NEW DELHI - National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat met with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval and discussed strengthening security ties between the countries, as well as the recently terminated $500 million anti-tank missile deal, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entourage said on Sunday.
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Netanyahu landed Sunday in New Delhi, the capital of India, as part of a six-day visit marking the 25th anniversary of bilateral relations between the countries. Netanyahu's delegation includes representatives from Israel's security industries, who are working to salvage a deal cancelled by India to buy Israeli-made Spike anti-tank missiles made by Rafael.
According to Indian reports, the country suspected that buying the missiles from Israel – at the cost of half a billion dollars – would hamper local missile development efforts by government agencies including the Organization for Research and Security Development.
In an interview with the Indian media, Netanyahu was asked if the deal's cancellation will impact on the defense relationship between the two countries. Netanyahu responded, saying that he hopes the visit will help to solve the problem, adding that he thinks there's a good chance that they'll be able to reach a fair solution on the matter by the end of the visit. He further said that defense ties between the countries are significant and encompass a number of items.
He added, "The key word here is 'defense.' We want to defend ourselves. We are not a people who attack, however we must ensure that no one is able to attack us."
In a surprise move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the airport to greet Netanyahu and his wife, instead of the minister of state for external affairs. Modi, who visited Israel half a year ago, tweeted on his Twitter account in Hebrew, Welcome to India, my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu. Your visit to India is historic and special. The visit will strengthen the close ties between our countries. He posted a similar greeting in English. Netanyahu is expected to meet with Modi several times during the visit.
After his arrival, Netanyahu attended a dedication of a square in New Delhi named after the city of Haifa. He met with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Sawarj in the afternoon. The prime minister is expected to meet other ministers along with Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. He is also expected to visit a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian movement for independence from Britain, the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, where Gandhi lived for 12 years.
The prime ministers entourage includes 130 Israeli businessmen from the fields of defense, computers, water, energy, agriculture, health and food. They include senior executives of Aeronautics Defense Systems, an Israeli drone maker which is currently under criminal investigation. According to media reports, Aeronautics is suspected of having operated a suicide drone in Azerbaijan against a manned Armenian army position.
Before the visit, Israel approved a special visa for Indian businessmen. The Indian Embassy in Israel had been complaining for years of discrimination in the granting of entry visas, with Indian businessmen entitled only to a regular one-month work visa. After repeated requests to Interior Minister Arye Dery, last week Dery instructed the ministry to issue Indian businessmen visas that allow them to remain in the country for up to three months and which remain in effect for five years.