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Secretary (CPV&OIA)'s remarks at the 13th India-Israel Forum

November 23, 2020

Thank you for the invitation to the 13th India-Israel Forum. It is an important Track II dialogue, involving various stakeholders. We value greatly the ideas that emerge from this Forum, as expressions of the vibrant democracies we represent. The remarks by the Co-Chairs Jamshyd Godrej and Stanley Bergman have set the tone. My colleague Amb Alon Ushpiz, Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel, who is very familiar with India, has elaborated on the key issues. I wish to reflect on our engagement with the region we call West Asia and Gulf and a few elements of our special and unique relations with Israel.

2. Our relations with the region are civilisational. It is widely believed that over two millennia ago, people from this region reached the southern shores of India on ships led by trade winds. A community of Syrian Jews still exists. Two millennia back, their cousins reached our shores again, a community of Syrian Christians. A few centuries later, from the same region came yet other cousins who brought Islam to India. The synagogues, churches and mosques flourished in our lands, their customs enriched our lives, through the assimilation of cultures and ideologies and exchanges of trade and people. The relations were deep, developing across generations, and were mutually beneficial.

3. Today, we call this region our extended neighbourhood, an indication of cultural affection and policy priority. We saw unprecedented positive momentum in our ties with the countries in this region, in recent decades. We forged several strategic partnerships, including with Israel. The region is central to our economic and security interests and important for our role in a globalized world and reformed multilateralism. Our shared vision hopes for regional peace and stability, economic growth and engagement consistent with development priorities, collaboration in resources and technologies and efforts for a reformed and responsible multilateral system. These form the important pillars of a future-oriented strategic engagement.

4. It is useful to review certain important elements of the relations.

- The trade volume with West Asia and Gulf region is $170 billion, making it a major trading partner. The basket has diversified over time, although hydrocarbons still account for the bulk of trade.

- The cumulative FDI inflow of $7 billion in the past two decades is 2% of our global FDI. But it surged in recent years with sovereign wealth funds and portfolio investments; moreover, Indian corporates are interested in investments in the region.

- The region is vital for our energy security, accounting for 53% of India’s oil and 41% of gas imports, besides stakes in oil blocks, refineries, strategic oil reserves, etc.

- India sources 60% of fertilizers and raw material from this region, and has in turn positioned herself as a reliable source of food exports to the Gulf, making food security an element of this partnership.

- The presence of an Indian diaspora of over 9 million, who sent home around $48 billion in remittances, also makes the region important. Indian workers’ emerged as preferred migrants and there is recognition of their contribution to development of the Gulf States.

5. Admittedly, the region has seen its fair share of conflict. Despite progress and development across the region, economic growth eluded many and religious radicalization and extremism played a role in the spread of violence and terrorism. The growth of non-state actors, sometimes taking advantage of failed states and support from external agencies, complicated the scenario. There is need for reforms to bring moderation in ideology; to revive tolerance and pluralism in society; and to build conditions for peace, development and stability for all. There is closer security coordination and collaboration, between states, to thwart the ambitions of the terrorists. India maintained a principled policy of non-interference and non-partisanship, advised peaceful negotiated settlement and maintained relations with all the countries.

6. We welcomed the recent rapprochement between Arab states and Israel leading to the normalization of relations. This could improve prospects for a brighter future for the region. The ideal future rests on the realization of the legitimate aspirations of the people. We have often said that direct negotiations between the parties can provide solutions for peaceful and secure co-existence between the two sides and also provide peace and prosperity to the citizens of two States, living side by side.

7. India-Israel relations are steeped in history, a chequered one, as we know. The steep trajectory over almost three decades, since we established full diplomatic relations, has been nothing less than extraordinary. The establishment of a strategic partnership in 2017 was not a mere declaration of intent but an enumeration of the true and special character of the relations. Today, we are embarked on exploring newer vistas of cooperation.

8. Let me mention just a few, that have great potential and contemporary relevance: high technology, innovation, water and energy.

- With the unprecedented disruption of Covid pandemic, India and Israel joined hands to develop rapid test kits and cooperated on vaccine research. The scope for high-tech collaboration has grown in defence, under Make in India, and cooperation to combat cyber crimes has become more important, as we face the threat of terrorists. In an era where technology dominates, India-Israel projects can lead the way, not only bilaterally but in securing new markets globally.

- Israel is known as a start-up nation. Similarly, Start-Up India initiative is building a conducive environment to bring together investors, entrepreneurs and innovators. The iCreate Centre in Gujarat and the $40 million joint I4F (India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund) are match-making mechanisms in this area; a lot more can be done.

- Water is a critical resource, the next frontier. Access to water, especially in arid regions posed challenges. Israel’s has been at the forefront of avant-garde research in water conservation and dry land agricultural techniques. This is a strategic sector for bilateral cooperation. Our efforts are aimed at leveraging your pioneering technology in water conservation and desalination to bring water to parched lands of Jamnagar, Chennai and Bundelkhand, to revive traditional indigenous water practices in the region and encourage new agricultural methods based on technology. The India-Israel Agricultural Project and the recent agriculture reforms and laws in india will play a key role in this endeavour.

- Finally, energy. Growth and development demand energy. Contracts for gas exports from the massive Israeli reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, exploring oil and gas in reserves in India, developing technologies and collaborations for renewable energy sources could be the way forward. Becoming partners in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts will be of immense benefit to our societies.

9. In conclusion, we will leverage the strengths of democracy and pluralism to shape the world and our place in it. With the West Asia and Gulf region, we seek to supplement our strong traditional ties with an "ahead of the curve” approach, which embraces technology and national priorities in a future-oriented action plan that not only strengthens relations but also refashions them and makes them relevant to the changing times.

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