NEW DELHI — India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in Hebrew and stressed the close friendship between the two leaders and their countries as officials from both sides signed several agreements Monday on defence, trade, energy and agricultural ties.
The Israeli prime minister arrived in India on Sunday for a six-day visit, his first to India. He was met on the tarmac by Modi who engulfed him in his trademark bear hug and later hosted Netanyahu and his wife at a private dinner.
“My good friend, welcome to India,” Modi said addressing Netanyahu as the two men addressed reporters after their bilateral meeting Monday. He also referred to him as “my friend Bibi” and Netanyahu in return referred to Modi by his first name.
Earlier Monday Netanyahu inspected a ceremonial guard of honour at India’s presidential palace and laid a floral wreath at the memorial of India’s independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.
“This is the dawn of a new era in the great friendship between India and Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters at the presidential palace. He described the visit as “deeply moving for my wife and me and for the entire people of Israel.”
The visit marks 25 years since India and Israel established diplomatic relations. Last year Modi visited Israel, becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so.
During the Cold War, India didn’t have open relations with Israel, leaning heavily in favour of the Palestinians. But over the last 25 years, ties between the two countries have warmed.
On Monday Modi said that Netanyahu’s visit was “a fitting climax to the commemoration of 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel.”
Netanyahu’s visit comes weeks after India’s vote in favour of a U.N. resolution denouncing President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Netanyahu told India Today magazine in an interview over the weekend that while Israel was disappointed by India’s vote, the relationship between Tel Aviv and New Delhi remained strong.
“Yes, naturally we were disappointed, but this visit is a testimony that our relationship is moving on so many fronts forward,” Netanyahu said.
A large Israeli business contingent is travelling with Netanyahu and on Monday evening Netanyahu will attend the India-Israel CEO Forum Meeting.
Netanyahu’s schedule includes a visit to Agra, to visit the Taj Mahal, and to Gujarat, prime minister Modi’s home state. He will also visit India’s business capital Mumbai where apart from meeting business leaders he is also slated to meet with the leaders of India’s tiny Jewish community.
The Associated Press