PM Modi Is On Visit To Israel, Check Out His Grand Welcome!

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IT’S PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s 66th visit abroad in three years. But it’s a historic first by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. Less than 11 years after Modi visited Israel as Gujarat Chief Minister in October 2006, he arrived at the Ben Gurion International Airport here on Tuesday, to a grand official ceremony and warm embrace by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described him as “my friend” at least three times during the 30-minute welcome at the airport.

Wearing a white bandhgala, in 35 degrees Celsius, Modi greeted Netanyahu with a “Shalom” as he landed at the tarmac shortly after 4 pm (local time). Netanyahu shook his hand, and told him, “What a great day, what a historic day. Welcome my friend.” The two leaders then embraced each other. Minutes later, after the ceremonial guard of honour, Netanyahu said, “Aapka swagat hai, mere dost”, as Modi smiled.

“Prime Minister Modi, we have been waiting for you for a long time, for almost 70 years, in fact. Because yours is truly a historic visit,” he said, “We receive you with open arms. We love India. We admire your history, culture, democracy, commitment to progress. We view you as kindred spirits in our common quest to provide a better future for our people and for our world.”

Netanyahu recalled how Modi told him, at their first meeting in New York in September 2014, that the “sky is the limit”. But, he said, with space cooperation now, even the sky was not the limit.

“When I met you in New York three years ago, we agreed to break down the remaining walls between India and Israel. We shook each other’s hands and agreed to forge a historic partnership for partners,” said Netanyahu.

Responding to the welcome, Modi said: “It is my singular honour to be the first ever Indian Prime Minister to undertake this groundbreaking visit to Israel… My visit celebrates the strength of centuries-old links between our societies. Based on the bonds, our partnership has maintained a strong and sustained upswing since the establishment of full diplomatic relations 25 years ago.

“The people of Israel have built a nation on democratic principles. They have nurtured it with hard work, grit and spirit of innovation. You have marched on, regardless of adversity, and converted challenges into opportunity. India applauds your achievements,” he said.

Modi then recalled that 41 years ago, on July 4, in Operation Entebbe, “Bibi” lost his elder brother “Yoni”, who died while saving the lives of Israeli hostages. Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu was an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officer who commanded the elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, during Operation Entebbe — an operation to rescue hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. The mission was successful, with 102 of the 106 hostages rescued, but “Yoni” was killed in action — the only IDF fatality during the operation.

After their brief speeches, Netanyahu introduced top Cabinet ministers who were at the airport to receive Modi.

From the airport, Modi headed to Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm, at Mishmar Hashiva, accompanied by Netanyahu and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. He also visited Yad Vashem, the Hall of Names, attended the memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, toured the Children’s Memorial and signed the Yad Vashem Guest Book.

Later in the evening, at the Prime Minister’s residence, before they went for a small, private dinner, Modi brought up the issue of terrorism. “Yad Vashem is a reminder of the unspeakable evil inflicted generations ago. It is also a tribute to your unbreakable spirit… to rise above the depths of tragedy, overcome hatred and forge ahead to build a vibrant democratic nation. Yad Vashem tells us that those who believe in humanity and civilised values must come together and defend it at all costs. As such, we must resolutely oppose the evils of terrorism, radicalism and violence that plague our time,” he said.

Earlier too, at the airport, Modi said, “Alongside building a partnership for shared economic prosperity, we are also cooperating to secure our societies against common threats such as terrorism.”

Netanyahu also said the two countries face the “common challenge of terrorism”, and both must stand together to fight it. “We both want things to change overnight, and we are both tireless reformers,” he said.

The leaders hugged each other at least four times through the day, and addressed each other as “my friend” several times, with Netanyahu even slipping to an informal “my friend Narendra” in his remarks before they went for dinner.

While India and Israel have deep ties in defence and security, the two sides are keen to project a broader relationship during Modi’s three-day visit — they are going to showcase their “strategic partnership” in agriculture and water, innovation and science and technology, and space.

Indian ambassador to Israel, Pavan Kapoor, told The Indian Express that the catch phrase for the visit is “defence to development”. The two leaders will hold bilateral talks at the historic King David Hotel on Wednesday.

Rebecca Zeffert, Founder and Executive Director of Israel-Asia Centre in Jerusalem, told The Indian Express: “Israel has been eagerly awaiting the visit by Prime Minister Modi for the past two years. So his visit to Israel in the year marking 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries is a historic one, and will serve to further ramp up and upgrade the already strong ties that exist between the two countries.”


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