MUMBAI - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the previously scrapped $500 million Spike anti-tank missile deal between India and major Israeli defense contractor Rafael is back on the table.
Netanyahu noted that India is working to reapprove the record defense deal. National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat added that current talks are trending in a positive direction, and the details will be finalized later on. Members of the premier’s entourage believe the transaction will end up being worth only half of the originally agreed upon $500 million.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu visited Gujarat together with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who comes from that state. Together they visited an ashram in which Mahatma Gandhi lived for 12 years. The two later inaugurated a center for technological innovation and announced a plan for cooperation between start-ups from both countries, which aims to combine Israel’s technology knowledge with India’s product development capabilities. They also visited greenhouses that were established using Israeli technology with the help of Israel’s Agency for International Development Corporation.
At each stop, the Netanyahus were greeted with traditional song and dance ceremonies. The roadsides were adorned with huge banners bearing the photos of the two leaders, with crowds waving as they passed by.
“I’ve been in diplomatic life for 30 years and I‘ve never seen anything like this,” Netanyahu said. “This expresses a personal and national tie, an international link which is incredibly powerful. There were tens of thousands of people there, maybe hundreds of thousands. I’ve never seen myself in such photos. It was moving, and it ought to make every Israeli happy, since India is a global power. India is amazing because it has two cultures that had been distant but after thousands of years have met in a way that’s never happened in history.”
Earlier in Netanyahu's trip to India, Ben-Shabbat met with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, and discussed strengthening security ties between the countries, as well as the recently terminated deal.
Netanyahu landed last 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 would hamper local missile development efforts by government agencies including the Organization for Research and Security Development. However, security sources say that the issue was actually a competing American offer.
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 by 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."
Asked about the recently approved deep Foreign Ministry budget cuts, given all the activity he had seen in India so far, Netanyahu answered, “You see that the Foreign Ministry performs well … India is one of the places to expand, not to close up.” Diplomats involved in planning and implementing the complex visit were uncomfortable with the noncommittal response, since Netanyahu is also foreign minister.
In 2016, the Indian government signed two large deals with the Israel Aerospace Industries, one worth almost $2 billion includes the land-based version of the Barak 8 air defense system, as well as the naval version to be installed on the Indian navy's aircraft carrier. India and Israel cooperate to a great extent on defense matters as well, participating in joint air force and naval exercises.
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.
On Thursday Netanyahu will visit a memorial for victims of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai and will be joining Moishe Holtzberg, 12, who lost his parents in the attack at the local Chabad house. Netanyahu will also meet leaders of the local Bollywood film industry and is expected to return to Israel Friday afternoon.
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