Narendra Modi becomes first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Israel with his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Israel with his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu

Tel Aviv : In an effusive welcome to Narendra Modi, the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "Apka swagat hai mere dost. We have been waiting for you for a long time".

After warmly receiving Modi at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport with a hug, and according him a red carpet welcome, a smiling Netanyahu said: "My friend Prime Minister Narendra Modi, welcome to Israel. Apka swagat hai mere dost."

He also welcomed Modi in Hebrew. 

"Prime Minister we have been waiting for you for a long time. We have been waiting almost 70 years in fact. Because yours is truly historic visit. It is the first time an Indian Prime Minister is visiting Israel. We receive you with open arms. We love India, we admire your culture, your history, your democracy, your commitment to progress."

In his comments, Modi said he was "honoured" to be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel, though the two nations had set up formal diplomatic relations 25 years ago.

"It is my singular honour to be the first-ever Prime Minister of India to undertake this ground-breaking visit to Israel." 

Making a statement soon after Prime Minister Modi landed in Tel Aviv on a three-day visit, Netanyahu termed the friendship between their two countries as "natural". 

Netanyahu said that in their first meeting three years ago Modi had said 'sky is the limit' for India-Israel relationship.

"You said when it comes to India-Israel relationship, sky is the limit. But actually my friend the sky isn't the limit because today our space programmes are working towards reaching even greater heights," a smiling Israeli Prime Minister said.

"The tie between our talented, innovative people is natural. It is so natural that we can ask what took so long for them to blossom."

He also announced an innovation fund for cooperation in the fields of technology, water, agriculture, energy and other fields.

"In this visit, your Make in India initiative, meets my Make with India policy. We are setting up a $40 million innovation fund as the seed for even greater cooperation on technology between us," the Israeli Prime Minister added.

In a display of close and informal ties between the two leaders, Modi called Netanyahu by his nickname Bibi and remembered as Yoni his elder brother Yonatan Netanyahu, a military officer who commanded the elite commando during Operation Entebbe to rescue hostages held in Uganda on July 4, 1976. The officer was killed during the operation.

"Today is July 4, exactly 41 years since Operation Entebbe. The day when your Prime Minister, and my friend, Bibi, lost his older brother Yoni, while saving the lives of so many Israeli hostages. Your heroes are an inspiration for the younger generations," Modi said.

Modi said, "India is an old civilisation but a young nation as 800 million youth are below 35 years of age. On the path of sustainable and high growth and all-round development, India counts Israel as an important partner."

"We are also cooperating to secure our countries against common threats such as terrorism...A strong and resilient partnership with Israel will be my focus," Modi said.