MIDEAST MIRROR 31.10.18, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Waiting for the big one
The results of Israel's municipal elections Tuesday are coming in with Tel Aviv's long-standing mayor Ron Huldai reelected for another term after 20 years at the helm. In Haifa, Labor newcomer Einat Kalisch-Rotem seems to have beaten incumbent mayor Yona Yahav, who headed the city for the past 15 years. Kalisch-Rotem is now the first woman ever to lead a major city in Israel. In Jerusalem, none of the candidates reached the 40 percent threshold necessary to win the first round. Secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch, the founder and chairman of the Hitorerut (Awakening) movement that is comprised of both secular and Orthodox Jews, will be running in a second round against Moshe Leon, who has the unofficial support of ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Arye Deri. The second round is slated for November 13.
Overall, 53 percent of those eligible to vote participated in local elections across the country. This represents a slight increase compared to the last elections in 2013. This year, election day was declared a holiday in order to increase voter participation, which is also the standard in Israeli national elections. Tuesday's local elections are not Israel's version of the midterms. They are not even similar to local and regional elections in most Western democracies, where the national parties can use the results as a barometer of their popularity. In most cities and local governments in Israel, the majority of slates competing for seats are formed on an ad-hoc basis, and at most are only loosely aligned with national parties. Most mayoral candidates are independent, and while they vie for the endorsement of national leaders, whether they win or lose does not necessarily reflect on those who backed them. For all these reasons, there are usually few takeaways about national politics to be gleaned from local elections.
That said, they do sometimes indicate important and wider political trends. 2018 could turn out to be the rare local election that signals a generational shift in Israeli politics. Two major trends are occurring. First, the leaderships of the main ultra-Orthodox parties that succeeded in coordinating electoral strategy on the local and national levels since the early 1990s have dissolved. The breakdown of ultra-Orthodox politics will almost certainly influence next year's national election and could quite likely deny Netanyahu the crucial alliance he needs for forming a strong coalition – one that will stick by him if he is indicted for corruption. Meanwhile, the prime minister has more immediate troubles: The wheels are falling off his formidable election machine partly due to the fact that for years he has failed to invest in Likud's local operations, but also to a weakening of his authority. It is nowhere near a total collapse, but it is the start of Likud beginning to prepare itself for the succession battle on the day Netanyahu is forced to leave.
The municipal-election campaign in Arab towns and cities swung into full gear only in the past two months. A change felt in Arab communities in these elections was the challenge young people presented to the extended families' traditional power. In many communities, young people, including women, ran on independent tickets, and some won enough votes to ensure a spot in local councils. But they did not manage to outweigh the tribal or extended-family system; many national Arab parties did not even run alternatives to the extended-family candidates.
Controversial first-time polls in Druze communities in the Golan Heights drew protests and attacks on polling stations. A significant new element to the vote saw Druze cast ballots in the Golan Heights for the first time since Israel seized the strategic region from Syria in 1967. The vote was controversial since many Druze who feel connected to Syria fear it will help Israel legitimize its control over the region. Several hundred protesters in the village of Majdal Shams, some carrying Syrian flags, temporarily blocked a polling center as police sought to maintain calm. There had been calls to boycott the election during campaigning and a string of candidates pulled out. Israel has previously appointed local leaders in the villages. In Yarka, a separate Druze village in Northern Israel not in the Golan, police said two polling stations were closed after a stun grenade was thrown at one of them, lightly wounding 10 people. There is similar controversy in East Jerusalem, which Israel also captured in 1967 and later annexed, though there were no reports of incidents there. Unlike in national elections, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who have not taken Israeli citizenship are eligible to vote in local polls. But the vast majority stay away, refusing to recognize Israel's control over the sector of the city they see as the capital of their future state. Some 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem.
In political news, with the first round of municipal elections over, Prime Minister Netanyahu will soon decide when he wants the next general election to be held, sources close to him said on Tuesday. Netanyahu said in closed conversations that he cannot deal with the race for the Knesset until the completion of local races, in which he has backed more than 60 mayoral candidates across the country. The prime minister would want to distance the general election from the municipal races because his endorsements earned him many enemies. Now that most municipal races have been decided, the Knesset, which had been distracted, can return to passing the controversial haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment bill, which the Supreme Court has said must be passed by December 2. Others have speculated that Netanyahu will want to advance the election in order to hold it before Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit decides on indicting him. Channel 2 reported last week that the indictment would be ready in early 2019.
Elsewhere, an East Jerusalemite has been held for two weeks by the Palestinian Authority under suspicion that he sold an apartment to Jews in Jerusalem's Old City. Issam Aqel, who is also an American citizen, was arrested in Ramallah earlier in October by Palestinian security for suspected involvement in the sale of a house in the Old City's Muslim Quarter, near Herod's Gate. Israel Police arrested several other Palestinian suspects for involvement in Aqel's arrest, including the PA's Jerusalem governor, Adnan Ghaith, as well as Jihad al-Faqeeh, chief of intelligence for the PA in the Jerusalem area. Both were released from detention last week. In a discussion held in the Knesset's Interior Committee, right-wing MKs harshly criticized the police and the Defense Ministry for not releasing Aqel from arrest. "Why don't you pick up the phone and call the responsible person in the PA and tell him that either the guy gets back within an hour or two or buildings start to fall? What if this was a Jew from Tel Aviv?" MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said. According to Smotrich, Aqel arrived at the police station before he left for Ramallah and said he feared for his life. Smotrich added that since Aqel is an American citizen, American consular officials have visited him.
Finally, in financial news, Boeing has agreed to spend billions of dollars in Israel over the coming decade if it wins major defense contracts, Israel's Economy Ministry said on Tuesday. The "reciprocal procurement" agreement calls for Boeing to collaborate with Israeli industries for at least 35 percent of the value of any transaction it signs with the Israeli government. This could ease concerns in Israel over new requirements in a U.S. aid package that divert funds away from local industries. Boeing is competing in Israel for a number of key Defense Ministry contracts, including the purchase of additional F-15 aircraft, fueling planes and a squadron of transport helicopters, the ministry said. With Israel expecting to make about $10 billion of military purchases from Boeing over the next decade, the agreement with the U.S. aerospace company means $3.5 billion in new business in Israel, the ministry said in a statement.
LIEBERMAN SMELLS NETSNYAHU'S WEAKNESS: Amir Oren in Walla! argues the defense minister's appointment of Aviv Kochavi to chief of staff, without the PM's validation, was not a rash whim. Lieberman understood that Netanyahu's legal situation is about to end his tenure as PM, and made a level-headed decision to tease his rival and former partner.
"The central fact in the story of the appointment of the next chief of staff, the right choice of Major General Aviv Kochavi, has become a footnote in an even more enticing and intriguing plot: Avigdor Lieberman's war with Binyamin Netanyahu.
Kochavi is an excellent officer with an impressive background. Not only does he have no skeletons in his closet, he does not even have a closet. The greatest obstacle he faced was the defense minister's announcement. Netanyahu's half-hearted endorsement ('the worthy candidate'), following hours of silence, proves Lieberman calculated the balance of power correctly.
Lieberman has for years held Netanyahu's limpness in contempt and aspires to succeed him. Two and a half years ago he identified his weakness and achieved for himself, as head of a small faction that is necessary to ensure a stable majority, the most important portfolio in the government, his heart's desire. There he came across a strange phenomenon in the prime minister's relationship with the minister of defense: In decisions pertaining to war and peace, the buck stops with the PM, even in total opposition to the defense minister's opinion, but in the most important appointment the government can make; that of a chief of staff, the defense minister is more influential than the prime minister.
Lieberman's decision to propose to the government to appoint Kohavi, which was based on a lengthy, orderly and highly consultative process, effectively thwarted any possibility that Netanyahu - who did not partake in the process - would be able to justify his preference for another general. This is the result of Lieberman's disregard of Netanyahu's will, but in order to understand this, one must go back to the reason, or perhaps two reasons.
The first, over which Netanyahu exercised control, was his reluctance to keep the defense portfolio to himself. Netanyahu is afraid to serve as defense minister. If he so desired, he could have held the portfolio when he was elected prime minister in 1996. No one would have stood in his way and prevented him from controlling the IDF directly, after four years of Rabin and Peres (who refused to give up the portfolio for Barak, in the period between Rabin's assassination and the elections); but he was afraid of the responsibility. 'Put it down to lack of experience', he replied years later - but before he returned to the premiership – to the question why he did not keep the defense portfolio for himself. The answer was perhaps sincere, but incomplete. Even when he was very experienced, standing at the head of three governments for almost 10 consecutive years, and able of taking any portfolio for himself, he attached the media and foreign affairs portfolios to himself – but not defense. The man who was foreign secretary and minister of finance in Sharon's government but never asked for the defense portfolio, apparently does not feel secure enough to be responsible for security. A matter of personality structure, or of fear of the post-war commission of inquiry. Bibi has no security.
And despite all that, Lieberman would not have provoked Bibi so openly had he not smelled blood. Lieberman simply understands that Netanyahu's legal status is about to put an end to his term as prime minister, come the Knesset elections. In announcing Kochavi's appointment, under his own authority and without Netanyahu's validation, Lieberman hunted two fowls with one stone – made a sound decision, not borne out of reckless whimsy, his own or that of others, and exposed Netanyahu's growing weakness. Fowls rather than birds, because Netanyahu emerges from Lieberman's Kochavi story a lame duck with plucked feathers."
THE CHAOS ENGULFING NETANYAHU: Ben Caspit in Maariv believes Netanyahu has long since become an independent non-party entity with an independent existence outside Likud. He has become convinced his brand is bigger, stronger, and more important than his party's brand. He may be right.
"The recording broadcast on Hadashot TV news, in which an activist from the Likud branch in Bat Yam and MK Miki Zohar are heard analyzing Prime Minister Netanyahu's behavior, reveals the tip of an iceberg. Sometimes one recording is better than a thousand words. This authentic conversation, during which MK Zohar says of the prime minister, 'I am telling you the truth, he behaved like a maniac, I have never seen anything like it', illustrates the chaos in Netanyahu's conduct. The reality, described here many times, in which Netanyahu's chamber's has been emptied (because so many of his former confidantes have turned state's witnesses), and there is no suitable professional work environment in the PM's vicinity, is worsening at a rapid pace. A hodgepodge crew of wheeler-dealers is quarreling in this Byzantine courtyard for the attention of one Chani Bleiweis, who is close to the monarch itself, meaning Lady Sarah of Balfour. She is the one who issued tapes of support from the prime minister to all and sundry. Netanyahu's tape of support for Yossi Bachar, in the face of Bat-Yam's official Likud candidate Zvika Brot, and in total contradiction to the public backing of all the party's leaders and senior members, is just one example of the chaos.
Let us move on to Or Yehuda, where Netanyahu filmed a video supporting the mayor of the city, Liat Shochat. The problem is that Shochat is not running on a Likud ticket. Quite the opposite; in the past she even ran for a seat on Labor's Knesset list. Shochat is competing against Likud. But Netanyahu supports her. Apparently due to the fact that one of the Likud leaders in Or Yehuda serves as Shochat's assistant, or something like that, and is running against his own party.
Netanyahu has long since become an independent, supra-partisan entity, with an independent existence outside of Likud. He has become convinced that his brand today is bigger, more important, stronger and more influential than his party's brand. He may be right. His party can only blame itself. Those who act like doormats – end up being trodden on like doormats.
Who is this Chani Bleiweis? Maariv readers are familiar with her from a scene she caused media minister Ayoub Kara in his office in the Ministry. She walked in like a storm, slammed the door, threw out anyone present, and stayed with the minister alone. Her shouts were heard in high heaven. After she left, the orders she brought with her from Jerusalem were immediately executed. During these local elections, she was in charge of Netanyahu's endorsement tapes. Netanyahu is a winning brand in many local authorities in Israel. Candidates were willing to kill for his endorsement. It turns out that you do not have to be a Likudnik in order to get one.
This Likud chaos is taking place in many other places. The same Miki Zohar, for example, star of the recording broadcast on Hadashot, was at the center of a similar scene in his hometown of Kiryat Gat. Zohar's group in the local Likud branch in Kiryat Gat lost by one vote to a rival group, which led the list in the local elections. Despite the loss, Zohar did not give up. He managed to extract a considerable sum (probably hundreds of thousands of shekels) from Likud's municipal headquarters, in support of an independent list he ran there. Yes, that list ran against Likud's list, but Likud (i.e., the taxpayer) financed both lists, one against the other. At our expense."
WE HAVE THE TOOLS TO DETER TERROR: Einat Korman in Makor Rishon claims Israel is capable of combating terror and creating effective deterrence by demanding the death penalty for terrorists and imposing sanctions on their families. Israel can become an international example, if only MKs had the will.
"How do we create deterrence? There are two main ways to do this: First, by taking more severe punitive action against the terrorists themselves and adopting a more sever approach to dealing with them, and by implementing deterring measures against those who assist and are close to the terrorist, usually family members. There is a distinction to be made between punishment and deterrence; it is a distinction that exists in both law and legislation. But government policy does not distinguish between these two measures, and just as the government does not want to over-punish, so too it does not want to deter.
The State of Israel can easily, under existing law, demand the death penalty for terrorists; but it does not do so. The state can worsen the conditions of detention of terrorists, deprive them of extensive rights, deny family visits, freeze canteen money; but it does not do so. The state may permanently revoke the residency or citizenship of a terrorist; but it does not do so. All these and more are legitimate means of punishment, but the Israeli government does not have an unequivocal resolution to take these measures. Each case is examined on its merits, each terrorist receives his own conditions and there is no policy and no uniform approach and, therefore, no deterrence.
If there is no organized policy regarding terrorists, the situation is even worse when it comes to attempts to create deterrence by imposing sanctions against families of terrorists. The state can demolish homes of terrorists and their families; but it does not do so, because the High Court forbids it. The state can revoke work permits from families of terrorists, relocate them for a limited period of time, revoke their residency or citizenship; but it does not do so in a consistent and comprehensive manner. This does not help in creating deterrence.
The State of Israel has options for creating deterrence that already exist in the law; it simply does not use them properly. The High Court of Justice is no longer an excuse. If the State of Israel wants to use an iron fist against the terrorists and use deterrence measures against their families, it must fight for it in the courts. When it was announced that the home of the terrorist who murdered Adiel Kolman would be destroyed his family protested and claimed he was mentally ill, the state attorney accepted the claim immediately and the demolition was canceled. Only after the public protest was heard and after the Kolman family proved that the terrorist had published hate speech and was aware of his actions - the attorney general advisor ordered that the possibility of demolishing the house be reconsidered. When the three youths were kidnapped and murdered, and later during the massacre of the Solomon family, we demanded in the legal forum to place the murderers on trial and to demand the death penalty. The Military Advocate General replied that this is not the policy of the State Attorney's Office, and that he refuses to do so. But is it the military prosecutor's job to determine policy? Is this not the purview of the government?
It is to be hoped that the State of Israel's confrontation with terror will serve as an example to all the other countries in which terrorists seek to murder us."
THE IRON FIST AGAINST HAMAS IS NOT WORKING: Yaela Ronen, a resident of the Gaza envelope, argues in Sicha Mekomit that Michael Gladwell's book "David and Goliath" proves using violence against a populace creates a refusal to give in, as exemplified in London in WW2 and in Northern Ireland. It is high time Israel understood Gaza will not be subdued in this way.
"I live in Kissufim. Israel's policy towards Gaza affects me and my family fast and hard. It is clear to me that Israeli governments do not formulate policies that benefit me. Look at the results: Once every week or two, missiles are launched towards us. We all live with severe anxieties. I am afraid of any loud noise, and do not know if schools will open tomorrow or if I will be forced to flee to my friends' home in Tel Aviv.
Just read the book "David and Goliath" by Malcolm Gladwell. It clearly shows that the political path of the government will only make our lives worse. It certainly will not bring any solution to the Gaza Strip. Gladwell stipulates that the use of force against an ostensibly weaker populace creates both resistance and greater survival power. The result is neither what was desired nor expected.
The first example relates to the German bombing of London during World War II. The Germans expected that the heavy bombings would drive millions out of the city and that as a result London's ability to survive – followed by Britain as a whole – would be severely damaged. But the bombings had the opposite effect. Tens of thousands were killed, tens of thousands were injured, but the millions who survived became more determined and durable and able to withstand the bombings. Gladwell gives a psychological explanation for this phenomenon: If you have not died and have not been injured, you are not 'supposed' to be hit by the bombs. The next bombardments frighten you less. They certainly will not convince you to surrender.
The second example is Northern Ireland. In the late 1960s, British General Ian Freeland decided to eliminate the violence and used force against Belfast's Catholic neighborhoods: Curfews, house searches, arrests, and the use of live ammunition. However, these actions did not 'curb' the Catholics. They only infuriated them, and the level of violence in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants only increased. Dozens of years passed and thousands of people were killed until they reached an agreement there.
In 2008, Israel decided to impose a siege on the Gaza Strip. Israel claimed that the siege was intended to isolate Hamas and prevent rocket fire towards Israeli communities in the Negev. Since then, the level of exports from the Gaza Strip has dropped to two percent of what it was in 2007, and the volume of incoming goods has dropped to a quarter. In the last year Gaza residents have been forced to contend with a few hours of electricity a day. In recent months, as a result of over-pumping and lack of water from other sources, the amount of drinking water in the Gaza Strip has declined alarmingly. And yet, they have not surrendered. 1,166 Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead. 174 were killed during Cloud Pillar. 2,125 were killed in Protective Edge. Three heavy-duty military operations, immense destruction. And yet the residents of the Gaza Strip refuse to cooperate with Israel in taking action to topple the Hamas regime.
For many of us it is clear that the path Israel has chosen is not working. Gladwell's book clarifies why this is happening: It shows that excessive use of force against a populace creates emotional resilience towards violence, and an ever- increasing desire not to surrender. Therefore, the cries emanating from some of the residents in the region, and of course also from the ministers in the government, to 'strike' Hamas in Gaza, will only lead to greater resistance from Hamas and the residents of Gaza against Israel's might. If so, why does Israel insist on continuing on this fruitless path?"
THE PENDULUM SWINGS BACK TOWARD CONFLICT: Amos Harel in Haaretz warns another round of violence with Islamic Jihad may lead to a more serious Israeli response that could complicate peace efforts.
"The Palestinian situation as described by Israeli defense officials is nearly identical to that as depicted by a senior politician in a conversation with reporters Monday. Last week Israel and Hamas were not far from achieving a long-term cease-fire – until the escalation over the weekend. But now, amid the violence led by Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, and the obstacles placed by the Palestinian Authority, a more pessimistic tone has replaced qualified optimism.
The coming days are expected to be sensitive – and another round of violence with Islamic Jihad may lead to a more serious military response by Israel that could complicate efforts to achieve calm. The senior command of the Israel Defense Forces, just like Prime Minister Netanyahu, seeks any alternative to launching a large-scale operation in Gaza.
Last weekend, after the many ups and downs in the indirect talks brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, it seemed the sides were approaching a deal. Hamas leaders in Gaza were encouraged by the Israeli decision to let in Qatari-funded fuel shipments, which substantially increased the electricity supply for Gazans. At the same time, there were signs of a Qatari willingness to fund a significant chunk of Hamas employees' salaries, which Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas has been threatening to curtail.
The contacts went awry after Friday's incidents. First, five protesters were killed by the IDF at the Gaza border fence in confrontations that the army described as more violent than usual. Through Friday night Islamic Jihad fired dozens of rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli communities near Gaza. On Saturday morning a cease-fire was once again declared, under Egyptian pressure, but Sunday evening an Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinian teens as they approached the border fence, apparently with the aim of planting an explosive. Islamic Jihad threatened to respond but did not, after pressure by Egypt and Hamas.
Hamas now finds itself facing a dual challenge. On the one hand, Islamic Jihad is again raising the flag of resistance and is lambasting Hamas for its lack of response to IDF killings during the violent protests at the fence. On the other hand, 'Abbas is threatening further sanctions against Gaza (and at the same time is saying he will halt security coordination with Israel – a step the PA has threatened many times without actually doing so). What looked like the start of a positive dynamic, if only for a few moments last week, has been replaced by a dynamic of escalation. In the background, tensions that are palpable on the streets have risen between the various Palestinian factions. In Gaza, protests were held near the homes of several Hamas leaders. In Ramallah there was a widely attended protest against alleged PA corruption.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot visited the Gaza Division headquarters Tuesday to view the preparation of forces for the coming days. There will be a decent-sized deployment near Gaza toward the weekend amid concerns of a renewed escalation along the border and the possibility that Islamic Jihad will again fire rockets. The international mediation efforts will continue, but the pendulum swinging between an escalation and a deal seems to be moving once again toward renewed conflict."
HOW ISRAEL BECAME INDIA'S STRATEGIC PARTNER: Mayuri Mukherjee in The Jerusalem Post explains that Israel's bottom-up diplomacy has paid off. By focusing on agriculture and water management, instead of lobbying to change India's foreign policy, Israel had shifted the core of its India policy from a politically-charged single issue (the Palestinian cause) to a much wider non-political grassroots platform.
"The recent award of a $777-million contract to Israel Aerospace Industries for the supply of air and missile defense systems to the Indian Navy has re-emphasized how India/Israel relations have evolved in the last two and a half decades. From outright hostility at the time of independence seven decades ago to a strategic partnership today, the bilateral has come a long way.
That this has been possible in part because of robust defense cooperation between New Delhi and Jerusalem is well-known but what is less acknowledged is the importance of cooperation with Indian States, in fields such as agriculture and water-management. So while the IAI deal made international headlines, the Israel tour of the chief minister of one of India's most prosperous States, Punjab, went under the radar. During his five-day visit from October 21-25, Capt. Amarinder Singh toured the NaanDanJain agricultural facility, the Dan Region wastewater treatment plant, the Afikim dairy farm, and met with President Reuven Rivlin. Earlier in the year, his counterparts from the States of Gujarat and Haryana also visited Israel, and agriculture featured prominently on both their agendas.
This decentralized strategy of partnering with different political and private players including State governments, through cooperation in agriculture and allied fields, has long been an integral part of Israeli diplomacy in India – especially in the early years when Jerusalem had few friends in New Delhi. For example, in 1949, Israel favorably considered India's request for assistance in agriculture even as India refused to recognize the Jewish State and opposed its UN membership. Israel's Histadrut maintained ties with India's labor leaders, many of whom visited the Jewish State. In 1960, two large Indian delegations – one comprising land reforms activists from the Bhoodan movement, and another comprising young farmers – visited Israel. In 1970, India's leading agriculturist Appasaheb Pawar lived in Israel for months, studying new agro-tech. His brother, Sharad Pawar – who would later serve three terms as Maharashtra chief minister and two as Union Minister – also played an important role in building agricultural ties between the two countries.
This decentralized approach to diplomacy continued even after India and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1992. A significant development in itself, it, however did not translate into policy shifts on the ground. Delhi issued a curt official statement and kept the new bilateral on a low profile. Left-wing parties opposed diplomatic ties and argued that India should have waited till Palestinian statehood had been achieved. However, the normalization of India-Israel ties coincided with the liberalization of the Indian economy – and States were now empowered to work with foreign governments to bring in economic investment. Israeli diplomats seized the opportunity. Often ignored in the power corridors of Delhi, they sought to build durable partnerships in state capitals.
A slew of chief ministerial visits to Israel, from across party lines, followed--starting with Gujarat's Chimanbhai Patel (Congress) in 1992, then Maharashtra's Sharad Pawar (Nationalist Congress Party), who led an 800-member strong delegation to the agritech conference in 1993, then Rajasthan's Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (Bharatiya Janata Party) in 1994, and Karnataka's Deve Gowda (Janata Dal-Secular) in 1995. In 1996, Deve Gowda became Prime Minister and, within six months, hosted President Ezer Weizman in Delhi – even though his own party had opposed normalization. Gowda and Weizman signed four agreements, including one to set up a model farm at India's premier agriculture research institute near Delhi. By this time, Israeli firms had also begun to build a profile in India – Tahal was working on water management in Gujarat and Rajasthan while Netafim had a joint venture with an Indian firm that it had been doing business with even before 1992. Both Israeli companies now have a pan-India presence.
The bilateral grew stronger with the pro-Israel BJP coming to the helm in Delhi in 1998. In 2000, West Bengal's Jyoti Basu, a Communist party veteran, broke taboo and visited Israel with a large business delegation. This was a big win, but it was derailed by the Second Intifada. Still, Prime Minister AB Vajpayee hosted Ariel Sharon in 2003, indicating a qualitative improvement in bilateral ties.
This was again taken down a notch when the Congress party returned to power in 2004 and rolled back public engagement. However, bilateral trade in general and cooperation in agriculture in particular continued to grow. In 2007, Israel's NaanDan joined with India's Jain Irrigation Systems to form NaanDanJain which now provides irrigation solutions across 100 countries. In 2008, the flagship Indo-Israel Agriculture Project was established. Jointly implemented by the India's horticulture mission and Israel's MASHAV, it now has more than 15 agricultural centers across nine Indians states.
When the BJP returned to power in 2014, the pro-Israel Prime Minister Narendra Modi was able to build on decades of quiet but effective diplomacy that had already delivered tangible benefits. Modi himself was chief minister of Gujarat for 14 years, during which time his state developed a close partnership with Israel. When he became Prime Minister, few other diplomats had the kind of access to him as the Israeli Ambassador in New Delhi.
Israel's bottom-up diplomacy has paid off. By focusing on agriculture and water management, instead of, say, lobbying to change India's foreign policy perspectives, Israel had shifted the core of its India's policy from a politically-charged single issue (the Palestinian cause) to a much wider non-political grassroots platform. This is not to suggest that cooperation in other areas, particularly defense, was not important – it was and is. But defense cooperation is also inherently susceptible to secrecy and negative opinion, which can be challenging for public diplomacy. In contrast, agricultural cooperation at the state level, allowed Israel to accrue the goodwill of the people, make friends across the ideological spectrum, and shield the bilateral from political upheavals."