Reuven Rivlin, Pranab Mukherjee
Reuven Rivlin, Pranab Mukherjee Mark Neyman/GPO

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee began his visit to Israel - the first ever official visit by an Indian president - on Wednesday at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

President Reuven Rivlin hosted the visiting dignitary, and the two held a review of a guard of honor before being welcomed by a wide array of Israeli and visiting Indian officials, including ministers, parliament members and religious leaders.

"Even as a president of a country, as wonderful as India, or Israel, it is not every day that one truly has the chance to make history," said Rivlin. "But today, we together are making history. So for the first time ever, as President of the State of Israel I have the honor of saying to you, as President of India, 'welcome to Israel, welcome to Jerusalem.'"

"Our two peoples have very long histories, yet our two countries are still very young. We share many common concerns and challenges; both internally, and externally, and I look forward to speaking with you about our strong cooperation and partnership on these important issues."

"Indians and Israelis are working together - not only on breakthroughs in the supply of basic foods and water, but are also working together to create the highest level of technology," added the president. "We are working to safeguard the environment, we are working to develop academic study, and we are working to keep our peoples safe in the face of terrorism and fundamentalism."

President Mukherjee responded by thanking Rivlin and noting that India's Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment had joined him in the visit, together with a delegation of parliamentarians and educators.

"I greatly look forward to my discussions with His Excellency the President of Israel, and other political leaders. We will engage on a wide range of issues of shared interest, and my officials and the senior members of my delegation will meet their Israeli counterparts to discuss ways to take forward our bilateral relationship, and explore new avenues of corporation and partnership," said the Indian president.

"India attaches high importance to its relationship with Israel, a relationship which has taken great strides in the last few years," said Mukherjee. "We are cooperating and collaborating in a range of areas including defense, agriculture, scientific research, and innovation. We are also discovering and identifying new areas of partnership with significant potential to be realized."

"We will also take this opportunity to discuss the many global challenges that are two countries face today, including the growing menace of terrorism and extremism, our common concerns about climate change, and the urgent need for reform of global governance infrastructure."

Turning his attention to the recent growing wave of Arab terrorism engulfing Israel, Mukherjee said, "we are disturbed by the recent violence. India condemns all forms of terrorism, and we have always advocated for a peaceful solution to all disputes. I will seek the assessment of the Israeli leadership and about the recent developments in this region which have caused concern all over the world, and have direct implications for India."

After their statements, Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon and Eastern Region Secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Anil Wadwah signed two bilateral agreements between the two states.

One agreement regarded double taxation, while the other was a cultural exchange agreement.

The presidents and the senior delegations then held a work meeting before heading to the Knesset, where Mukherjee was due to deliver an address in a special plenary session.

Military ties between the two allies have been growing rapidly of late, with India accelerating plans to buy Israeli drones that can be armed. The two have also long worked together to develop anti-missile systems, and are close to signing a deal to develop a joint surface-to-air missile system.

As defense ties with America continue to grow tense, as highlighted in Operation Protective Edge last summer when US President Barack Obama froze the routine transfer of Hellfire missiles to Israel and ordered scrutiny on future shipments, Israel continues to show signs of developing Asian allies such as India, China and Japan.

 Mark Neyman/GPO