INDIA - Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's upcoming visit to Israel
marks the opening of a festive year in the ties between the two countries, 20 years since diplomatic relations were established in 1992.
Krishna, who will land in Israel on Monday, is slated to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman,
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and President Shimon Peres,
hold talks on security-related and economic issues and sign a free trade agreement.
India's newspapers reported of the visit, noting that it was the personal decision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Krishna will be the highest-ranking Indian official to visit the Jewish state since 2000.
"The visit is perceived as the most natural thing between two countries with such close ties, even intimate," says David Goldfarb, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi. "A visit by a foreign minister is completely normal between countries which share such a level of friendship,"
Another source in the Israeli Foreign Ministry says the visit marks the Indian leadership's understanding that relations with Israel are very important in all areas."
Indeed, in recent years the relations have grown stronger at a fast rate. In the past, the ties focused on diamond trade, arms exports and hikers' trips to India, but today they are held on all levels.
A look into the list of Israeli ministers who visited India in 2010 provides a fascinating image of the relationship between the two countries today. Economy is naturally the main issue.
The volume of trade between the two countries reached $5 billion last year. According to estimates, after the free trade agreement is signed in 2012, this number will quickly triple itself.
Hundreds of Israeli and Indian companies have already entered different types of partnerships in the fields of security, agriculture, technology and alternative energy, real estate, pharmaceutics, telecom, etc.
The most recent visit was made by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who attracted a lot of media attention. The visit focused on research and development issues, and one of the minister's most interesting statements was that scholarships would be handed out to 100 postdoctoral candidates in technological fields in order to bring them to study in Israel and connect the intelligence of both countries.
"Israel views its ties with India as its second most important relationship after the United States," Steinitz told Indian media.
Agriculture Minister Orit Noked visited India as well and signed a cooperation agreement for the next three years.
"We have no such connection in the agricultural field with any other country," she told Yedioth Ahronoth at the time. "This is a very important issue for India."
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov visited India in 2011. "Some 40,000-50,000 Israelis visit India every year," his office said in a statement to the press. "The minister is interested in looking into ways to turn Israel into a tourist destination for 40-50 million Indians of the middle-upper class, whose income equals that of wealthy people in the rest of the world who are constantly looking for new destinations for high-quality vacations."
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited India recently as a guest of the Indian home affairs minister, and the two held talks on the war on terror. Israel is India's second biggest arms supplier after Russia.
Although the defense-related issue was most covered by the media in terms of the relations between the two countries, other fields are being emphasizes now instead.
The tightening cultural relations make artists in both countries happy. Israeli performers are receiving greater representation in India's cultural festivals, and Indian artists have begun visiting the Holy Land more, and not just for "spiritual" festival. The Festival of India will be held in Israel this year as well, in May.
After visiting Israel, Minister Krishna is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah.
"India is strictly maintaining a balance between its friendship with Israel and its steadfast support for Palestine," a senior Indian journalist told Yedioth Ahronoth. "It believes it can and plans to be a good friend of both."