India’s Military Relations with Israel Enter New Era

India’s current NDA regime needs to tread cautiously in its relations with Israel if it wants to preserve its strategic, economic and energy interests in the West Asian region, says one analyst while explaining the history of India’s deepening partnership with Israel.

Posted on 01/23/16
By Shubhda Chaudhary | Via ViewsWeek
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting with his Israeli counterpart in September 2014. (photo via video stream)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting with his Israeli counterpart in September 2014. (photo via video stream)

The formal announcement of diplomatic relations of India with the State of Israel was established on January 29, 1992 when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the prime minister. Though, the seeds of this relationship were laid almost a decade back under the non-ideological guidance of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had met his counterpart Shimon Pares during the annual UN General Assembly session. But Rajiv Gandhi could not formulate a political cooperation with Israel due to two main reasons. Firstly and most importantly was the end of First Intifada, which had given prominent importance to the ‘Palestinian Question.’ Secondly, Israel was also involved in military intelligence in Sri Lanka, which was another disturbing factor for India.

 

Though, if one looks closely, it was India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had made it clear that the foreign policy of India towards Jews and Arabs would be based more on the realistic situation rather than a biased approach. On September 18 1950, PM Nehru recognized the State of Israel though it did not establish formal political relations. Well, that was also because of India’s stand in Non-Aligned Movement and the empathy towards Palestine. It was Nehru’s Minister for Culture and unofficial Adviser on Arab and Muslim affairs, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who had over and over again, predicted the dangers of strategic partnership with Israel even when the Walter Eytan, senior Israeli diplomat had visited New Delhi in 1952. A growing Muslim population in India, which needs to be safeguarded to protect the strategic interests in West Asian geo-politics also played a pivotal role in the hide-and-seek game, in spite of growing neo-patrimonial structures of foreign policy, especially dealing with economic liberalization after 1991.

 

At the same time, it’s quite interesting that nascent analysis portrayed that India, being a ‘Hindu State’, was rejected by the Congress Party as well as its strategic interests with the “Jewish State”. But over the years, the need for a growing GDP, higher FDI and real-politick edge did lead to the official establishment of political relations between Israel and India.

 

The growing relationship between China and Israel was a major concern for India, which in spite of being the subaltern voice against anti-colonialism and imperialism had faced a similar kind of brunt with the rising political affinity between United States and Pakistan.
The growing relationship between China and Israel was a major concern for India, which in spite of being the subaltern voice against anti-colonialism and imperialism had faced a similar kind of brunt with the rising political affinity between United States and Pakistan. On 24 January, 1992, China had normalized relations with Israel. Meanwhile, the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah also played a significant role in forcing India to relook at its West Asian Policy due to the terror invoked through the Islamization of politics.

 

The opportunity, thus, to normalize the relations between India and Israel were due to several factors. Firstly, the end of cold war politics, the dissolution of USSR, the Gulf War and the opening of Indian economy for foreign investments had a major impact. Secondly, during the early 1990s, Pakistan had been quite vehement in its growing insurgent activity in Kashmir, which had further disturbed Indian political machinery, which lacked research and development especially in terms of military technology. Thirdly, with PLO itself recognizing Israel, India too, took the initiative, in political terms, taking advantage of the Middle East Peace Process.

 

The Start of Military Relations with Israel

In spite of recognizing the State of Israel, India has been politically hesitant to buy military supplies from Israel. What changed this dynamics was definitely the Kargil crisis (1999) where Israel promptly supplied India with arms, ammunition and military technology.
In spite of recognizing the State of Israel, India has been politically hesitant to buy military supplies from Israel. What changed this dynamics was definitely the Kargil crisis (1999) where Israel promptly supplied India with arms, ammunition and military technology. Though scholars like A.K. Pasha stated that India had the expertise to tackle the problem of terrorism issue without any outside help. But a new chapter in terms of arms trade in between these two countries has taken a dynamic turn since then. Today, Israel is India’s biggest arms supplier, though nuclear cooperation in between these two states is still in conundrum. India, which was initially dependent on Russia, and to a certain extent still is, Israel came as another safer option to procure hi-tech defense systems.

 

Few of the military technologies that have been bought by India from Israel include night-vision equipment, sky drones, hi-tech radars and anti-missile systems. Indian Air Force’s Mig-27 strike aircraft was also upgraded with Israel’s assistance. At the same time, Israeli technology is also upgrading the Russian military equipments bought by India, like the T-72 tanks and Mig-21 Bison aircraft. Some of the other technologies include surface-to-air missiles, Pechora III, crystal maze bombs, Delilah II bombs, Popeye beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles. Along with the economic aspect of it, the military deal is quite advantageous for Israel too, which has nearly 150 defense firms. In addition to government-owned Israeli Arms Industry, Rafael Arms Development Authority and Israel Military Industries (IMI), there are other private players like Tadiran Group and Elbit Systems. The Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization plays a crucial role in organizing the defense exports of Israel. In 2006, a five-year contract, amounting to $480 million was concluded between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Indian Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO).

 

There has been growing cooperation between the intelligence services of these countries through Mossad and RAW, functioning in few covert operations.
At the same time, Israel also gains by spending on military exports to India, as it helps in spying over Iran, a country India has had historic friendly relations with. The collaboration of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) with Israel’s TechSAR all-weather, high-resolution radar satellite was officially stated as a military maneuver to spy over Iran. With the September 11 attacks on United States, the export of Israeli defense equipments had risen, especially under the garb of counter terrorist activities. Meanwhile, there has been growing cooperation between the intelligence services of these countries through Mossad and RAW, functioning in few covert operations.

 

Modi Government and Relations with Israel

After the visit of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in 2003, no Indian PM has ever officially visited the country.
After completing one year in the office by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was officially announced by Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister that PM Modi would soon visit Israel. This announcement reveals several agendas. Firstly, the silence of the previous Congress regime over the Gaza war that killed thousands of Palestinians, was not limited to the party in power. The BJP government, officially and more predominantly supports Israel in its West Asian Policy. Secondly, if such a visit does take place, Modi would be the first PM from India to officially visit Israel. It must be noted that after the visit of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in 2003, no Indian PM has ever officially visited the country. Thus, it could lead to repercussions in the currently ‘intolerant India’ debate that has been going on, especially after the Dadri lynching episode and with famous scientists, political authors and artists returning their awards to showcase their frustration with India’s domestic politics. It would also mean a friction in India’s stand on Palestine, along with the impact of it on the already insecure Muslim population in India. The massive defeat suffered by BJP in Bihar elections has revealed how the minority Muslim population of India is grieving in the current political complex.

 

Secondly, it would impact India’s relations with Iran, which were somehow improving after the arms embargo had been lifted up. Thirdly and most importantly, it could also lead to further strengthening of ISIS and Al- Qaedat al Jihad in India, which is in its nascent phase. PM Modi has already bought Indo-Israel relations ‘out of the closet’ by scheduling a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2014 during United Nations General Assembly in New York.

 

The outright strengthening of political ties between India and Israel, as of 2015, is also caused due to the lack of reward or recognition by the Arab world to India’s stand in West Asian politics, vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue.
Though, it must be kept in mind that as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had already expanded trade relations with Israel in terms of agro-research, pharmaceuticals, water management and agricultural technologies. No doubt, Israel had played a pivotal role in enhancing economic development of Gujarat’s model. Also, he had visited Israel as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2006. The outright strengthening of political ties between India and Israel, as of 2015, is also caused due to the lack of reward or recognition by the Arab world to India’s stand in West Asian politics, vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue.

 

On the contrary, using the using the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Arab nations have shown more empathy towards Pakistan than India. Hence, now India, under the current BJP regime is all set to stop any anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.

 

What’s interesting is the turn of military relations between the two countries, an agenda, which is being fervently speculated by scholars and media pundits. For example, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had visited India in February 2015 with the aim to boost a joint venture between Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and India’s Kalyani Group. India has already invested $143 millions to purchase Barak-1 missiles and other defense ventures costing $3 billion.

 

Growing Dangers of India’s Relation with Israel

India is heavily dependent on oil from the Islamic Gulf countries. Forging open friendship with Tel Aviv might anger Riyadh and have its own dramatic consequences.
But as the new dawn in India-Israel military relations draws in, PM Modi needs to also understand two crucial factors. Firstly, India is heavily dependent on oil from the Islamic Gulf countries. Forging open friendship with Tel Aviv might anger Riyadh and have its own dramatic consequences. Secondly, India’s GNP is heavily dependent on the remittances earned by Indians in West Asian countries. In the past, the capture of Indian nurses and other nationals in Iraq by ISIS revealed how premature India was in defending its own natives from threat and abuse. Though, Modi has played a smart move by first visiting the UAE and signing several deals with the federation as Indo-UAE relations amounting to $75 billion. Thus, before visiting Israel, Modi needs to be sure of differentiating between the friends and foes, based on foreign policy and bilateral trade agreements.

 

More than anything else, India needs to have a firm stand on the Palestinian issue, as the recently re-elected government in Israel also faces diplomatic isolation due to its hardline stand for a Jewish state and precarious stand over the two-state solution. An official visit to Israel would also disturb the delicate balance of power equation, which India currently has with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and Qatar. Though, India can use the diplomatic leeway, which is endowed by more focus on sectarian tensions in Yemen and Syria, the failure of Arab uprisings rather than Israel’s relation with the Arab world. Also, India can take advantage of Israel’s need to establish Free Trade Agreement with favorable terms within the sub-continent, thereby choosing India rather than China.

 

In a nutshell, the current NDA regime needs to tread cautiously if it wants to preserve its strategic, economic and energy interests in the West Asian Region. At the same time, along with the military partnerships and deals, PM Modi can also play the ‘soft power’ dynamics and mediator’s role by urging Netanyahu to actively resume the peace-process, thereby charting out a new dynamics for India in the West Asian region. But all said and done, it’s high time that India too invests in the research and development sector of its military and intelligence operations rather than being completely dependent on a second party for arms supply.

 

Shubhda Chaudhary is a PhD Scholar in International Relations in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
She also works as a Features Writer for think-thanks in Abu Dhabi and South Africa. Follow her on Twitter at @ShubhdaC

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