NEW DELHI: “It is safe to conclude no government in New Delhi has ever been as enthusiastic about its affection for Israel as the one in power now,” wrote the US based Foreign Policy magazine well before the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel was announced.

And it is one of a series of global articles and reports that have noted the burgeoning relationship between New Delhi and Tel Aviv since the Modi government came to power a year ago, with foreign policy experts and officials commenting on the warmth infused bilateral ties between the two countries. As Foreign Policy noted, “ “Relations between India and Israel are experiencing a diplomatic renaissance.”

PM Modi who cherishes a special corner for those who supported him after the Gujarat violence in 2002, is seen to have placed Israel on top of his list. At a time when the US had shunned him, denying him a visa, Israel accorded him red carpet treatment when he visited the country in 2006 as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The Prime Minister returned the favour in 2014 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, when he met with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when the embers of what the global media had described as a genocide, were still smouldering in Gaza. And since then there has been no looking back.

At the New York meeting Netanyahu had declared, “the sky is the limit” for India and Israel. Relations have moved ahead, with several high level visits between the two countries. The first visit abroad by the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was to Israel. Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon has been to New Delhi. PM Modi met with the Israeli president Reuven Rivlin earlier this year. Cooperation in Defence, Security, Agriculture are all moving ahead at good speed, with bilateral ties expected to be taken to an altogether new level during PM Modi’s visit.

Reports suggest that India bought $662 million worth of arms from Israel during the first six months after PM Modi came to power, and that experts point out is more than the total value of Israel’s defence exports to India in the last three years.

India’s relations with Israel had been largely kept ‘shadowy’ and under wraps by previous governments. A step away was taken by the last NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee but even then lip service was kept for the Palestinian struggle, that had been a cornerstone of Indian foreign policy in the region. The first BJP led coalition then facilitated a visit by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon at the time, but this was followed by at least four visits by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to India. Under PM Modi the covers are being withdrawn with considerable speed, with the Prime Minister not bothering to meet with Abbas in New York in a token gesture of support. In fact just after Israel started its Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, that drew worldwide condemnation, the Indian Foreign Office issued a statement against the loss of civilian life in Gaza but compensating this with concern over “cross border provocations resulting from rocket attacks” that was the Israeli justification for the attack that was described as ‘genocide’ even in sections of the western media.

The government blocked and rejected a parliamentary resolution moved by the Opposition to condemn the Israeli attack on the Palestinians. In the midst of all this political heat there was PM Modi tweeting Hanukah greetings in Hebrew,and congratulating Netanyahu “my friend Bibi” on his re-election.

However, PM Modi is just bringing to the surface what former PM Manmohan Singh under wraps. It was in fact in the last ten years of Congress led UPA rule that relations with Israel intensified particularly in the defence, security and agriculture sectors. It was however, a “secret” relationship with Foreign Office officials also unwilling to say more than the token bland words about the bilateral relations. As a result of this ‘under wraps’ policy several decisions got delayed, with the slightest whisper of opposition placing proposals back into the freezer. Iran, the huge Indian population work force in West Asian countries, and even the Palestinians were seen as deterrents with the Congress government pulling back from Israel every now and again.

Interestingly it was at this time also that the word ‘pragmatic’ got attached to Indian foreign policy with officials and politicians in power maintaining that the country had to balance reality with ideals. And that a ‘pragmatic’ approach such as closer relations with the US and Israel at the expense of bilateral friendships with Iran and the Palestinians could not be overtaken by “outdated notions of idealism”.

PM Modi has first moved the relations with Israel into the public field; and two, made it very clear that he regarded Netanyahu as a special “friend.” His visit to Israel is thus expected to move bilateral relations by several unprecedented notches that will impact on India’s larger foreign policy as well. As Foreign Policy noted, “by bringing India-Israel ties out of the closet, Modi has brought focus, direction, and substance to the relationship. How long ties will remain in the public spotlight will largely depend on the results of the next Indian election still four years away.” But indications today are that Netanyahu might not be far wrong in his ‘sky is the limit’ prediction, made a year ago in New York.