New Delhi: In a delicate balancing act, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna Sunday starts a three-day visit to Israel and Palestine that is expected to enhance India`s strategic and economic ties with Tel Aviv and also underline enduring commitment to the Palestine cause.
This will be the first visit by an Indian External Affairs Minister to Israel in 11 years.
In Tel Aviv, Krishna will call on Israeli President Simon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hold extensive talks with Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The focus will be on expanding strategic, defence and economic ties between the two countries, said official sources.
The two countries are expected to sign an extradition treaty and an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons during Krishna`s visit that occurs in the 20th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
Expanding counter-terror cooperation will also figure prominently in the talks.
Since the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, in which six Israeli nationals were also killed, counter-terror cooperation between the two countries has intensified. The signing of the extradition treaty will give a further boost to the anti-terror cooperation.
Over the years, Israel has emerged as India`s second largest defence supplier after Russia. Collaboration in critical areas like air defence systems and missiles, and modernisation of aging equipment from the Soviet period, including tanks and fighter aircraft, have intensified. This makes Israel a key partner for India in security matters.
Besides defence, the two countries will be looking to scale up trade and investment. This time round, the two sides will be laying special emphasis on expanding cooperation in agriculture and will discuss a joint working plan to set up centres of excellence for enhancing agricultural productivity.
After a trip to Tel Aviv, Krishna will travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and is expected to announce fresh aid for the development of the Palestinian territory. He is expected to reiterate India`s commitment to an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.
India was the first non-Arab country to recognise the statehood of Palestine in 1988 when it was declared.
Krishna`s statements on the Middle East peace process will be watched closely as many countries in the region have been pressing New Delhi to play a more proactive role in the region given its strong ties with both Arab nations and Israel.
In both Tel Aviv and Ramallah, India is expected to press for the resumption of direct talks between Palestine and Israel for the final resolution of the conflict.
Last month, India said at the United Nations that it "has an abiding interest in the early resolution of all pending issues that have troubled the region".
India has consistently supported "a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine living within secure and recognised borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, side by side and at peace with the state of Israel."