Much as the revolutionary kibbutz collectives shaped the statehood of Israel as it emerged in 1948 in a sand-strewn terrain in a hostile neighbourhood, its vibrant and innovative startups are today becoming the building blocks of this modern Jewish state.
This sliver of a country of 8.4 million people is widely acknowledged as the "startup nation", being a leading innovation hub with the highest density of startups—and venture capital—in the world. It has more NASDAQ-listed companies than any country, save for the United States and China—and more than India, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong combined. The total market capitalisation of these Israeli companies exceeds $85 billion.
Modi's visit will be the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the Promised Land ever since it became a sovereign state in 1948.
The Israeli innovation ecosystem has engendered many groundbreaking advances, for instance Firewall (Check Point), voicemail (Comverse), USB flash drive (M-Systems), VoIP (Vocaltec), and digital printing (Indigo). Israeli startups have also driven innovation across all major technology sectors, as with Amdocs and Comverse in telecommunications applications, Verint and NICE in contact centre applications, Mercury in information technology (IT) management, Check Point in security, DSPG in semiconductors, and Mellanox in Infiniband.
Research and development (R&D) is a thrust area in Israel, which also has proportionately more scientists and tech professionals than any other country. Almost 40% of Israeli high-tech employees are engaged in R&D for many major global tech companies that have subsidiaries or research centres in Israel. These include Intel, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Facebook, Applied Materials, Apple, IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Oracle and Motorola. Their innovations are used the world over, such as in the cases of Intel's Pentium PC/laptop processors, Google's Google Suggest, and most of HP's software infrastructure.
India too is a growing startup hub, with trailblazers such as like Flipkart, Snapdeal, redBus, ItzCash, Myntra, SVG Media, Paytm, FreeCharge, Citrus Pay etc having billions of dollars invested in them. Therefore this sector will be high on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda as he embarks on his landmark visit to Israel in the first week of July.
Modi's visit will be the first by an Indian Prime Minister to the Promised Land ever since it became a sovereign state in 1948. He and his counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the diplomatic ties that were established with the two countries opening their respective Embassies in 1992. India had formally recognised Israel much earlier, on 17 September 1950, and a Consulate was opened in Bombay in 1953 (more as a facility to cater to the Jewish population in India). India nevertheless kept aloof over the years because of its dependence on the Arab world for oil and for its extensive expatriate population working in the Gulf countries. The Consulate became Consulate-General with the establishment of the embassies. There is another Consulate-General in Bangalore.
BJP-led governments have traditionally had closer ties with Tel Aviv that today have flowered into areas ranging from agriculture and technology, to diamonds and defence, to counter-terrorism and homeland security.
BJP-led governments have traditionally had closer ties with Tel Aviv that today have flowered into areas ranging from agriculture, education, science and technology and IT to diamonds and defence, counter-terrorism and homeland security. At the celebrations of 25 years of our diplomatic relations, Israel's Ambassador, Daniel Carmon, said, "As we celebrate this historic day, we have chosen A Growing Partnership as the motto for the year 2017 to signify that our relations, and the celebration of these, are not bound to one specific point in time."
Amazingly, the senior partner in the bilateral relationship has been Israel, a country 0.63% of India's size, with a population that is 0.6% of India's, a GDP of $297 billion to India's $2.25 trillion, and GDP per capita of $34,800 to India's $6,700. Measuring 20,770 sq km, it is about as big, or small, as Mizoram (21,081 sq km). It enjoys a trade surplus in our two-way trade of $4.16 billion for 2016, exporting goods worth $2.4 billion to India, while importing only $1.76 billion of merchandise.
If defence were to be included, Israel's trade surplus would be even more lopsided, the country being among the largest suppliers of military equipment to India, alongside the US and Russia. The world's largest arms purchaser, India, is also Israel's biggest client for arms.
Israel netted its largest ever defence contract when India in April awarded Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) contracts totalling almost $2 billion. IAI will supply the Indian Army medium range-surface to air missile (MR-SAM) air and missile defence systems and additionally a long range-SAM (LR-SAM) air and missile defence system for India's first indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant, that is under construction. With integrated advanced phased-array radar, command and control, and mobile launchers and missiles, these systems are ground-breaking air and missile defences that provide the ultimate protection against a variety of aerial threats.
India buys military hardware worth an average over $1 billion from Israel every year. Additional arms deals are expected to be announced during the Prime Minister's Israel visit.
IAI subsidiary, ELTA Systems, has also supplied an Integrated Underwater Harbour Defence and Surveillance System (IUHDSS) that was commissioned at the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command in February. The state of the art system has integrated radars, advance sensors, electro optic cameras and sound navigation and ranging systems (SONARs) that will enhance Mumbai's harbour defence and security. Its sensors have been strategically deployed around the harbour to provide comprehensive real-time situational awareness for monitoring and analysis. It is capable of detecting, tracking, identifying and generating warning for any underwater or surface threat.
India buys military hardware worth an average over $1 billion from Israel every year. Additional arms deals are expected to be announced during the Prime Minister's Israel visit. Though there is much public focus on the defence relationship, authorities on both sides are exploring the many ways in which Israeli technologies and know-how can be used to boost the development of India's critical sectors, including food security, water management, cyberspace, data protection, e-learning and digitalisation.
Modi's visit will also draw on the paths defined by President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Israel in October 2015—again the first by an Indian President—and the reciprocal visit by Reuven Rivlin last November, only the second by an Israeli President to India after Ezer Weizmann's in 1996. Only one Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has visited India, in 2003. Last year also saw visits to Israel by Indian External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, in January, and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, in September. Israeli Agriculture minister Uri Ariel visited India in April 2016 and again in January 2017, for the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, while Science, Technology and Space minister Ofir Akunis visited India in December 2016.
India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanisation, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro-irrigation and post-harvest management.
The Presidential visits roused much interest at both ends, particularly in the field of academia, resulting in many more exchanges between the universities of both countries. As many as 21 MoUs were concluded between Indian and Israeli academic institutions during Rivlin's visit to India. Israel has been offering post-doctoral scholarships to students from India and China from 2012 and since then, 300 out of almost 400 fellowships have been awarded to Indian students. Israel also offers 250 summer scholarships for Indian and Chinese students in chosen courses across Israeli Universities. India offers five ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) scholarships to Israelis every year and an equal number of scholarships are offered by Israel for 10-month programmes in specialised fields of study.
Under the bilateral action plan for 2015-18 for cooperation in agriculture, 10 of the proposed 26 Centres of Excellence being developed with Israeli help have already been commissioned across states such as Haryana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat. India has benefited from Israeli expertise and technologies in horticulture mechanisation, protected cultivation, orchard and canopy management, nursery management, micro-irrigation and post-harvest management. Israeli drip irrigation technologies and products are now widely used in India. The two countries signed an MoU on Cooperation in Water Resources Management as well as a Declaration of Intent to further cooperation in agriculture during Rivlin's India visit.
Apart from the Cooperation in Science and Technology (S&T) Agreement of 1993, an MoU was signed in 2005 on industrial research and development, that has led to the setting up of a joint industrial R&D fund, i4RD, to promote joint industrial R&D and specific projects. In 2013, the Karnataka State Council for S&T and the Karnataka S&T Promotion Society signed an MoU with the Israel Innovation Authority. The programme provides financial support to industries for joint bilateral R&D projects involving at least one small or medium scale company of Karnataka and one such Israeli company.
In response to President Rivlin's declaration that Israel is "ready to Make in India, Make with India", Prime Minister Modi remarked that the future vision of the cooperation was of a strong high-technology partnership as befitting two leading knowledge economies.
In this regard, Modi had told Israel's visiting agriculture minister Uri Ariel that India was keen to learn from the Israeli start-up ecosystem and its incubation centres.
Indian majors have already begun leveraging on the Israeli innovation ecosystem. In 2013, Tata Industries and Ramot, the technology transfer company of Tel Aviv University, signed an MoU for funding and generating commercial technologies in fields such as engineering, exact sciences, environment and clean technology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare. With a $5 million investment, Tata Industries is the lead investor in Ramot's $20 million Technology Innovation Momentum Fund. In 2016, Tatas also joined hands with several leading global players to set up a new technology incubator, called i3 Equity Partners (i3), which focuses on developing next-generation IoT technologies. Wipro has invested in TLV Partners, an Israel-based venture capital firm. Sun Pharma has signed research collaborations with Technion University and Weizmann Institute for developing drugs for oncology and brain diseases respectively.
"India and Israel are two ancient people, proud of their cultures and respective history, two vibrant democracies, whose peoples are curious and eager to grasp the future," said Rivlin during his Presidential visit. "I believe that together, we can shape a better future for Israel, India and the world."