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Jul 10, 2017

by Shantanu Datta
Israel’s ambassador to India Daniel Carmon has been a career diplomat for over four decades. He has already spent more than three years in India, steering a relationship that is now brimming with confidence in areas ranging from defence to entrepreneurship, agriculture and water.
A paratrooper in the Israeli defence forces before joining the foreign services, Carmon has had stints across the world, including Washington, Buenos Aires, and the UN. He was also member of the Israeli delegation that took part in the 1978 Jimmy Carter initiated Camp David peace talks.
In an interview to The Telegraph, ambassador Carmon talks about Israel’s unique economy that’s based on entrepreneurial prowess and the special relation his country shares with India. Excerpts
Q: With the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel, New Delhi-Tel Aviv ties have now been escalated to the next level. In addition to cooperation in defence, agriculture and counter-terrorism, what are the other areas in which you foresee collaborations?
Carmon: In the last two and a half decades, the areas in which we have managed to cooperate with each were those that were at the top of the agenda of each country. As a development laboratory, Israel has developed a unique economy based on R&D and entrepreneurship in several areas like agriculture, water and health. We allocate a huge some, almost 4 per cent or more of our GDP, to R&D. In our bilateral discussions, we are sharing our successes and failures, and we find a lot of common ground between us and India. It is common knowledge that defence and agriculture are among those areas. We are also going to strengthen our relationship in innovation to builda start-up eco-system by engaging in areas such as pharmaceuticals and even space. Usually, people tend to say, and I am glad you did not, ‘how can Israel help India?’ I am not in favour of looking at things this way. We have developed a way of treating each other as partners. We have developed a very unique relationship, be it in government, academia, business or the general public. And we are very happy about that.
Q: So, in a way, it’s a special relationship?
Carmon: Israel is one of the most diverse and successful countries which is ready to share its knowledge and capabilities with its friends. And our very special relationship with India is based on that. We do have political dialogue. On most issues we agree perfectly. On some issues we discuss. This is the way of things. But the main point in our relation is that we can offer partnership and a relationship that is based on the interest of each side. You know there are things that are Indian, and there are things that are Israeli. And in the middle there are things that can be interesting for both sides and that’s the beauty of this relationship. I am sure that this relationship can serve as a model for other nations.
Q: We are celebrating 25 years of diplomatic ties with India.
Carmon: This is a process that has been brewing for more than 25 years. In fact, we are towards the end of the celebrations. Politically we have had our differences for many years, because of, let’s say, world politics and the way that the global sphere was divided into two main blocks. But now, the world has changed. And with it, the relationship with India has also changed in that it has become much more visible. We have a lot of common ground. In the old way, when Israeli diplomats would walk into the room, Arabs would walk out. Anything that had to do with Israel would be boycotted. But the world has changed. Now, we see Israeli systems and platforms in irrigation in Arab countries and nobody thinks that it is wrong. These days, no Arab diplomat walks out of the room when an Israeli diplomat walks in. Now there are alliances, some more overt while others less so. Now, a country like India, which 30 years ago would say that Israel was on the wrong side of the map, is one of our partners. Our relationship does not interfere with the important relationship of India with the Arab world and vice-versa. And the Arab world does not interfere between the relationship between Israel and India because they understand that the world is a different place now.
Q: In the latest issue of The Economist, Prime Minister Netanhayu argues that many Arab countries now saw Israel not as an enemy but as an ally in the battle against terrorism.
Carmon: The Prime Minister was really talking about the strength of Israel in areas that are important to the world. Unfortunately, we bring (with us) the experience of terrorism and its effect (on us) for many years. And we have also developed very special ways of countering terrorism in all its forms. One of them is the pre-emption, what we call the pre-intelligence needed to thwart attacks. I think Israel’s experience is so valuable that it has become a partner for so many countries who are confronting terrorism. Yet, it is beyond that. Israel has many solutions in many areas because it has had to develop itself as a self-sustained country in all fields since its establishment as an independent state. We always tend to look at sustainable goals as a compass. And because of our special geopolitical and economic situation, we have developed our own goals over the years. Our innovation ecosystem, the start-up nation that we are, make us a very attractive partner. You must also give a political umbrella to this. Our region has also been changing. For quite sometime now, the world is not divided into Arabs, Muslims and Jews. The players are looking at different kinds of threats. Everyone understands that Israel is not a threat to anyone. On the contrary, Israel can be a valuable partner. And this is what Prime Minister has said in his article. Member states of the United Nations, like Iran, are supporting terrorism as a policy. And many of our neighbours in the region are looking at Iran as a big threat and know that Israel can be a partner and not an enemy.

Q: The US government’s announcement about recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has thrown the peace process into turmoil. How do you view India’s reaction to these recent developments?
Carmon: India’s reaction is a reflection of India’s policy on our region, more or less saying that there is no connection between one and the other. I do not want to be an interpreter of India’s statement, but we appreciate India’s policy very much, namely that ‘we can have good relations with the Israelis without interfering in our relations with the Arabs. We can have good relations with the Arabs without interfering in our relations with Israel’. This is not a zero sum game
Israel has been working closely with several state governments in India, especially when building centres of excellence in agriculture.
The concept of centres of excellence is a very successful one. That’s because it is a joint venture between India and Israel. It is true partnership. As we speak, we already have 19 fully operational centres, 15 of which have been inaugurated and launched. Our aim is to have 25 fully operational centres. We don’t have too much time because by the end of January 2018, we will be ending celebrations of 25 years of diplomatic relations. These centres are for training and demonstration where farmers can come and look, and experience, the technology and see how suitable it is for them. They can decide on how to improve crop quality, use water and fertilisers in a good way, stay green and work with ecology. We have very successful centres in Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan. And we are now building, together with the Indian government, centres in Bihar, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Bengal. The next step is to bring in the private sector.

Q: Your predecessor in India, Mr Alon Usphiz, had told me that he was keen to see that Israeli technology is used in the mission to clean up the Ganga. How far has that progressed?
Carmon: While preparing for the visit of Prime Minister Modi, we put water on the top of our agenda. And we have been working for years even before that with various Indian ministries, particularly the ministry of water resources and rivers and Ganga rejuvenation and the ministry of drinking water and sanitation. In 2014, we presented a list of possibilities on offering technology that could be integrated into the Clean Ganga mission. The process is not over. The banks of the Ganga and its surrounding areas have been demarcated into 119 blocks. If Israel gets one or two of those blocks, and can bring technology in the form of partnerships, I think India will witness what Israel technology can do. We have Israeli technology at work in India already in the field of irrigation. There are leather and textile manufacturers that are using our technology to recycle waste water. We have a company that has been assigned to recycle and purify water in the Yamuna. We are also present in Agra and Chennai. I hope to show some results of the work pretty soon. The Clean Ganga Mission will be enjoying Israeli technology, but we need Indian partners.
We have also developed a concept of setting up joint multi-disciplinary working groups with four or five states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. We bring experts, they discuss areas of common interest with the states and then go back and do their homework. Later, we can present plans.
Q: In the book, Start-up Nation, authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer talk about this young innovator unveiling his idea of battery-operated cars to the American CEOs of Big Auto at Davos sometime in 2007. The idea was fascinating, especially the network of charging hubs where these cars would go and change batteries just like we fill gas in petrol pumps. How far has Israel moved in its quest for cleaner energy to run cars?
Carmon: I am not sure about the company. But charging hubs are there. But in some places people are a bit edgy with them as these have been set up at parking places. But on a wider note, Israel does not have an automotive industry. Yet its technologies in areas of navigation and alternative energy are being integrated by some of the largest auto manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW and Audi. There is no reason why Indian auto manufacturers can’t use these too. Two months ago, there was a huge conference in Israel about smart mobility
Q: Tourism is one of the ways in which people of two countries can connect. This is the time when a large of people from India visit the holy sites of Jerusalem. How safe is it travel there now?
Carmon: One should go and talk to the families that visited Israel, including two delegations that were there this week. We are following their reports on social media and they say they are amazed. Before tourists and businessmen try to leave for Israel, I try to give them a reality check of what they are going to see. I tell everyone that they are going to be so surprised by what they see. Because everyone has an image of Israel as a country in conflict where something is always happening. True, something is happening in Israel all the time. But it is not necessarily connected to conflict. Sometimes, we have periods and I admit that in the last few days, there were certain events in our region which we cannot ignore. But when someone goes to the city of Tel Aviv, he/she is amazed to see the life there. They see a thriving community, a thriving economy where people are going about their daily life, doing business and taking part in one of the biggest achievements that any country can aspire: a vibrant economy with one of the largest numbers of start-ups. Tourism is booming. You have in a very small piece of land, (perhaps) the size of Meghalaya, various kinds of climate and topography that you have in a continent. You have history… Actually, many people don’t think of Jerusalem as a real place, they think it is a sort of a Biblical idea. Jerusalem has history, and you can go and see archaeological excavations, paintings dating back a thousand years and life in a city with connections to so many different religions. And 2 km from the most ancient place on earth you can have a laboratory of the most advanced technological system that is being developed for, say, food security or medicine or health or space or social entrepreneurship.
Q: You have spent over three years in India now. India, as we all know, is a vast and fascinating country, which, at times, can be exasperating to navigate. Tell us about your interactions with people outside your sphere of work as a diplomat.
Carmon: There is a special bond that unites us. There is a lot of mutual admiration between both our peoples. I am touched by the warmth of the people when they hear where we come from. The story of one unified India is remarkable. You can be in Bengal or Tamil Nadu or somewhere in the North, and you know that people of these regions may have come from different places and follow different faiths, but India is one. A country of 1.3 billion people taking part in such a vibrant democracy is something that you can be so proud of. India has its challenges, but India’s image has been unparalleled in the world. I am learning something new every day. I know when I finish my term here, I will still not have learnt all that I wanted to about this beautiful and amazing country. Incredible India!


Nov 22, 2017
Carmon: India’s reaction is a reflection of India’s policy on our region, more or less saying that there is no connection between one and the other. I do not want to be an interpreter of India’s statement, but we appreciate India’s policy very much, namely that ‘we can have good relations with the Israelis without interfering in our relations with the Arabs. We can have good relations with the Arabs without interfering in our relations with Israel’. This is not a zero sum game.

Thank you.


Apr 8, 2011
United States
Sure..Both kill innocents, a pure bond between two countries!
Innocents for some and militants for others. It depends on whose side of fence you are.

I have high admiration for Israeli people for their contribution to science and technology. For a tiny nation they boost of highest number(about 201) of nobel laureates of jewish descent.

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