India Israel Relations


The India–Israel Strategic partnership has been of tremendous value to India in terms of Military technology transfers and Intelligence cooperation against Jihadi terrorism. The relationship has been strengthened by the presence of 70,000 Indian Jews in Israel and frequent visits by the youth of Israel who are fascinated by India. Israel has emerged as the second biggest defence supplier to India after Russia. India is on the way to receive three Phalcon AWACS mounted on the IL-50 aircraft. The defence procurements from Israel in the last decade have exceeded US$ 10 billion. As a matter of fact there are only two countries Russia and Israel which are willing to provide state-of-the-art technology. An international survey finding confirmed in 2006 that Israel is the most popular country in India.

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This article is published with the kind permission of „Defence and Security Alert (DSA) Magazine“ New Delhi-India
Defence and Security Alert (DSA

Israel and India were created at approximately the same time and despite different perceptions have all along been reliable partners. The creation of Israel was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi but the erstwhile Jan Sangh (present Bharatiya Janata Party) recognised it as a friend right from its very inception. India after gaining independence championed the Non-aligned Movement and the main leaders were Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Tito of erstwhile Yugoslavia and Jawaharlal Nehru of India. To the contrary Israel was firmly wedded to the Western powers and posed a problem for overt relations with India. Militarily Israel always looked at India as a partner against Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Reports indicate that Israel supplied heavy mortars and ammunition to India through European outlets prior to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Further Israel has been concerned about acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and would not hesitate to take military action if presented an opportunity. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw the end of the cold war and the beginning of multiple relationships between countries. The Indian economy was opened up and this saw new relationships being developed with countries having High Technology. Official relations were opened between the two countries and thereafter they have become strategic partners in the region.

Political relationship

India gained independence on 15 August 1947. On 29 November 1947 a resolution was passed by the United Nations General Assembly that Palestine would be partitioned and the Jews would have a homeland in the partitioned state. On 14 May 1948 David Ben Gurion declared the independence of Israel and on 16 May 1948 the only Jewish majority state was formed. The moment the country was formed the Arabs declared war and Israel stabilised her boundaries. India after its independence adopted a foreign policy which was pro-Arab and anti-Israel. The reason was first of all India’s need for oil and gas for development as also to win Arab support in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Further our foreign policy emphasised on non-alignment in which Israel which was a Western block ally and did not fit in. Therefore we continued to support the Arabs during the 1967 and 1973 Arab Israeli wars. Covertly Israel always maintained friendly relations but it was only after the Gulf War in 1991 that India realised the need to be pragmatic in dealing with foreign countries and this is the time when gears were changed and India commenced her political relationship with Israel.

Israel has given us tremendous assistance with regard to intelligence and counter-terrorism. The formation of RAW and NSG received tremendous guidance from Israel. The Homeland techniques used by Israel are state-of-the-art and they have willingly assisted us in these fields

There were numerous factors responsible for this shift in India’s foreign policy. In 1991 the Soviet Union had broken up and Russia failed to support Iraq during the attack by US forces and Kuwait. Further the Soviet Union collapsed on 25 December 1991 bringing an end to the cold war. More than 70 per cent of India’s defence equipment came from the Soviet Union and it was extremely difficult to ensure spares and maintenance of the equipment was undertaken with assurance from the 15 newly formed sovereign republics. India knew that Israel had captured Soviet equipment during the 1967 war. Further Israel had developed upgrades and spares for all these equipment. It was in India’s defence interest to collaborate with Israel. The main issues for friendship with the Arab countries were the guaranteed availability of oil and backing of the OIC on the Kashmir issue. In June 1990 the price of oil dropped to an all time low of US$ 14 to a barrel. Further despite India’s request all Arab countries in the OIC voted against India with regard to the Kashmir issue. To top it all Gulf War in 1990 demonstrated the superiority of Western weaponry vis a vis Soviet systems. There was a need to modernise Indian Armed Forces and possibly the route of seeking assistance from Israel appeared viable. All these issues made the Indian government to rethink and move from a philosophical foreign policy to a pragmatic foreign policy. The Indian government during this period moved from democratic socialism to an open economy in which public sector was gradually disinvested, the Non-aligned Movement was no longer the cornerstone of our foreign policy and there was replacement of idealism by pragmatism. India soon realised that her Area of Interest included the Straits of Hormuz, Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb. The change in India’s vision and its desire to emerge as a strong nation, naturally led her to open diplomatic relations with Israel.

Critical technologies are the key to modernisation and Israel has the will and wherewithal to provide us the same with speed and military precision. On our part we must be pragmatic and build the relationship to serve our national interest

One of the main reasons for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 was driven by the potential in defence cooperation. Israel has a state-of-the-art defence industry and is willing to cooperate with India in all spheres of defence activities. In March 1994 Israel’s Research and Development Chief visited India. This was followed by the visit of our Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri visiting Israel in 1996. Israel was willing to assist India in all areas of defence activities. With the break up of the Soviet Union and Russia still consolidating her position, India was fortunate to have Israel as a dependable strategic partner

In February 1992 Israel opened its Embassy in New Delhi and in May 1992 India opened its Embassy in Tel Aviv. The opening of diplomatic relations saw a strategic partnership between the two countries. Leaders, people and soldiers developed an affectionate bond which transformed both these countries in all spheres. Two decades have elapsed since the opening of diplomatic relations and the relationship has prospered due to democratic traditions, similar judicial systems, ease of communicating in the English language and exchange of technical and industrial knowledge. The relationship has been strengthened by the presence of 70,000 Indian Jews in Israel and frequent visits by the youth of Israel who are fascinated by India.

The strengthened political relationship has resulted in enhanced economic cooperation between the two countries. In 1992 the primary trade between the two countries was diamonds and amounted to about US$ 200 million. Currently the two way trade between India and Israel is US$ 5.15 billion. The major exports from India to Israel comprise of precious stones, metals, chemical products, textiles, plants, vegetable products, rubber, plastics and machinery. The imports from Israel are jewellery, machinery, transport and defence equipment. Further a Free Trade Agreement is currently being negotiated between the two countries. The present Foreign Direct Investment inflow from Israel to India in the last decade is US$ 53.24 million which though small quantitatively but is directed at important sectors like renewable energy, telecommunications, real estate and water technologies. Israel has signed bilateral agreements for assisting in agriculture. Though located in desert terrain, fruit and vegetables are grown by innovative methods, thereby enabling Israel to export fruits and vegetables globally. Currently Israel is setting up centres of excellence for fruits at Sirsa (Haryana) and vegetables at Karnal (Haryana). Further Israel is providing us technologies related to water conservation, desalination, waste water management and micro-irrigation. Multifarious cooperation between the two countries has resulted in an international survey finding in 2006 that Israel is the most popular country in India.

Militarily Israel always looked at India as a partner against Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Reports indicate that Israel supplied heavy mortars and ammunition to India through European outlets prior to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Further Israel has been concerned about acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and would not hesitate to take military action if presented an opportunity

Defence cooperation

One of the main reasons for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 was driven by the potential in defence cooperation. Israel has a state-of-the-art defence industry and is willing to cooperate with India in all spheres of defence activities. In March 1994 Israel’s Research and Development Chief visited India. This was followed by the visit of our Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri visiting Israel in 1996. Israel was willing to assist India in all areas of defence activities. With the break up of the Soviet Union and Russia still consolidating her position, India was fortunate to have Israel as a dependable strategic partner.

In December 1996 President Ezer Weizman, accompanied by a 24 member business delegation visited India. After the visit Israel offered India technical cooperation in matters related to military aircraft, reverse engineering and the upgrading of weapon systems. India posted her first Defence Attaché in 1997 and this paved the way for enhanced defence cooperation between the two countries. In 1996 India purchased an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation which was established at Air Force Station Jamnagar. Thereafter two Dvora patrol boats were procured for the Indian Navy at a cost of US$ 10 million. In the same period Tadiran provided state-of-the-art frequency hopping radio sets to the Indian Army, ELOP provided the Long Range Observation Reconnaissance System (LORROS), Soltam in conjunction with Ordnance Factory Board agreed to upgrade the 130 mm Gun. Elta was to upgrade the avionics of the Mig-21 fighters and finally negotiations were on for the sale of Barak-1 missiles to the Indian Navy. The strengthening of defence relations moved into a higher trajectory by the election of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which governed India from 1998 to 2004. For the first time a pragmatic defence engagement began with Israel. While India supported the Palestinians at the United Nations, defence procurements continued with Israel. The zenith of this relationship was during the Kargil conflict in 1999 when Israel was willing to provide us surveillance equipment and precision weapons on a fast track. They were willing to provide us Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), state-of-the-art night vision devices and laser guided bombs. This brought in a new dimension of the reliability of Israel providing technology during a conflict when all other countries deny technology till hostilities are over. This has seen the defence relationship move from strength to strength even with the introduction of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government in 2004. Our Foreign Minister Shri S M Krishna has just concluded a visit in January 2012 and the relationship is further being strengthened.

As stated Israel has been cooperative in selling defence equipment and sharing critical technology which has enabled us to gradually modernise our Armed Forces. An exposition into the major defence issues with Israel being optimised are as reported in the open domain. Israel has emerged as the second biggest defence supplier to India after Russia. India is on the way to receive three Phalcon AWACS mounted on the IL-50 aircraft. One modified AWAC has just been received and the remaining aircraft will be delivered shortly. Indian Air Force is negotiating three more AWACS to be mounted on the smaller Embraer aircraft. India has acquired two Aerostats which have been deployed on the Western border along with Long range EL/M-2083 radars. Further the three services have acquired the Searcher and Heron UAVs for surveillance. The Air Defence arms are procuring two major weapon systems. First is the Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM). This missile will protect installations against aircraft, helicopters and cruise missiles. The second involves the SpyDer Air Defence, a short range Air Defence System with a range of 55 km. Both these systems are being procured from Rafael and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). In April 2009 India launched its RISAT-2 reconnaissance satellite. The satellite was initially presented as purely for civilian purposes but it soon became clear that it was designed for military uses. The satellite carries a Synthetic Aperture Radar system made in Israel and is believed to be providing credible results. IAI has completed upgrading India’s MI 24/35 attack helicopters. Further there is a project to upgrade the AN-32 aircraft. It is pertinent to add that the Indian Air Force has reportedly acquired the Harop loitering missile which can engage targets with pinpoint accuracies at ranges more than 200 km.

The defence procurements from Israel in the last decade have exceeded US$ 10 billion. As a matter of fact there are only two countries Russia and Israel which are willing to provide state-of-the-art technology to our country. As a matter of fact there are many joint ventures which are coming up between India and Israel for the MRSAM as also between Tata and ELTA who have formed a company known as HBL ELTA Avionics System Limited. Israel has given us tremendous assistance with regard to intelligence and counter-terrorism. The formation of RAW and NSG received tremendous guidance from Israel. The Homeland techniques used by Israel are state-of-the-art and they have willingly assisted us in these fields.

It was only after the Gulf War in 1991 that India realised the need to be pragmatic in dealing with foreign countries and this is the time when gears were changed and India commenced her political relationship with Israel

Way ahead

It is often stated in International Relations there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. There are only permanent interests. Israel and India have come close due to numerous factors. The aspect of Defence cooperation stands out as the most important component of the relationship. Israel has willingly given us critical technologies at times of need. Accordingly it is pragmatic that the relationship grows from strength to strength. However, there are two issues which need to be considered. These are the US factor and India’s friendship with Iran. Both these issues can be resolved with dialogue and better understanding. The US considers India as a strategic partner and Iran is critical to India’s energy needs. Despite these India remains an extremely valuable partner as they keep a close tab on Pakistani nuclear forces. Therefore cooperation with Israel will increase in the long term benefiting both countries.

Conclusion

India and Israel have become strategic partners due to important factors. Israel needs friends in Asia who can stand on their own legs, India needs to modernise and transform her Armed Forces to be prepared for a full spectrum conflict. Critical technologies are the key to modernisation and Israel has the will and wherewithal to provide us the same with speed and military precision. On our part we must be pragmatic and build the relationship to serve our national interest.

About the Author
Maj Gen P K Chakravorty (retd) – The writer is an alumnus of National Defence Academy who was comissioned into the Regiment of Artillery on 31 March 1972. A Silver Gunner who has undergone the Long Gunnery Staff Course, Staff College and is a graduate of the National Defence College. He has commanded a Medium Regiment and a Composite Artillery Brigade. He was Major General Artillery of an operational Command, Commandant of Selection Centre South in Bangalore and Additional Director General Artillery at Army Headquarters. He has also served as the Defence Attache to Vietnam and is a prolific writer on strategic subjects.

Note by the Author:
In 1991 the Soviet Union had broken up and Russia failed to support Iraq during the attack by US forces and Kuwait. Further the Soviet Union collapsed on 25 December 1991 bringing an end to the cold war. More than 70 per cent of India’s defence equipment came from the Soviet Union and it was extremely difficult to ensure spares and maintenance of the equipment was undertaken with assurance from the 15 newly formed sovereign republics. India knew that Israel had captured Soviet equipment during the 1967 war. Further Israel had developed upgrades and spares for all these equipment. It was in India’s defence interest to collaborate with Israel

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