Syed Qamar A Rizvi
INDIA’S Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Israel in July, a first for an Indian premier. In recent years, Israel’s Aerospace technology has been the main source of its military partnership with India. Although the scope of this relationship between the two has moved beyond the lines of traditional scope, the strategic and defence cooperation accompanied by secret intelligence operations has been the dominant feature of their relationship over the past many decades.
Modi’s planned trip follows a similar visit by the president of India in 2015 and reciprocal visit to India by Israel’s president in 2016.25 years after Tel Aviv and New Delhi established diplomatic relations, India has become one of the largest buyers of Israeli military hardware with annual defence deals worth over $1 billion. Since the Modi’s era ushered in 2014, security and defence cooperation has revitalized the status of their bilateral relationship.
Israel recently announced that it had been awarded the largest defence contract in the Israeli defence industry’s history, signing a $1.6 billion mega-contract with the Indian Army for medium-range surface-to-air missiles, advanced air and missile defence systems as well as additional long-range surface-to-air missiles and air and missile defence systems for Indian aircraft carriers. Another $400 million in contracts will go to another state-owned defence company, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, which has also called India a “strategic and significant partner.”
“Nowadays, things have changed in the Middle East, and Israel has good relations with a few Arab countries,” said Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon. “We [Israel and some Arab states] have joint-interests with many others. On last Tuesday, India’s Western Naval Command conducted a trial firing of a medium-range surface-to-air missile from the INS Kochi stealth guided-missile destroyer. The missile, jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and India’s Defence Research and Development Organization and manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Dynamics Limited.
Shortly before the test of Israel Aerospace Industries’ medium-range surface-to-air missile, India also conducted a test-fired Rafael’s surface-to-air SPYDER missile system from a test facility off India’s Odisha coast against a UK-made Banshee unmanned aerial target aircraft. The SPYDER short- and medium-range air defence missile system is designed to engage and destroy a wide range of aerial threats such as aircraft bombers, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), cruise missiles, UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles) and other stand-off weapons. Israel has also traded its Barak-8 air defence missiles for India’s Navy.
Recently the Integrated Underwater Harbor Defense and Surveillance System – developed by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries— was installed at the Port of Mumbai, to enhance the security of valuable naval assets against asymmetric threats. Israel’s highly developed spy satellite ‘Polaris’ was installed into space (in 2014) by an Indian space launch vehicle that would also permit India to use certain images from this satellite.
Beyond the defence and security relationship, cooperation in the agricultural sector—water management, research and development, sharing of best practices— has moved forward, thereby giving special emphasis on building constituencies for Israel at the state level in India. Agricultural cooperation between both countries has been significantly growing on for a decade. The strongest instance of this are the Centres of Excellence, which were begun in 2009 and now exist in a large number of Indian states. More Centres of Excellence are likely to be set up. One of the evolving collaborations between Israel and India in the agriculture sphere is the Olive Plantation Initiative in Rajasthan. Plus, a number of states, the most recent example being Punjab, are keen to seek Israeli assistance in drip irrigation. Irrespective of the political affiliation of the party in power, states have welcomed such cooperation.
Another potential area, where India is trying to learn from Israel is IT start-ups. In view the Indian technocrats, Modi has sought to give a push to India in the sphere of technology, while also encouraging start-ups. During his meeting with Israel’s agriculture minister on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January 2017, Modi said India was also keen to learn from the start-up ecosystem of Israel and its incubation centres. Tel Aviv has been ranked as number five in the world in terms of providing an ecosystem for entrepreneurs.
The Indo-Israel partnership is not confined to purchasing of military equipments only, Indo-Israeli overt and covert connections are part of a dangerous strategic game in Asia shown by Raw-Mossad-NDS nexus to destabilise Pakistan. Nevertheless, it is no more a secret that both RAW and Mossad have remained mutually engaged in exploring secret military intelligence contact since 1960s, Israel was willing to help to the Indian army in its conflict with China and Pakistan . History is yet a reminder to the fact that thirty-eight years ago, in Sept 1968, when the Research and Analysis Wing was founded with Rameshwar Nath Kao at its helm, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked him to cultivate Israel’s Mossad. Kao established a clandestine relationship with Mossad. Here, it would not be wrong to estimate that both Mossad and the American CIA have been RAW’s mentors. This trilateral trajectory has gravely influenced the dynamics of international relations in the post 9/11 world.
Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu has had already made it clear in July 1997 saying, “Our ties with India don’t have any limitations—as long as India and Israel are friendly, it is a strategic gain.” Put strategically, the hidden core of growing congruence between Tel Aviv and New Delhi lies in the organically perceived interests — systematically explored and glaringly characterized by the policy features-cum-transgressions that these two states intransigently practice in Palestine and Kashmir.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.