Israel eyes alliance with ‘friend’ Bengal
Calcutta, Sept. 14: Mamata Banerjee’s interest in forging greater ties with Israel will help in developing a long-term partnership between her state and his country, the West Asian nation’s envoy to India said after a two-day trip to the Bengal capital.
“I had a wonderful meeting with the chief minister of Bengal and she has promised full co-operation to ensure closer ties between Israel and Bengal. In the next stage, professionals will have to discuss in detail,” Alon Ushpiz told The Telegraph this evening.
During his stay in Calcutta, Ushpiz inaugurated an Israeli business promotion office in the city. The ambassador said the Centre would help in “match-making” and facilitating Israeli investment in Bengal and vice-versa.
Although Israel has had ties with Bengal for some time, the previous Left Front government was not too keen on expanding the scope because of political considerations.
Asked whether the change of guard in Bengal would improve the ties, Ushpiz said: “The local politics of West Bengal is not Israel’s business…. What we know is people of West Bengal are friends of Jewish people and we want to build on that.”
Improving trade ties with Bengal is part of Israel’s overall strategy of engaging more with India. The two countries are now discussing the modalities for a free-trade agreement, expected to be sealed by the end of 2012.
Ushpiz has said bilateral trade was estimated to touch $5 billion by the end of 2011 and had the potential to reach $15 billion once the pact was in place.
Although Israel has close ties with several Indian states, such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan, Ushpiz said there was great synergy between his country and Bengal.
“Both people of Bengal and Israel have great energy…. Besides, the people here and back in my country are extremely opinionated,” the ambassador, who was on his maiden trip to the city after taking charge at the Israeli embassy in Delhi, added.
Ushpiz said Israel and Bengal could co-operate in several areas and added that his country could provide technological help in irrigation and water management.
“We have requested the government to send a delegation to Israel in November, during WATEC, an exhibition on water management,” Ushpiz said.
The Israeli ambassador also tossed up a proposal before the Bengal government on creating a platform for joint industrial research and development.
Ushpiz did not want to answer questions on whether Israel would help the state government in tackling Maoist insurgents.
“These are things we don’t discuss in public. But I can say that the well-being of the people of Bengal is very important for us. We also believe that any Indian citizen has the right to live in peace,” he said.