Although India had established diplomatic relations with Israel under a Congress government headed by P V Narasimha Rao in 1992, the previous National Democratic Alliance government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee had warmed up to Israel like never before. Today, despite the Left's stance against Israel, a major revocation of sourcing from Israel is unlikely.
The new UPA government can’t revoke bilateral military ties with Israel, nor can it continue them as blithely as the erstwhile NDA government — it’s a dilemma with no easy answers
Several foreign policy analysts have predicted a major shift in India’s relations with Israel in view of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s pronouncement in its common minimum programme (CMP) that “traditional ties with West Asia will be given a fresh thrust” and the CMP’s assertion of “India’s decades-old commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people for a homeland of their own”.
Although India had established diplomatic relations with Israel under a Congress government headed by P V Narasimha Rao in 1992, the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee had warmed up to Israel like never before. The Brajesh Mishra doctrine of an India-Israel-United States (US) “triad” against international Islamist had tended to skew India’s traditional relations with the Arabs in favour of Israel. However, the tilt was pragmatic because it was in India’s national interest. Today, after Russia, Israel is India’s second largest supplier of military equipment — the defence and security relationship with Israel has to take this reality into account.
Natwar Singh, the new minister for external affairs, said in an interview recently that India’s approach to its relationship with Israel “will be pragmatic and empirical and there will be no U-turns”. In similar vein, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “We may have divergent views but there is a convergence when it comes to securing the country”. Obviously, while the “triad concept” is unlikely to find favour with the new government, there will only be a nuanced shift in the security relationship.
Israel’s annual arms sales worldwide total over US$ 3 billion, making it the world’s fifth-largest exporter of weaponry and military equipment. However, till recently, Israel’s exports were mainly low-end battlefield equipment. In March 2004, Israel joined the big league when it signed a US$ 1.1 billion deal with India for three Phalcon airborne early warning (AEW) and command-and-control radar systems. This deal was finalised only after US acquiescence, even though the Phalcon contains no American parts. The deal assumes even greater significance because it came only three years after a similar deal between Israel and China had to be cancelled due to American objections.
In recent years, India has purchased hi-tech medium-range battlefield surveillance radars that detect moving targets, Searcher-I unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance inside enemy territory, hand-held thermal imaging devices for night-vision during counter-insurgency operations and surveillance on the Line of Control (LoC), and Barak anti-missile missiles to defend naval ships against air attacks. India has already taken delivery of Greenpine ground-based early warning radars that will also feed target data to the Phalcon.
On September 3, 2003, the Cabinet Committee on Security had approved the purchase of seven shipborne electronic warfare systems from Israel at a cost of US$ 105 million. Many items comprising equipment tor the modernisation of approximately 350 infantry battalions are likely to be imported from Israel. Israel’s SOLTAM is in the race to supply both 155mm towed and self-propelled medium guns to India’s artillery.
Also, both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army are interested in Searcher-II UAVs for high-altitude reconnaissance. India has also expressed interest in Israel’s Arrow anti-ballistic missiles but, so far, the US, anxious that the balance of power in the subcontinent will tilt decisively in India’s favour, has been unwilling to approve the sale. Furthermore, in each case, India has insisted on technology transfer.
Israel had stepped in to fill the vacuum in defence supplies to India caused by Western ire and technology embargo after the May 1998 nuclear tests. Today, despite the Left’s stance against Israel, a major revocation of sourcing from Israel is unlikely. While the new government will be vocal in its criticism of what it perceives as Israeli excesses against the Arabs, it will continue to do business with it. Israel will learn to live with the changed environment because its economy depends heavily on the export of military equipment.