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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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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