TEL AVIV: "We have waited for 70 years for you," Benjamin Netanyahu greeted Narendra Modi, whose aircraft landed here this afternoon, creating history, being the first ever Indian prime minister to visit Israel. Narendra Modi responded, "we are on a path-breaking journey to engagement."
The late afternoon sun beat down on the red carpet at a secluded corner of Ben Gurion Airport, as Air India One taxied up. Benjamin Netanyahu was waiting at the bottom of the steps as Narendra Modi, dressed in a cream coloured bandhgala, lightly ran down and both men enveloped each other in a bear hug.
Modi was greeted by leaders of all the major religions here — Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbis, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, catholic, Muslim imams — a ritual that is only reserved for the pope or the US president.
"Aapka swagat hai mere dost. We love India. We admire your culture, history, democracy and commitment to progress. I am confident of the real mathematics of life, of success of our partnership for many reasons; talent of our people," Israeli PM said.
Addressing Modi, Netanyahu reminded him that he had said "the sky is the limit for India and Israel." "We are working together in space programs, so we can now say the sky is not the limit anymore." Acknowledging Modi's love for acronyms, Bibi delivered one of his own: "I-square-plus-T-square — India and Israel plus Israeli technology and Indian talent, is India-Israel ties for tomorrow."
Modi tried his hand at Hebrew as well "Shalom le kulaam ani semya mayodh lehiyot po," he said. "My visit celebrates the strength of centuries old links between our societies. Based on these bonds our partnership has maintained a strong and sustained upswing since the establishment of full diplomatic relations 25 years ago."
Modi's appreciation of Israel clearly came through. "The people of Israel have built a nation on democratic principles. They have nurtured it with hard work, grit and the spirit of innovation. You have marched on regardless of adversity and converted challenges into opportunity. India applauds your achievements."
Both leaders clearly bonded at a personal level, which came through clearly in the airport ceremony. Over the next couple of days, the two men will spend virtually all their waking moments together.
Modi said, "in our path of sustained high growth and all around development, India counts Israel among its important partners. The need to rely on science, technology, innovation, and higher technical education to overcome our developmental challenges is common to both of us."