Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in India on a six-day trip, becoming the second Israeli prime minister to visit New Delhi since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992.
In a move described by the Indian foreign ministry as a “departure from protocol”, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Netanyahu at the Delhi airport on Sunday.
It is Netanyahu’s first official trip to the South Asian country.
“The visit is a fitting culmination to the silver jubilee year of the formal relationship,” foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Twitter.
Defence, security, trade and agriculture cooperation will be high on the agenda, as Israel looks to cement closer ties with South Asia’s major economic power.
India is the biggest buyer of Israeli defence equipment.
We have landed in India. Thank you to my good friend Narendra Modi for the warm welcome! https://t.co/mLsGxZT1E7
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 14, 2018
“Netanyahu’s visit marks several awful developments for India, starting with the hypocrisy of the Indian government’s occasional lip service to the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, while strengthening its partnership with Israel,” said Githa Hariharan, a supporter of BDS movement in India.
“But there are large numbers of Indians who stand by the idea of India our freedom fighters had,” she said referring to the secular foundation of India as opposed to Israel, which was established as a Jewish state on occupied Palestinian land.
“And this is what makes us condemn our government’s courting of Israel and its war machine.”
Modi, who became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel six months ago, has addressed Netanyahu as a “friend”.
The Indian leader had cultivated closer ties with Israel while he was still the chief minister of Gujarat state.
On Sunday, the two prime ministers attended a ceremony at a war memorial in New Delhi to mark the formal renaming of Teen Murti Chowk as Teen Murti Haifa Chowk as a symbolic gesture of friendship.
“The Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to India signifies intensification of the strategic partnership with India, which is based on three legs – defence, intelligence and civilian sector trade and investment,” said Sreeram Chaulia, the Dean of Jindal School of International Affairs.
“Although India voted against Israel at the UN on President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move, Israel understands India’s position and has not made cooperation with India conditional.
“Israel benefits from arms sales and diplomatic openness of India and is not looking to convert India to its side on Palestine or Iran. So, New Delhi and Tel Aviv have successfully de-hyphenated their ties from third party issues. That is a sign of maturity and hard-headed realism on both sides.”
At least 44 Indian soldiers had laid down their lives protecting the Israeli city of Haifa during World War I.
In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India during the government of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been vocal about establishing a closer ties with Israel.
India established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 but purportedly kept the ties under the wraps as it continued to support the Palestinian cause.
Israel faces global condemnation as it continues to build illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The trip comes weeks after New Delhi voted against Israel at the United Nations resolution on the status of Jerusalem.
Apoorva Gautam, head of BDS India, said “intensifying” of diplomatic relations with Israel shows “there is deep contradiction in India’s position at the international level with respect to Israel”.
“There is an unmistakable attempt to join the US-Israel camp except when it comes to taking positions at the UN.”
She added that India’s support to Palestinian cause at the UN is in “response to international pressures and an attempt to not isolate India”.
The Israeli leader will visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat where he is expected to participate in a joint road show with Indian prime minister, according to the NDTV.
His final stop will be in the financial hub of Mumbai, where he is expected to meet Bollywood figures and invite them to shoot films in Israel.
Netanyahu is accompanied by a 130-member business and trade delegation and the two nations are expected to ink agreements on cyber-space, film production and energy.
Netanyahu will hold bilateral discussions with Modi on Monday. Both Prime Ministers will attend the second India-Israel CEO Forum Meeting on January 15.
Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, the two countries have grown closer.
“This Indian government is driven by the exclusivist ideology of Hindutva, which has striking similarities with the exclusivist Zionist ideology the Israeli state is based on,” Hariharan told Al Jazeera.
Zeenat Saberin contributed from New Delhi