From Israel to India with friendship in the face of pandemic
A special flight equipped with medical equipment and advanced technological treatments for coronavirus flew to India from Tel Aviv yesterday. Also on board were defence and security experts, as well as Israeli diplomats returning to their embassies and consulates in the region. Dozens of sophisticated ventilators, which were loaded onto the special flight before take-off, made the name of the mission 26, that much more meaningful: “Breathing Space.”
Israel went out of its way to approve the export and transfer of these ventilators to India, while both countries continue to fight against the spread of the virus. Israel’s exceptional gesture today was a welcome “thank you” to India, which, just a few months ago, sent medicine and other essential diagnostic equipment in severe global shortage at the time to Israel.
In this way, Israel and India successfully transformed this unprecedented global pandemic into an opportunity to assist one another and further enhance their relations.
The Israel-India relationship has improved dramatically over the past several years. It’s hard to believe that just three decades ago, Indian passports were valid “for every country except Israel”. Today, India has become one of our most significant friendships in the Asia region. The scope of mutual trade between the two countries has grown from approximately 200 million USD in 1992 to some 4 billion USD in 2018. Since Ariel Sharon’s first historic visit to India in 2003, Israeli and Indian presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers have enjoyed a host of bilateral visits and discussions. One of the first discussions Foreign Minister Ashkenazi held upon entering his new role was with his Indian counterpart, Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. These are just some of the indicators of the surge that has occurred in relations between the two countries since diplomatic ties were fully established in 1992.
This upward trend has yielded success in other fields as well. Although it’s difficult to imagine direct flights while living under the cloud of COVID-19, Air India’s direct flight between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, inaugurated two years ago, minimizes flight duration by flying over Saudi Arabia. This contributes towards the normalization of Israel’s ties with the Arab world, and as such, assists Israel in achieving its strategic goal of improving its relations with the region.
Other flights – El Al to Mumbai, Arkia flights to Goa and Cochin – are an important bridge between Israel and India. This bridge is further strengthened by a visa relief policy for Indian citizens which saw the number of Indian tourists visiting Israel grow from 16,000 in 2000 to over 70,000 in 2018.