Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Israel makes inroads in Asia with a diplomatic "Ace in the Hole" - Water and Agricultural Technology

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Israel's cutting edge advances in water and agriculture are helping the country make commercial and diplomatic inroads into parts of Asia that have previously been difficult to reach.

Last week, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Chinese Finance Minister Xie Xuren signed a USD $300 million financial protocol in Beijing aimed at boosting export of Israeli water technology for agriculture.

Then this week, the Israeli cabinet approved a NIS 8.6 billion (AUD 2.14 billion) rail link to Eilat. The link, connecting the sea ports of Ashdod and Eilat is being planned with an eye towards ramping up trade with China in the coming years. Israel is hoping to tout the Med-Red rail link as an alternative to the Suez Canal, effectively transforming Israel into a gateway between Europe and Asia.

[Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu] says having an overland cargo route to the Mediterranean will boost the country's value as a strategic partner to China and India and would be "useful" in case "problems" arose with the Suez Canal.
How can we get the great Asian economies interested?" Netanyahu asked during an interview with Bloomberg News in Tel Aviv on Feb. 20. "We can build a train line from the Red Sea to Ashdod to link Asia and Europe." The project "will help open up markets."

Yet Israel is not waiting for the trade to begin in order to start reaping the benefits of the rail plan. It is in talks with China and India over their potential participation in the construction of the line. According to reports, Israel will ideally be looking for ways to include both countries in the project.

In parallel to these initiatives, Israel is laying down a foundation for deeper economic and cultural ties with India and China by inviting students from both countries to study in Israel, and providing scholarships to that end.

The first program... for attracting post-doctorate students, is meant to bring about a strengthening of the research ties with India and China by attracting outstanding researchers to Israel while exposing them to research capabilities in Israel and creating bonds with leading Israeli researchers. This program will be put into effect both in the universities and in the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research.
The second program - for attracting students - is designed to draw hundreds of outstanding students to study in universities in Israel in combined programs with Israeli students and also to integrate them into extra-academic programs enabling them to familiarize themselves with the country. These students will remain in Israel for a relatively long period of time, a fact which is expected to increase their exposure to what is happening in the country, making them "ambassadors" for Israel on their return home.

In an interview with AIJAC last week, Rishi Suri, International Affairs Editor for The Daily Milap in New Delhi, said that India is eager to expand ties with Israel, and is especially interested in what Israel has to offer in the field of agriculture and water.

"I think the India-Israel relationship is... really expanding now. And I think two of the key areas where it's expanding is agriculture and technology.
In agriculture, especially, India needs all the help it can get, because we have big areas, we have infrastructure, but we don't have the technology to maximise the yield. Israel is really helping. They've set up a couple of centres to train local farmers...
[Indian government ministers] have been to Israel. They've seen [how] a little bit of technology goes a long way in agriculture. So, they're very keen and it's one of the key areas that India needs help in. And Israel is doing everything that they can do right now to help India."

(A longer interview with Mr. Suri will be published in the April edition of the Australia/Israel Review.)

Israel's standing as one of the world's leading exporters of water technology was the basis for a recent blog at the Jerusalem Post, which specifically cited recent projects in Ghana and Spain.

Also this week, the Israel Export Institute hosted a seminar on India's Ganges River rehabilitation project.

The Indian guests told the Post that the fact that the seminar was being held in Israel demonstrated the high level of interest Israeli scientists have for being involved in the mammoth challenge of restoring water quality along the 2,510-kilometre river, as well as building India confidence in Israeli know-how in the field of water technology.

Ahron Shapiro

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