In the recent past, visits by British leaders to Israel have all been about diplomacy and gesture politics. David Cameron cannot ignore the peace talks during his brief visit to the Jewish state nor can he completely deviate from the Foreign Office’s agenda of halting settlement expansion.
But the reality of the Prime Minister’s visit is that it is all about trade and technology.
Brussels and the European Union may be in the business of attaching diplomatic strictures to trade and investment relations but the United Kingdom is simply getting on with the job.
Bilateral trade between the two countries has soared to £5.1 billion and as one senior British diplomat described it to me in the last few days: “UK exports to Israel are on the up and up”.
The days when the only place you could find Israeli goods in the UK was in the produce section of Marks & Spencer are long gone. Britain is now Israel’s second largest trading partner.
The relationship is as important to Her Majesty’s government as it is to Jerusalem.
The Coalition is currently in the process of scouring the world for new export markets in the face of the deep recession in the Eurozone.
Its new hidden weapon in this task is Lord Ian Livingston, until recently chief executive of BT, who took over from Lord Green as head of United Kingdom Trade & Investments last year. Unsurprisingly the energetic Livingston, alongside an array of tech entrepreneurs, was in the Prime Minister’s party.
The inspiration behind the invigorated trade and tech relationship between Israel and the UK is the British ambassador Matthew Gould who has done much to move the agenda between the two countries away from traditional diplomacy towards technology.
Most Britons have little awareness of the strength of the technology relationship and how much Israeli know-how and products there are here in Britain in everyday use.
It ranges from the electronic cards that power Sky’s digital boxes to the gaming machines in William Hill and Ladbrokes betting shops. Israeli technology is at the forefront of online betting sites and also provides the security for online banking at Barclays.
The Palestinian inspired boycott campaign may have stopped West Bank tomatoes being sold in the Co-op. But when it comes to cyber security and the Intel computer chips, that drive most of our laptops, the intellectual property comes out of Israel.