What began as a budding relationship between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has now blossomed into a full-blown best friendship, complete with strolls on the beach and handwritten notes.
Modi, who is the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel, just spent three days touring the country while tweeting more than 50 times about how much fun he was having with “my friend, Netanyahu.”
The two leaders laughed, hugged, shared a helicopter tour of Israel, appreciated some art and history, and then hugged again. All this culminated in a slow walk on Dor beach in Haifa today. The pair were there to discuss desalination (the process of turning seawater into potable water), but who knows what the two besties really talked about as they hiked up their pants and waded, smiling, into the Mediterranean Sea.
“There’s nothing like going to the beach with friends!” Netanyahu tweeted later, warming the hearts of lonely world leaders everywhere.
If you thought this state visit couldn’t get any closer to the plot line of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Netanyahu gave Modi a picture of them at the beach with a handwritten note that Modi then tweeted:
And then, of course, came the crucial part of any holiday relationship: the emotional goodbye.
इजरायल आने के लिए धन्यवाद् प्रधानमंत्री मोदी, जल्द फिर मिलेंगे pic.twitter.com/JBxzY6WkBe— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 6, 2017
Separated for what seemed like the first time in three days, the two leaders raised their hands once more in farewell. One stayed in Israel while the other flew home 4,000 kilometers away, but their memories — of frolicking by the beach, talking about art, history, terrorists, and desalination — will stay with them forever.
“Thank you for visiting Israel Prime Minister Modi,” Netanyahu tweeted in Hindi. “We will soon meet again.”
Underneath the bromance, a complicated history
The two leaders clearly had a delightful time, but they also managed to get a lot done.
They signed seven major agreements on water, agriculture, and space technology on top of creating a $40 million research fund for joint innovation. They also spent time going over their shared security interests. In April, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries signed a nearly $2 billion deal to supply India's army and navy with missile defense systems, making it the biggest defense contract in Israel’s history.
Looking at the warm relations between the two leaders and the many concrete steps they’ve taken to strengthen alliances between their two countries, it can be easy to forget that until Modi came to power in 2014, India’s relations with Israel were tepid at best.
This was partly because of India’s historically pro-Palestinian tilt. India was the first non-Arab state to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in 1974, and later become one of the first countries to recognize the state of Palestine in 1988.
This longstanding relationship has grown somewhat more complicated under Modi and his Hindu nationalist party BJP. While Modi isn’t the first Indian leader to court Israel, he is the first to do so this openly.
"[In the past,] people were not openly admitting the relationship. You have a girlfriend but you are not ready to bring her to your family," explained P.R. Kumaraswamy, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, to Al Jazeera.
The BJP has been distinctly more public about growing closer to Israel, stating on various occasions that they believe independent relationships can be forged with both Israel and the Palestinians. This latest, highly publicized state visit, which produced dozens of pictures of the two leaders, was the epitome of that policy.
"We want to build a strong relationship with Israel at the same time as we support the Palestinian cause,” said Vijay Chauthaiwale, head of the BJP's foreign policy department. “And we are not shy about it.”
On Wednesday, Modi and Netanyahu signed a joint statement that called for peace between Israel and the Palestinians but didn’t mention a two-state solution — a key demand of the PLO. This won’t go unnoticed by the Palestinians.
In 2015, after India abstained on a United Nations Human Rights Council vote condemning Israel, the Palestinian ambassador to India called for a public explanation. Now, in response to Modi’s trip, Palestinian Authority Deputy Foreign Minister Tayseer Jaradat has told CNN that they aren’t pleased.
"We would prefer it if the prime minister of an important country, like India, who is visiting the region, should also visit Palestine when he visits Israel,” Jaradat said.
The many pictures of Modi and Netanyahu from the past three days may paint a rosy picture of relations between the two countries, but they won’t be enough to dispel longstanding regional tensions. The Palestinians’ curt reaction to the trip already suggest that India’s plan for an independent relationship with each country isn’t as viable as Modi might think.