Ties between India and Israel are looking up. India is Israel’s biggest arms exporter and Israel India’s fourth largest arms supplier. Given Israel’s technological expertise and India’s immense market, the partnership is more of a necessity and not merely an option.
If it is any indication, the INR41 billion (USD 659 million) worth of Israeli arms purchases since Narendra Modi assumed office as the Prime Minister of India is more than Israel’s total defense exports to India in the three years preceding his election. The change came with the Modi government’s decision in 2014 to buy Israeli anti-tank guided missiles and launchers and revive joint development of a long-range missile.
In terms of absolute numbers, India imported defence equipment worth INR12.96 billion from Israel in 2011-12. This slipped to INR 7.7 billion in 2012-13, and went up slightly to INR 12.3 billion in 2013-14.
India’s defence ties with Israel have transcended through decades, with the earliest signs of collaboration visible during the 1962 Sino-Indian war, when Israel provided military aid to India. Israel also aided India during the two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, according to an article in the Stanford Journal of International Relations. As per the report, the assistance from Israel was reciprocated during the Six-Day War in 1967 by providing Israel with spare parts for Mystere and Ouragan aircraft, as well as AX-13 tanks.
Artillery shells during the Kargil war
However, the highlight of the partnership was Israel’s supply of artillery shells during the Kargil war, when India faced a shortage. In the late 1990s, a crucial defence deal was the Indian purchase of Barak 1, an air-defence missile, bought specifically for its capability to intercept US-made Harpoon missiles deployed by Pakistan.
India’s defence acquisitions, though minimal when compared to the US and Russia, have been robust. In fact, most of India’s imports of unarmed vehicles have been from Israel. Of the 176 UAVs purchased from Israel, 108 are Searcher UAVs and 68 are Heron UAVs. Israel has also pledged support to the ‘Make in India’ mission in the defence sector.
Major deals between the two sides include the jointly-developed Barak 8 anti-ship-missile, which the Indian Navy will be testing soon, and the SPYDER missile system, which the Indian Air Force is procuring to counter aerial threats at low altitude. India and Israel also closely cooperate on anti-terror activities and have signed agreements, among other matters, on homeland and public security and protection of classified materials and information.
Besides, there have been several defence collaborations between the two nations. Recently, Secunderabad-based Premier Explosives signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) withIsrael Aerospace Industries (IAI) to explore potential business opportunities. IAI, Israel’s largest aerospace and defence firm, specialises in developing and manufacturing advanced systems for air, space, sea, land, cyber and homeland security. IAI also designs and manufactures business jets and aero structures.
The agreement is set to leverage India’s operation of the Barak-8 medium-range self-propelled surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, which was designed by IAI in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
In December 2015, the Indian Navy said it had a much-needed missile defence shield for its frontline warships, following successful testing of an Indo-Israeli system. The Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM), called the Barak NG, had undergone a series of tests from INS Kolkata.
Purchase of 10 Israeli drones
In September 2015, the Centre also approved the purchase of 10 Israeli-made armed Heron drones for around USD 400 million. The drones will be operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF), and would join its fleet of reconnaissance drones. The IAF also has a fleet of Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel, which are primarily used to destroy enemy radar positions. Israel has supplied various weapons systems, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles over the last few years but the transactions have largely remained behind the curtains.
In October 2014, India decided to buy 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles and 321 launchers from Israel for INR 32 billion while rejecting US offer of Javelin missiles.
Strengthening of defence collaborations between India and Israel has brought the two countries closer, according to Daniel Carmon, Israel’s Ambassador to India.“In times when defence forces modify operations and recalibrate their way forward; in times when many militaries are becoming smaller by size but stronger by force, it is important to be innovative. It is crucial to optimise our effort…which brings down production costs and developments costs. And it leaves you with more advanced capabilities than what you could have had by going alone,” the Israeli envoy to India said at an event.
Most importantly, better ties with Israel also align with Modi’s Make in India plans as Israel is one country which is willing to embrace this programme in letter and spirit. Ministers visiting India have underlined that they are flexible in terms of transfer of technology and is even willing to negotiate on costs for products it manufactures in India.
Moreover, Israel acts as a balance for India to its dependence on Russia, which constitutes around two-thirds of India’s defence equipment imports.