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India And Israel Strategic Partnership: Challenges And Opportunities – Analysis

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Today’s strategic environment provides boundless space for the both the international and regional actors to understand, share and cooperate with each other in order to protect and secure their own national interest and maintain strategic stability within their own region. Every nation in the international affairs has its own strategic significance against another in terms of its strategic location for economic and military means. However, the geostrategic significance of one nation remains a threat to another nation’s own interest and stability within its region.

Similar is the case of Israel which is surrounded by its major neighbouring nations as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon which are constantly in the state of unrest due to various regional and inter-state conflicts in the Arab world. This situation also resembles similar for India with countries as Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Srilanka, which remain burning due to its inter –state, inter – religious, political unrest, ethnic conflicts, traditional and non-traditional security threats as reported on the world conflict database, and by and large remain serious concerns to India’s national interest.

India - Israel Relations
India - Israel Relations

In this context, the relationship between the two major players in the strategic calculus is of utmost concern considering the geostrategic significance of the two countries.

Historical background

Since, India’s independence post 1947, there was no formal relationship with Israel. India recognized the state of Israel in 1950, two years after its establishment in 1948. However, India’s pro-Arab attitude and its strong commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which created rift and division between these two countries. In 1992 a significant diplomatic change occurred, when India and Israel established full diplomatic relations which reached new heights under the successive Indian Governments headed by BJP (1998-2004).

The relationship with Israel is purely based on the cooperation in the field of defence and security matters. The strategic partnership with Israel presupposes a broad understanding of mutual security concern that is common to the interest for both the nation. The end of Cold war created a breathing space for major rising powers around the globe to choose partners of common interest and concern for each other. So was the case of Israel which appeared to be more appealing to India’s foreign policy. There were four major causes that lead to the building of the strategic partnership from both the sides. Firstly, India immediate concern post soviet disintegration was to maintain its defence and technological needs updated. Whereas it was Israel ambition to gain military superiority in the Arab world by gaining access in South Asian region. Secondly, it was also important for India to overcome the propaganda unleashed by Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Thirdly, in case of Israel which recognised India’s immediate needs in near future are importing of sophisticated technological weapons and armaments.

Lastly, Israel also realised India’s concern to maintain peace in the Arab world. On these parameters it became imperative for India to choose Israel as its leading arms exporter for military supplies, having not forgotten Israel assistance to provide immediate help to India during war in 1962 and 1965 with China and Pakistan respectively. India helped Israel during the 1967 Middle Eastern conflict, by covertly sending military equipment to Israel. Diplomatic exchange between the two countries on diverse subjects related to gathering of intelligence input through secret channels, military to military exchange programme, cooperation in the field of science and technology and well space and nuclear science where discussed and shared at top levels. However, most of the visits remain unclassified in local media reports due to India’s political clashes.

Commonalities of interest

The major area of concern that remains compounded to both the countries had become the milestone for building the relationship between the two in the area of defence and security cooperation. In case of Israel the major threat emanating out from its immediate neighbourhood Iran due to its nuclear programme and support for terrorist groups, where as India’s concern remains similar with the Pakistan nuclear arsenal and terrorist activities based in Pakistan. Both the countries are pursuing their common hegemonic agendas of ‘Greater Israel’ and ‘Akhand Bharat’, since their inception. Both the countries have an oppressive attitude and hostility towards their neighbors and, both have forcibly occupied areas beyond their geographical borders. The strategic partnership remains more intact due to Israel consistent assistance to India and its concern to maintain peace and stability in South Asia, which can be reflected in the Afghanistan war, the kargil crisis of 1999, the attack on the Indian parliament, the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. In all these major turmoil Israel provided assistance at diplomatic, economic and more vital was the intelligence inputs to Indian government. It was provided bulk of proposal floating in the ministry of defence post 26/11 to upgrade its special forces the NSG and the defence forces with high tech cutting edge technologically sophisticated weapons and equipments.

The major concern for both the countries is its immediate neighbours Pakistan and Iran illegal nuclear arsenal and its proliferation in the hands of the terrorists. It was in this respect that the Indian national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra, outlined a proposal in a speech to the American Jewish Committee in Washington in May 2003 that India, Israel, and the United States should unite to combat the common threat of Islamic fundamentalism. He argued that democratic nations that face the menace of international terrorism should form a “viable alliance” and develop multilateral mechanisms to counter this menace.

Cooperation in the field of defence and security

Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narashimha Rao’s decision in January 1992 to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel was driven by the potential for security cooperation. Israel offered India both investment and technical cooperation in matters related to military aircraft, reverse engineering, and the upgrading of weapons systems. In 1996, India purchased a sophisticated Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation from Israel, which was installed at the Jamnagar air base. The same year, a $10 million deal was made to provide two Dvora MK-2 patrol boats for the Indian Navy. During the 1990s, the Israeli firm Elta also won a multi-million dollar contract to upgrade the avionics on India’s MiG-21 fighters. Growing defense relations were further solidified by Israel’s willingness to supply arms–including ordnance, laser-guided bombs, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)–during the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. In addition, India began to obtain a large number of small arms and weapons systems from Israel, eventually including airborne early warning systems. New Delhi sent its first military attaché to Israel in 1997, indicating a growing military dimension in bilateral relations. The approximate total value of the weapons trade over the past decade is estimated at around $10 billion. With the delivery of the Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), equipped on Russian-built Ilyushin II-76s, in May 2009 and March 2010, Israel has emerged as one of the largest arms exporters to India.[20] An agreement for these weapons systems was signed in March 2004 at an impressive cost of $1.1 billion. Aerospace Industries has signed a four-year, $1.1 billion deal with India for aircraft, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and intelligence systems, a major boost for the Jewish state’s high-tech defense sector in an increasingly export-driven global market. Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI) won a $1.1 billion deal with the Indian navy in 2009 to provide advanced Barak-8 tactical air-defense missile systems for its warships. The Phalcon-equipped AWACS has proved to be a great force-multiplier for the IAF, being able to provide real-time intelligence, and command and control needed to attain and maintain air superiority in selected airspace over the combat zone and to enable surveillance deep inside enemy territory.

India and Israel have agreed to launch a long-term joint programme worth USD 10 million annually to facilitate research and academic activities benefiting them in areas like renewable and sustainable energies, bio-medical sciences and cyber-security.

Cooperation in the field of Counter Terrorism

The common threat emanating to both the countries is the rise of Islamic Radicalism, the threat from criminals and terrorists linkages. India’s relationship with Israel on counter terrorism is based even before the major events that have taken place post 9/11 and 26/11.

It is important to quote that, India is one of the 39 countries with whom Israel has signed “secret cooperative agreements” to prevent information leaks from joint security projects. Besides of India’s strong commitment for Arab cause, she established secret military and intelligence links with Israel as early as 1960.

India and Israel not only exchange crucial intelligence information on Islamist terrorist groups but Israel is also helping India to fight terrorism in Kashmir by providing important logistical support such as specialized surveillance equipment, cooperation in intelligence gathering, joint exercises, and cooperation to stop money laundering and terror funding. The level of intelligence cooperation between India and Israel may be even more extensive than between India and the United States. The tactics used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the guerrilla and urban warfare it wages against Palestinian terror in the West Bank and Gaza Strip can be fruitfully adopted by the Indian security forces in countering insurgency. These tactics have even been found useful by the U.S. forces in Iraq who had to learn IDF strategy of urban warfare to tackle growing insurgency. The Israel security forces have also trained the Indian counterpart defence forces on handling of IED, training elite forces commandos in handling terrorist attacks both post and pre operations there by reducing civilian casualties, followed by which the Maharashtra government in 2009 had send its troops for training for hands-on experience.

The Space Cooperation

In January 2008, India successfully launched an Israeli spy satellite “TecSar” developed by IAI, forging a strategic partnership in the space sector. It was Israel’s first satellite to be launched by India. On 17 April 2009, India successfully launched an Israeli-built RISAT 2 or radar imaging spy-satellite. In March 2009, Israel overtook Russia as India’s number one defence partner, when both sides signed a US$ 1.4 billion deal for the acquisition of shore-based and sea borne anti-missile air defence system. During the Kargil War, it supplied India with UAVs for high altitude surveillance and laser-guided systems within 24 hours.

The Constraint in the Relationship

Every strategic partnership of India with major rising powers in the international system has US as a factor attached to its periphery. The case is also true where; US interests sometimes constrain Indo-Israeli defense cooperation with regard to weapons and technology transfer. In 2003, the US blocked negotiations between India and Israel on the sale of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense system. Israel sold the Green Pine missile-detector radar system, manufactured by Elta, but New Delhi’s request to obtain the full Arrow system was rejected due to United States opposition. Such actions not only strain the relationship between India and Israel at bilateral level but also impinge on Israel’s arms sale to India’s. However, with increase in India’s defence budget and its requirements to tackle the future asymmetric challenges, it dependency and cooperation with Israel will be of significant importance for research. However, US have now realised India’s concern to built its military capability both at land and airborne due to which it has given clearance to Israel’s delivery of Phalcon reconnaissance aircraft to India, in marked contrast to Washington’s vigorous opposition to supplying them to China in 1998.

Another factor originating is India’s close and historical relationship with Iran. India’s close military and defence cooperation and its future energy security needs to meet its ever increasing yearn for oil and petroleum, makes India dependent on Iran in the coming decades for economically and militarily. Israel views the Iranian threat very seriously while for India, Iran is a partner, and an ideological partner that takes a negative view of American hegemony.

Conclusion

The final question that looms is whether the partnership between India and Israel is truly ‘strategic’? Most of the analyst examines the relationship between the two countries remains strategic only when the partnership goes beyond the bilateral relationship with common understanding and shared values to protect and secure their interest against the global challenges. India and Israel have bases of its cooperation merely in terms of security and defence cooperation. Both the countries look forward to peace and stability within their own region as the Arab world for Israel and the South Asia for India. Both the countries by now must have realised the geo-strategic importance of the region with major conflict and war that have taken place since its independence.

Israel in the coming decades will definitely be one of the top arms exporter in the world to India as well a major reliable partner due to its major advantages that comes from its sales of arms and weapons with transfer of technology. United States will continue to remain a key factor in India- Israel relationship, as US interest in South Asia, primarily to counter Chinese presence and bring stability and peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan, US will continue to maintain its presence both politically and militarily within the region. However, US must also remember that in order to confront the menace of Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia, as stated by the former National security advisor of India, Brajesh Mishra that ‘US and Israel must unite to fight against this crisis. It is also necessary for Indian diplomats to remain realistic in dealing with problems confronting between Israel and Iran and remain an active player diplomatically to maintain analogous relationship with both the nations. In terms of sharing of intelligence inputs on counter terrorism, it is not practically possible for India to follow Israel’s model of countering terrorism as it did in Lebanon and Gaza, but India can definitely become accustomed and learn its strategic and tactics to tackle the future threat coming by the use of radiological and biological weapons, for which Israeli forces are the best equipped and highly trained unites to combat such disasters. Lastly, close military to military exchange, intelligence exchange and sharing of crucial information to counter terrorists and criminal linkages will remain major areas of interest for both the countries. India readiness to develop its own indigenous weapons and arms industry as predicated by most of the analyst may become productive if Israeli defence industry comes with substantial collaborative projects to foster India’s growing defence industry needs in the 21st century.

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Praful Adagale

Praful Adagale is a Ph.D. Research Fellow at Yashwantrao Chavan National Centre of International Security and Defence Analysis (YCNISDA) University of Pune, Pune, with areas of specialization in National and International Security, Terrorism and European Studies.

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