Mr. David Akov, Consul General of Israel, in conversation with Mr. Jaymin Panchal of NewsNViews, on all aspects on Indo-Israel relationship from, problems in Middle East; to trade between two nations and also on upcoming Indian Prime Ministers visit to Israel
NewsnViews (NnV) Sir how do you assess the ties between India and Israel after new government in Delhi that took charge in May 2014?
Mr. David Akov. I think a there is a kind of a new positive trajectory of relations between Israel and India, which seems to be growing very fast in many areas. It has also to do with the growing realization in different sectors of the shared interests, capacity and opportunities between the two countries.
It in all levels, not only at government and private business level, but also at NGO level, state government and at the grassroots; lastly even in rural areas. Many times, farmers have shown interest and keen to interact and also be exposed to Israeli know how, technology and methods. So I see that as a very positive trajectory and think it is very basic, and it is beyond even politics or beyond global political trends. It is something that has to do with the two countries, with the nature of the two countries, with the affinity between the two countries and the people and the needs of the two countries.
(NnV). Indo-Israel Friendship
Mr. David Akov. Both India and Israel have similar environment, situations and are, more or less, in the same geographic area in the world. And we are, more or less, in the same phase of political development because othe two states got their independence very close. The One thing we are very different is in the size and in the demography; we are a very small country and not such a big population. Of course, India is a huge country, like a sub-continent or a continent and has a very big population with different cultures, languages etc. However, the similarities are striking and the more I stay here, the more I see similarities – political, cultural, economic etc. The challenges, you know, let’s say – arid area, the lack or need of more water. All these issues are similar. Some of the strategic threats are similar as well, terrorism etc. So all these things through more cooperation, we can definitely see the two countries can benefit each other mutually.
(NnV). On trade relation Between India and Israel?
Mr. David Akov. Conventionally, export of Diamonds from India and Export of Machinery from Israel occupied major space in Indo-Israel trade transaction. However, currently we are at a stage to go really beyond these conventional trade, to areas which are more dependent on very sophisticated technologies and the development of these technologies, and Research & Development. It is just starting now and there is definitely a long way to go. The potential is huge, because as I said the needs and the challenges of Israel and India are similar, some of the solutions could be similar. We at Israel, have dealt with Finding solutions for quite a long time and we became fairly good at it. Our expertise in finding tailor made, original solutions, not too expensive, not too complicated solutions for our various problems, whether it was water problem, or agriculture problem, or whether it is our defense problem, you know, we had enemies around us. All these solutions and the methods of finding these solutions and technology to solve these problems, I think, is something that we can share with India and cooperate. With India, this technology and solution sharing has already started in different areas, we can also move ahead in direction of innovation and even commercialization of it thus making for economic progress. These are the things we can share with India. Either methods or basically joint ventures between companies, between entrepreneurs.
(NnV). On Defense trade and Joint venture deals?
Mr. David Akov. I think it is very important for both countries because of similar needs. There is great potential for cooperation. As, I think, you mentioned there is cooperation at front level including developmental level and it shows that if you get together, you match skills, you match your experiences, you can find solutions that will be to benefit of both countries.
(NnV). On the strategic partnership, beyond the defense
Mr. David Akov. Yes of course, as I said we have similar strategic threats but in nuances there are differences because we are in different areas and sometimes also we have a little bit of difference of views but of course it is important to say, these difference, are definitely among friends and I think in the last few years we are getting into areas where we have more understanding and less differences. We are happy with the recent shift, where India abstained in UNHRC voting against Israel. You know in diplomatic circles sometimes even a local or specific change can be important and for us UNHRC voting was a very important change. I agree with what few Indian leaders say about the Indian view on Israel and also of the Palestinian, Israel Palestinian conflict is not a zero sum game. This from our point of view is important and encouraging view because it says that basically the potential between Israel and India is great without any hurdles in the middle, without any problems that can hamper the joint interest. And this is what I have been seeing in the last at least two years that I am here and I am sure that it will continue because I think that this view is getting more and more prevalent among different levels in India, whether central government, state government, business, NGOs. I think the potential is there and the fact Indo-Israel is not zero sum game gives confidence.
(NnV). Israel’s participation in ‘Make in India’ program
Mr. David Akov. Potential of Indo-Israel collaboration is huge. Israeli companies are not huge manufacturing companies. Israel is not a very big industrial country like big countries in Europe or United States etc. What Israel have, is usually smaller companies with technologies for niche areas but very good technology. Technologies that give solutions to specific problems that many of these problems are also prevalent here in India. And I think the best cooperation we can see is between Israeli companies and Indian companies in using Israeli tech or methods or sometimes even products, existing or tailor made to the needs of India but with the potential of manufacturing them here and, of course, using with the participation of Indian companies, by having a joint venture in both manufacturing, and then also maybe, in distributing, marketing etc. the potential is definitely there. The defense sector, whether, because there are deals between Israeli companies and Indian Government or companies there is an issues of offset agreement. And Israeli companies are looking for opportunities to abide by these offset agreements which means to work together with Indian companies here in India in manufacturing some of the components here. And this is something which is going on and I think it will have potential to continue in the future.
(NnV). Collaboration with Indian State governments on projects
Mr. David Akov. We are witnessing a trend of more work collaboration between Israel and state government of India. The conventional focus of limiting collaboration with Central government is shifting to working more with state governments and municipal governments. In India, the areas concerning with the daily life like water, sanitation, agriculture, education, health, among others are dealt with local governments, if not wholly, than partially and in Israel we see great potential in it.
To give you example, we organized a delegation of water official from state government of Maharashtra, to visit Israel, meet their counterparts in water authority / organisations of Israel and get an idea from our experience, which can be then utilized in state of Maharashtra. We look forward to such engagements, like bringing experts from Israel to interact with the local relevant people in Maharashtra or other states, at the same time we can arrange for people to travel from here to Israel. Key is to work on grassroots and at local level on issues we identify as areas of interest for both countries like water agriculture smart cities, health education etc, which shows lot of potential in cooperation between two countries, and we can try to share our experience and can have back and forth relations between experts both in private and public sector and we as consulate would like to facilitate such exchanges
(NnV). Cultural engagement and direct link between New Delhi and Tel Aviv?
Mr. David Akov. I think people to people connect is growing, and is growing fast, through cultural events that we bring from Israel or India sends to Israel, by way of films music , theatre etc. Universities and academic institutions play a pivotal role in such engagements. With the dramatic increase in the numbers of students, we look forward to strengthening the people to people connect. Israel universities offer different type of courses such as short courses summer courses for Indian students interested in Israel. Students are best agent for the change, they are young and open to new ideas; also they while traveling to different parts through their career, through which people to people connection will grow. We believe each student who come here even for short courses is ambassador of goodwill while going back and by this way spread people to people connect beyond existing government and public and private relations. That’s why we are working hard in making these connections direct between Israeli Universities and Indian Universities and colleges both in research, culture.
(NnV). Relations in the area of cyber security and intelligence sharing.
Mr. David Akov. Cyber Security and Intelligence is part of different aspect of shared threats and growing need to share solutions and information, and since the world is getting more and more dangerous with the problems like ISIS in the Middle East; and with all types of cyber-crimes and cyber terrorism, there is need for countries to come together. At this specific point, intelligence sharing between India and Israel will grow and both country will benefit from sharing of experience and thinking of solutions together of some of this problem
(NnV). Middle East Crisis?
Mr. David Akov. Middle-East is very unstable for many years, more so since the beginning of the Arab spring, 6-7 years ago, I think the crisis is deepening at much faster pace than it started. I believe the core problems in countries like Syria and Iraq is, that it is very hard to find complete and fast solutions to the basic problems that exists there, like breakdown of some governments and inability of governments to control the territory and basically the infighting between different groups which does not have much in common and have ideological difference. The differences are also coupled with the economic interest and seems it is very difficult for this countries to find political mechanisms to solve this conflict. And hence unfortunately, it is difficult to say that in short term or medium term there will be clear cut political solutions which will quiet the area down. I think the instability in the middle east will be at least for the medium term and we will have to deal with it in terms of looking around especially which countries are very close to Israel, especially Syria, we share our border with Syria or even Iraq, with which we don’t have direct border but it is very close to us and all this instability can affect us, hence we have to watch this instability to understand, assess and make necessary precaution to defend ourselves from this instability or terrorism or any unanticipated threat attack on Israel.
We are also concerned with the growing power of Iran, which is very problematic towards Israel and mentioning of Iran’s wish to see Israel destroyed is something we are watching very carefully and we have to take our precautions and defense against this kind of motivations. Combining all this mess, on one hand enmity of large state like Iran, which is which is also growing more powerfully and even technologically; and on other hand breakup of some of the countries like Syria or Iraq or Yemen or Libya and instability in the Arab world, are the challenges we have to watch as we are right in the middle of it. However, these breakdown will not affect only Middle-East but will also have ripple effect on the all the other area whether it is near or far of ME, one direction of course they affect India by the ripple effect of terrorism. ISIS related kind of mobilizing supporters and through other terrorist organisations like in Afghanistan or Pakistan, which is direct threat to India. Also, the crisis affect areas of west of Middle-East like Europe through immigration crisis which is result of this instability. This will continue and not stop overnight it will still be a problem in foreseeable future.
(NnV). Global take on Terrorism.
Mr. David Akov. More and more understanding is growing that, terrorism is a problem that needs sometimes drastic measures to stop it. But still there are difference of opinions on exactly how to do it and how to define the problem. I think between India and Israel there are more similarities in defining the problem of terrorism and how we can try and prevent it; However other countries are not thinking along the same lines but as time progresses, I hope situation doesn’t get worse, may even improve but anyway what world needs is a realistic assessment of what the threat is and what specifically is needed to do against it. Israel has experience in it, as unfortunately what other countries are trying to cope up with in the last few years, Israel is coping with it for 40-50 years. But it’s a global issue and it’s a process that will take some time.
(NnV). Indian Prime Ministers visit to Israel.
Mr. David Akov. It will definitely strengthen ties. It will be high point in Indo-Israel relationship because we never had visit of a Prime Minister of India. This will be epitome of Indo Israel relationship. The process started to build up with recent events, like visit of President of India and Few high level ministers such as Foreign minister and Home minister of India visiting Israel, then our defense Minister visited India a year ago, which again was the first time. Thus, if u look at past year and half, we have quiet extensive visits. We believe and hope the higher level visits will be building up Preamble or promo to biggest event of visit of Prime Minister Modi, which will really show the relations have gone a long way. The relations are not only confined to just grass root or commercial level or sometime unpublished area but also in high level echelons with visit of Prime Minister and also we think it is time for visit of Israeli Prime Minister to India. Hopefully, this will definitely define the relations in most clear terms without any conditions.