Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during an official ceremoney at Ben-Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv on July 4, 2017 Image Credit: AFP

TEL AVIV: Indian Prime Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Israel Tuesday for the first ever visit by an Indian premier, amid growing ties between the two countries including billions of dollars in defence deals.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended an extraordinary welcome to Modi in Tel Aviv at the start of his three-day visit, and asserted that “even sky is not the limit” in the cooperation between the two countries.

Modi, the first Indian prime minister to visit the Jewish nation, was received at the Ben Gurion airport by Netanyahu who said in Hindi, “aapka swagat hai, meray dost” (welcome, my friend).

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Describing Modi as “a great leader of India and a great world leader”, Netanyahu said, “we have been waiting for the last 70 years” for a visit by an Indian prime minister.

The two leaders embraced heartily and gave brief speeches, pledging to work together on issues including security, agriculture and energy. They also vowed to give a push to the bilateral relationship in all aspects and jointly deal with the common threats like terrorism.

“We love India,” said the Israeli prime minister who rolled out a red-carpet welcome to Modi and giving him an honour which is only accorded to a US President and the Pope.

Netanyahu’s entire cabinet was there to receive Modi. “I remember what you told me in our first meeting — when it comes to India and Israel relations, the sky is the limit. But now, prime minister, let me add even sky is not the limit. We are also cooperating in space,” Netanyahu told Modi. Talking about the vast possibilities of cooperation between the two countries, he said, “We can do even more, even better together.”

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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,” he added.

Modi, in his remarks, 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 ... My visit marks a path breaking journey ... A strong and resilient partnership with Israel will be my focus,” Modi said.

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He called the visit “groundbreaking,” while Netanyahu said it was “historic”. They are to have dinner later Tuesday before talks on Wednesday.

Israel, constantly searching for allies at the United Nations and for new business partners, has portrayed the visit as a major diplomatic victory. Israeli analysts have noted that Modi is not scheduled to travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders during his three-day stay, as is common for visiting dignitaries.

Modi did however meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in New Delhi in May.

India is the world’s biggest importer of defence equipment, and Israel has become one of its major suppliers.

Israeli media have reported that the two countries sign defence deals averaging more than $1 billion a year.

They also hope to build on cooperation in areas including water and agriculture technology, sectors where Israel has excelled.

India has traditionally voiced its support for Palestinian statehood, long shunning ties with Israel. Modi’s visit marks 25 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

The frost has further thawed in recent years, with India seeking closer defence ties — particularly as it moves away from relying on traditional ally Russia for its military hardware.