endless. 2017 also starts the next 25 years of our relationship and beyond, which I believe will be the best for India and Israel.
(The interview appears in the January 1-15, 2016 issue)
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