- Raisina Debates
- Jul 29 2017
Israel had always been of great help to India whenever it required urgent supply of arms – whether it was during the war against China in 1962 or the war against Pakistan in 1971. With such a background, it was no surprise that this small industrious nation has become the second largest supplier of arms to India, behind India’s long-time friend Russia. For Israel, India is its largest arms buyer. The burgeoning arms trade reached nearly 600 million dollars by 2016.
Before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid the maiden, historic visit to Israel earlier this month, the state owned defence group of Israel, the Israel Aerospace Industries struck a deal that it described as a ‘mega contract’ worth nearly $2 billion, the largest in Israeli history, to supply India with air and missile defence systems.
India and Israel have increased co-operation in military and intelligence ventures since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. The rise of Islamic terrorism in both nations has generated a strong strategic alliance between the two countries. India recently launched a military satellite TecSAR for Israel through Indian Space Research Organisation.
In order to understand the nature of defence cooperation between India and Israel, it is important to understand the history of this relation and how it has evolved over time.
As of 2014, India is the third-largest Asian trade partner of Israel, and tenth-largest trade partner overall. In 2014, the bilateral trade, excluding military sales, stood at 4.52 billion dollars.
The diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and New Delhi were not always warm. Though both countries gained independence from the United Kingdom around the same time, their international worldview and alignments were quite in contrast for nearly four decades. While India, as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), maintained close relations with the Soviet Union and the Arab world, Israel was a part of the Western alliance led by the United States of America.
Historically, the step towards Indo-Israeli defence cooperation was taken much before formal diplomatic ties were established. India acquired defence equipment from Israel for combating extremist and secessionist movements in the years following India’s independence. In the past few decades, the strategic and defence cooperation has understandably dominated the bilateral ties since both countries have been victims of similar threats. India and Israel share mutual concerns regarding terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Fundamentalist Islamic extremism is a very real threat to India and Israel as both are democratic, pluralistic states with a large population of the Muslim minority.
Moreover, the fact that India is currently the number one export target of Israel’s defence industry further reinstates the strong defence ties shared between them.
Widely famous for its advanced technology, innovation in cyber warfare, intelligence, precision armaments, and electronics, the Israel Defence Forces is one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world.
The arms exports from Israel to India have grown steadily in the past decade. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) arms database, India is the destination of 41% of these exports- by far the largest client for the Israeli defence industry. Israeli firms earn up to 1$ billion a year in sales to India on an average.
Looking back, at crucial times, whenever India needed arms from Israel, it got it unconditionally. Israel was willing to continue to step up its arms sales to India even after other major nations chose to curb their high-end and critical defence related technological exports following India’s nuclear test in Pokhran in 1998.
One of the most positive outcomes of this relationship to Israel has been the growth of its economy since it is heavily dependent on its defence industry. Further, the Israeli defence industry is important as it provides the country’s security and helps provide domestic employment. The country’s research and development programs are funded by the defence deals, which helps the country in producing cutting-edge weaponry. India and Israel have been working on upgrading their military technologies and development of new technologies. Israeli drone technology can play an effective role in the surveillance of India’s Naxal-affected areas and to fight the red terror too.
India-Israel relations took a new turn when India launched an Israeli spy satellite in 2008. The satellite launch is considered a milestone in Indo-Israeli diplomatic ties because it was launched during the time India was under considerable pressure due to its relations with Iran.
An important dimension of the India-Israel defence cooperation is the prospect of co-production and joint ventures between both the countries. There is immense enthusiasm on both the sides with regard to their defence ties. Israel supports both ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make with India’. These joint ventures would be essential in order to reduce dependency of the Indian Armed Forces on state-owned entities and would also create jobs in the private sector. At the heart of this partnership, the Barak-8 air defence system built jointly by the two countries is a boost for Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to reduce the import of arms and develop a domestic defence industry.
According to the joint statement, future developments in defence cooperation between the countries should focus on joint development of defence products including the transfer of technology from Israel, emphasizing Modi's signature 'Make in India' initiative.
Any weapon system, including those with cutting edge technology, can be effective only if they can win the confidence of the forces using it. Familiarization, confidence regarding supply of critical spare parts, its integration with other weapon systems and upgradation are essential elements, which make any weapon system potent. The maturity levels, in the supply of key weapon systems, reached between the two countries argue well for expanding and deepening of defence ties. However, at the same time, India should ensure that it does not end up being a perpetual market for Israeli defence companies to sell these high tech weapon systems. At a time when the country has embarked on the “Make in India” mission, it should leverage its position to obtain Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of these systems to augment its own capacity to manufacture such weapon systems. In International diplomacy, as Morgenthau had envisioned, each country is guided by the “realism” in trying to act in a way to secure its national interests. India, not only provides Israel with a huge market but something else, which Israel desperately seeks and that is legitimacy. India should ensure that Indo-Israeli defence ties enhance its own capacity to manufacture world-class weapon systems.
The security dynamics and challenges in both the countries, along with the rising forces of anti-state actors, terrorism, and extremism, will surely bind the relations stronger. Under such circumstances, military-security cooperation will definitely remain as a key element in the ties. India needs a reliable arms supplier like Israel for its defence needs. Currently, the political climate is such that the overall ties are only broadening, and as Netanyahu put it, “sky is the limit” when it comes to Indo-Israeli ties.
The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).