Ashkenazi's India trip marks strong ties

IDF chiefs India trip m

Amid a blossoming of Indian-Israeli defense relations, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi embarked on five-day visit to the Far East on Sunday, touching down in the Indian capital of New Delhi, where he will meet with his Indian counterpart, Gen. Deepak Kapoor. The IDF Spokesman said the visit was part of the deepening of relations between the two countries and their armed forces. Kapoor was here for a working visit a month ago. "In the past year, Israel has overtaken Russia as its main defense equipment supplier, and about 30 percent of India's defense imports come from Israel, and that number is growing," said Col. (Ret.) Behram A. Sahukar, a former fellow in India's Terrorism and Security Studies at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses. Sahukar also served as a fellow in the United Service Institution of India in Delhi, and has extensive practical experience in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in the Indian subcontinent. He said Israeli weapons like the Tavor assault rifle and other equipment "are being imported for the modernization of India's Special Forces and communications equipment. Joint simulation exercises and training of complete units could also be initiated." But the burgeoning ties have sparked some tensions within India, home to the world's second largest Muslim population. India's Muslim population is moderate on the whole, and Indian Muslims "have remained for the most part outside the global jihad against the West," Sahukar stressed, but added that the community "forms 12 percent of India's population and is also a huge 'vote bank,' which does influence some government political decisions to some extent, as does the pressure applied by left-wing and Muslim parties in India." Hence, a 2008 visit to the Indian provinces of Jammu and Kashmir by an IDF delegation headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky "to study and advise on counter-terrorism aspects did not go down too well with some parties in India," Sahukar noted. Nevertheless, the "vast [parliamentary] majority" enjoyed by the current National Congress Party means that such rumbles have not, for the most part, interfered with the development of Indian-Israeli defense ties, Sahukar added. "The present Congress-led government is in favor of increasing the India-Israel-US strategic relationship," he said. Israeli defense officials say India can obtain solutions to the threat of terrorism from Israel that cannot be obtained from other countries. "In the light of the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and the murder of all six Jewish/Israeli hostages at the Chabad House, India-Israeli multifaceted counter-terrorism cooperation has become even more urgently needed," Sahukar said. At the same time, "the Indian experience in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency differs from Israel's in some ways, though the threat might be similar," he added. Aside from the threat of terrorism, the Indian military was making "a very significant transition from Eastern to Western technology," and Israel was playing a vital role in the transformation, an Israeli defense source said. In the past, India made enormous acquisitions of Russian and, to a lesser extent, Chinese military products, but a few years ago India began acquiring Western defense platforms. Israel had both the experience and the know-how in integrating Western technologies into "Eastern-made tanks, planes and rocket-launchers due to the large numbers of Eastern-made arms that fell into our hands and have been converted," the source said. In recent years, Israel has sold India military products ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to truck-mounted cannons. Israel developed the cannons especially for the Indian military so that they can be placed on trucks at a low cost. Israeli defense officials believe the weapons sales to India are free from the risk that the hardware may be re-sold to a third party without Israel's permission. Such fears cannot be discounted when it comes to selling arms to China, the officials believe. Israel, for its part, has been granted access to India's space launch centers, described by one Israeli defense official as "having some of the best launch capabilities in the world." Indian space launch facilities allow Israel to launch satellites eastwards, in the direction of Earth's rotation, thereby lowering launch costs. In Israel, space launches must go westwards towards the Mediterranean Sea, to avoid population centers. Many in the Israeli defense establishment believe India will surpass expectations in its transition to becoming a major power in the East, and that Israel can act as a bridge between India and the US. Sahukar recalled that "a few weeks ago, the US hosted India's prime minister and honored him with the first state banquet of the Obama administration," adding, "India's strategic relations with Israel can be seen in the context of its growing strategic relations with the US as well."