India and Israel should build an intelligence cooperation framework

Intelligence cooperation is based primarily on trust, the most crucial factor a nation considers while selecting its intelligence partners.

INDIA’S PRIME Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)
INDIA’S PRIME Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said, “We are defending our borders and we are also dealing with threats while they are far away and have yet to reach us, with foresight, preemptively.” His words reflect the spirit that Israel’s security doctrine needs to maintain in order to protect people in the most complex part of the world.
Dealing with persistent lethal Islamic threat is a challenge for all democracies. Today, at the time of increasing global connectedness, no nation can maintain the deterrence posture they need without intelligence cooperation. Netanyahu is one of the strong advocates of systematic intelligence cooperation between the democratic nations. In his book Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists, he says, “The absence of systematic sharing of intelligence is not a matter of petty one-upmanship. It greatly hinders each democracy as it struggles alone to get a full picture of terrorist activity directed against its citizens, with the inevitable result that lives are needlessly lost. If the democracies wish successfully to confront the new terrorism, there is no choice but for the scope of intelligence cooperation to be increased.”
Intelligence cooperation is based primarily on trust, the most crucial factor a nation considers while selecting its intelligence partners. Today, the trust between India and Israel is more evident than ever. Both countries face similar threats by common enemies. In an article published in Commentary Magazine in January 1976, an eminent Middle East historian Prof. Bernard Lewis highlights the fundamentals of the Islamic threat. In the Muslim worldview, “Non-Muslims ruling over Muslims is an offense against the laws of God and nature, and this is true whether in Kashmir, Palestine, Lebanon, or Cyprus.” Lewis’s words have proven right throughout the recent global turmoil. With time, the nature and scale of Islamic threats have changed but the core ideas are still the same.
Intelligence sharing and exchange have always been a key component of India-Israel security relations, but now there is a need to work toward institutionalizing an “I for I” intelligence alliance (a term that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used in a meeting with the Israeli president in July 2017) in parallel to that of “Five Eyes” (an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) by considering this as the most crucial asset of the deterrence postures of both nations. The three core elements that form the base for a successful intelligence alliance already exist between India and Israel: common national security challenges, homeland security challenges and shared values.
THE HISTORY of India-Israel intelligence relations can be traced back to the establishment of an Indian intelligence agency called Research and Analysis Wing in 1968. Since then, information exchanges and joint training have emerged as the key areas of informal intelligence cooperation. In 2000, to formalize these exchanges, the Indian government started a joint working group with Israel on counter-terrorism. In February 2014, India and Israel signed three agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, homeland and public security cooperation and protection of classified material.
In September 2014, the inaugural meeting of the India-Israel Joint Steering Committee on Homeland Security was held in Israel between the Ministry of Home Affairs of India and Israel’s Ministry of Public Security. In that meeting, four joint working groups related to border management, internal security, police modernization and crime prevention were established. In February of this year, the Indo-Israel joint steering committee on homeland and public security held discussions in New Delhi. According to an Indian news report, in November 2015 the Israeli security agencies participated with Indian agencies in the protection of Modi during his visit to Turkey. Last year, for the first time, the Special Forces of Indian Air Force participated in the Blue Flag military aviation exercise of the Israeli Air Force. The special forces of both countries conducted a range of tactical joint exercises, starting a positive trend.
India imports critical civilian and defense intelligence technologies from Israel and there are regular exchanges between the security personnel of both sides. Now there is a need to establish a dedicated and secure communication channel between the intelligence agencies of the two countries that will help greatly in dealing with the asymmetric warfare.
The history of terrorist attacks in India and Israel makes a strong case to enhance intelligence cooperation. Extremist forces in India’s hostile neighbor Pakistan have a long track record of working with the PLO and Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East and beyond in their global jihad against Hindu and Jewish communities. A number of international terrorist groups, including the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, operate from Pakistan. After the Yom Kippur War, Pakistan and the PLO signed an agreement for training PLO officers in Pakistani military institutions. During the 2018 Pakistan elections, religious political parties and militant groups have repeatedly called Israel their enemy. In a recent interview, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman shared that Shi’ites militias from Pakistan, Iraq and other parts of Middle East are helping the Iranian military ito establish a base in Syrian territory to target Israel.
In 2014, an Indian court sentenced a Sri Lankan citizen to five years in prison for planning a terrorist attack on the Israeli consulate in Indian city Bangalore. That individual was said to have connections with the Pakistani intelligence agency. In 2012, the car of an Israeli diplomat was hit by a terrorist barely 200 meters away from the prime minister’s house in New Delhi. In this attack, three people, including the Israeli defense attaché’s wife, were injured. In Mumbai Chabad House in 2008 was one of the targets of terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (which operates mainly from Pakistan). Young Moshe Holtzberg, who lost his parents in that attack, is a symbol of our nations’ mutual pain. During their state visits, the heads of both countries have made a special gesture to Holtzberg that sent a strong message to the forces of radicalism and terrorism.
In the early 1990s, mere suspicions about India-Israel intelligence exchanges made Pakistan anxious and young Israeli tourists visiting Kashmir Valley were attacked and kidnapped. Since 2014, things have changed significantly; today, even after an open embrace of Israel by the Indian government and its citizens, these radical forces would not think of committing such an attack on Indian soil.
INDIA AND Israel, two of the world’s oldest civilizations and mature democracies, have a lot in common. They admire each other’s democratic culture, innovative abilities and entrepreneurial spirit. At the same time, both have large Muslim minorities and are being targeted by terrorist activities originating from their non-democratic neighbors. They are well positioned to understand each other’s security environment and needs. During their visits, Netanyahu and Modi demonstrated a higher level of friendship, spirit and commitment in their engagements – a gesture that is not so common in the culture of foreign relations. As Benjamin Netanyahu rightly said, “This is a partnership made in heaven; let us now consecrate it on earth.”
The pace of exchanges between India-Israel does fluctuate with the leadership change in India, yet the trust between both nations has grown tremendously over time. During 2001-02, Uzi Dayan, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, took significant steps to enhance the intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism capabilities of both countries. Since then, India has procured a number of advanced intelligence-based military equipment from Israel and on several occasions, Israel shared critical intelligence information. However, these initiatives are not yet formalized in an intelligence alliance or a dedicated structure. As bilateral intelligence cooperation between the two trusted partners India-Israel is crucial for the future security and challenges, such a structure should include three main aspects of Intelligence cooperation – exchange of information shared training and joint field operations.
The Modi-Netanyahu era is a most auspicious time in the history of India-Israel relations; we should not leave any stone unturned to leverage the opportunities of this period. Examples of the successes of such bilateral and multilateral intelligence alliances include 1) the bilateral agreement for cooperation in intelligence between US and UK born out of WWII, which evolved into the multilateral agreement known as Five Eyes, which later expanded to include other nations to become Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes over the years, and 2) the US-Israel intelligence cooperation framework, which is an important aspect of their strategic relations. These alliances highlight common national security and homeland security challenges and joint values.
Today, both sides have the right political will crucial for the formation of an intelligence alliance.
The writer promotes advanced technologies, startup ecosystems and the Indian government’s business- and technology-related initiatives, such as Digital India, Make in India, Smart Cities, Startup India.