High-profile Israeli visits on card

Jerusalem: A number of high-profile visits from India to Israel are planned in the coming months even as External Affairs Minister S M Krishna wrapped up a productive two-day visit here today. According to official sources, former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and his wife Sunanda Pushkar are scheduled to come around this month end. The sources said the couple is coming in their personal capacity to attend a conference.

Following them would be Union Minister of Urban Development Kamal Nath, who is likely to visit Israel in mid February. In May, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal is likely to visit Israel followed by Tourism Minister Sobodh Kant Sahay. While, diplomatic relations with Israel was set up only 20 years ago, the ties have seen a huge surge especially in the last few years. Krishna`s visit was also the first visit by an Indian Foreign Minister in 11 years.

Sources said both India and Israel are looking at each others as partners especially in the field of agriculture, irrigation, water conservation, renewable energy, defence and homeland security. Even though India has supported Palestine on a number of international forums, its friendship with Israel has also flourished. "Our relationship with country does not affect our ties with the others. We have stated position on international issues," a diplomatic source said.

Asked how he would sum up Krishna`s visit to Israel, the source said, "It was productive and extremely satisfactory. Israel is ready to pull out all stops for cooperation with India". Besides being the second largest defence supplier to India, Israel has also emerged as a key trading partner. From a mere USD 200 million in 1992 (comprising primarily of diamonds), bilateral trade has diversified and reached USD 5 billion last year.

The trade figures does not include the defence deals that have been signed between the two countries. Both the countries are currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement and sources said once it is signed, the bilateral trade will see an exponential surge.