Indo-Israel relations at 25

Weeks before Modi’s visit to Israel, Indian Navy chief Sunil Lanba flew to Israel to attend discussions on strengthening military cooperation.

June 21, 2017 22:45
3 minute read.
President Rivlin meets Prime Minister Modi of India

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)


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This year marks the 25th year of the blossoming relations between India and Israel. However, despite having commenced in 1992 due to pressure from the United States, there was not much development in bilateral relations, and in fact until 2014 India was averse to speaking openly about the Indo-Israeli relationship.

Israel has been a loyal and trustworthy friend of India.

Israel supported India’s nuclear test and both countries are victims of state-sponsored terrorism. Also, after India’s nuclear testing in 1999, the US prohibited itself from selling weapon systems to India under the Glenn Amendment. It was then that Israel became a favorite choice for India to buy advanced weapon systems.

With the new government and Narendra Modi as prime minister, India was surprisingly more public about its friendship with Israel. India is strengthening its relations with countries in the Middle East, and its relationship with Israel is crucial. The two countries have bilateral trade of $6 billion, and a possible free trade agreement is on the cards. However, what truly marks the bilateral relations is defense cooperation, which is only going from strength to strength.

This year Modi is set to make his first visit to Israel as a prime minister in July, which also marks the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Israel. While many other areas of cooperation will be discussed, strengthening defense and military cooperation remains an important point of the agenda. Indeed, India has become Israel’s largest buyer of military hardware.

Israel has remained a loyal supplier of weapons and equipment to India, even during the Kargil crisis as well as during 2002-2003.

Also, India’s “make in India” strategy involves co-production and transfer of technology from technologically advanced countries and Israel is a key partner to make this strategy a success. For example after a humble number of Spike missiles are acquired from Israel, India’s Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) will produce these missiles for two years (transfer of technology).

On the other hand, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and India’s BDL have agreed to co-develop a mobile radar system for the Prithvi Air Defense (PAD) system.

Recently, in April 2017, Israel signed an air and missile defense deal with India, for the Barak 8 medium-range surface-to-air-missile (MRSAM).

Weeks before Modi’s visit to Israel, Indian Navy chief Sunil Lanba flew to Israel to attend discussions on strengthening military cooperation.

India’s defense cooperation with Israel in the coming years will only grow. Both India’s private sector enterprises like the Tata Advanced Systems and Mahindra and Mahindra, to name a few, and public sector ones like the Hindustan Aeronautical Limited and Bharat Electrical Limited are actively cooperating with Israel to gather technological expertise with the aim of making India’s defense sector self-sufficient.

For Israel, India is a big defense export destination, and there is a wide scope for big business opportunities in the Indian defense market. India’s lucrative defense market can help provide a great boost to Israel’s military- industrial complexes.

However, Israel’s growing military relations with China will be a concern for India. China has expressed interest in Israeli military equipment. The concern for India is that if China receives Israeli weapons and equipment, Pakistan could acquire the same from China in no time.

Modi will likely discuss these concerns also. But Modi would need to study and analyze the broader aspect of this military relationship. Israel would play a crucial role for China in its Belt and Road Initiative.

In fact, the China Harbour Engineering Company is building a new port in the Ashdod. Thus, it is less likely that Israel would give up on military cooperation with China.

India will need to be at its diplomatic best to be able to cope with this growing relationship.

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