The recent news about Israel’s alleged export of arms to Pakistan and four other
Arab countries (Egypt, Algeria, United Arab Emirates and Morocco) made headlines
all over the globe. According to a report by the British Government’s Department
for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which oversees security exports, this
activity has been going on for several years. The most interesting aspect of
this story is that the alleged activity is being carried out in the absence of
diplomatic relations between Israel and these countries.
This takes us
back to the famous research conducted in the 1980s by now-retired professor
Aharon Klieman of Tel Aviv University.
Klieman examined Israel’s “arms
sales diplomacy,” whereby it adopted “quiet diplomacy” or “back-channel
diplomacy” methods. Israel’s alleged supply of arms to Pakistan and others would
seem to fit this sort of diplomatic approach.
establishment of closer ties with other countries has often been accompanied or
facilitated by military relations. Arms sales and other forms of security
relations occupied a prominent position in Israel’s relations with Iran under
the Shah, South Africa (during the apartheid regime), Taiwan, Latin America,
Turkey and India (since normalization of relations in 1992).
formal diplomatic ties did not inhibit Israel from offering military aid to
countries officially at war with the Jewish state. This is because its limited
political, economic and diplomatic leverage has resulted in Israel using arms
sales and other forms of military assistance such as training and military
upgrading to further its foreign policy objectives.
For instance, the
normalization of relations between Israel and the People’s Republic of China in
1992 was mainly facilitated by arms sales, which had begun clandestinely in the
In the current scenario, even though Israel and the other parties
involved claim the allegations are “baseless,” several connected issues could be
triggered. One is the issue of re-transferral of arms and military technologies
to third countries, and the second is the resurgence of Israeli arms sales as a
tool to promote diplomacy.
While it was the US Israel had major
controversies with in the 1990s and 2000s with regard to technology transfers,
this time around the country in the dock is Britain. According to available
reports, the military equipment exported to Pakistan by Israel is believed to
have been originally purchased from Britain. Components (in 2011) included radar
systems, electronic warfare systems, parts for fighter jets, etc.
reported that military components supplied by Israel to Pakistan were meant for
JF-17 Thunder jets jointly developed by Pakistan and China. In some instances,
BIS refused to give licenses to Israel for its intended exports of systems to
India, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Be it Britain or
the US, the main concerns are that technologies will be transferred to a third
country, and that these weapons systems might fall into the hands of non-state
During the early 1990s and 2000s, relations between Israel and US
were engulfed by Patriot anti-missile, Phalcon AWACS and Harpy-drone
controversies. All these major controversies revolved around Israel’s alleged
re-transfers of American technology to China. Israel had to abruptly end its
arms sales to China following intense US pressure.
This not only rocked
Israel-US relations but also impacted on Israel-China military ties
significantly. These incidents had given a veto power to the US over Israel’s
arms exports policies. A similar example was the Lavi fighter aircraft case with
South Africa during the late 1980s. Alongside the perceptions of threat to
American interests in the Asia-Pacific region, the Americans were worried about
the reverse engineering skills possessed by countries such as China.
result, since mid-2000, the US has been closely monitoring Israel’s arms sales
and the recipient countries. Likewise, Britain might also begin to put certain
restrictions on the Jewish state which could reduce its arms trade. This could
be a costly development for Israel, whose economy and defense R&D largely
depends upon its arms sales. Moreover, at this juncture, when Israel’s isolation
in the region and elsewhere is perceived to be growing, it should tread with
Secondly, the question about Israel’s ageold tactics of using
arms sales to promote diplomacy (in absence of diplomatic relations) has
returned. As mentioned above, Israel was very successful with this approach
during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.
Currently, its relations with countries
such as South Korea and Vietnam have also been dominated by such diplomacy.
Military relations have been the locomotive of their bilateral ties, though
economic and civilian relations follow suit. And such resurgence cannot be ruled
However, while such activities could be lucrative for
Israel, they could be extremely unpopular among the religious conservatives of
the countries involved, particularly Pakistan.
So what does it mean for
India? Today, Israel is the second largest arms supplier to India, after Russia.
The approximate total value of the weapons trade over the past decade is
estimated at around $10 billion.
This is a significant amount for both
countries, which only established diplomatic relations in 1992.
Israel’s establishment of diplomatic relations with India and China, the Jewish
state begAn to monitor Muslim countries in Asia, Pakistan among them. It was
also believed that Islamabad’s attitude toward Israel was undergoing a change
for the better.
However, no diplomatic breakthrough
Despite failure to normalize relations, if this report of
Israel’s arms sales to Pakistan is proved to be true it could damage Indian-
Israeli defense ties. Various Israeli-supplied weapon systems are being used for
surveillance along the Indian frontiers and for maritime security as
Aerostat radars and UAVs from Israel could help India spot
surreptitious guerrilla attacks and thwart events similar to the Mumbai carnage,
where the intruders infiltrated the country using dinghy boats.
though present-day India is concentrating on grooming its indigenous arms
production policy, the bulk of its military equipment is still imported. This is
where Israel has carved its own niche. But if clandestine military sales to
Pakistan exist and are to continue, then for obvious reasons, India will not
This matter is going to be echoing for some time to come. It’s
not only the aforementioned countries that will be on constant watch, but also
mega-players such as the US, UK, etc., which are likely to spring in with their
concerns regarding American and the British interests in the Asian
In short, the story has the potential to develop into a
really messy diplomatic quagmire.
The author is an Indian doctoral
researcher in New Delhi, and also served as a Fellow at the BESA Centre,
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat- Gan, Israel, 2010-2011.