Why Modi's Israel visit is hugely important

Currently, of the total arms imports of India, Israel is third (7.9 per cent) after Russia (68.29 per cent) and the US (14.5 per cent).

 |  4-minute read |   04-07-2017
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As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Israel, a country with a landmass of just 20,000sqkm, part of the hype is centred around the awe that it evokes due to its demonstrated ability to stand up to a hostile neighbourhood.

The visit, coming as it does after the PM’s trips to Russia and the US, has added significance due to the close defence interaction between the two nations; the defence relationship is special due to the unstinted support given by Israel in times of India’s needs.


With the first ever Indian participation in an air exercise with the Israeli Air Force also round the corner, an assessment of Indo-Israeli relations, especially on air power and defence-related procurement, is in order.

Unstinted support to the Arab and Palestinian cause governed India’s public posture till the 1990s.

This, however, did not stop behind-the-scenes contacts and the intelligence agencies of the two countries, Mossad and RAW, have continued close cooperation. Declassified documents show that Israel supplied arms in the 1962 IndiaChina war and the 1965 India-Pakistan war, and Israeli defence minister Moshe Dayan made an incognito visit in 1977 to discuss defence cooperation.

After the September 1985 meeting between then PM Rajiv Gandhi and the then Israeli Premier in New York, defence cooperation came over the ground. Currently, of the total arms imports of India, Israel is third (7.9 per cent) after Russia (68.29 per cent) and the US (14.5 per cent).

What is significant, however, is that many of the imports from Israel are high technology items, which have been denied by other nations, with air power assets being very significant. The three Phalcon AWACS aircraft are the most valuable of all acquisitions and are the backbone of India’s integrated air defence.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles come next, and almost 200 Searcher and Heron birds are doing intelligence and reconnaissance work along the borders and in the Maoist-affected areas. It is a measure of trust between the two nations that the sale of Heron TP armed UAV has been agreed upon, something that even the Americans have denied India at this stage, despite the ‘strategic’ tag to the India-US relationship.

The Harop UAV, which homes on to radars and other electronic emitters, has not been talked about much, but has been a potent arrow in the IAF’s inventory for years; Harpey, its advanced version, will soon follow. It is no secret that a lot Israeli Elint equipment serves as the eyes and ears of our intelligence agencies.

The extent of Indo-Israeli cooperation in R&D is exemplified by the joint Medium Range Surface to Air Missile System (MRSAM) while India’s Ballistic Missile Defence, based on the Israeli Green Pine radar or a jointly developed long range tracking radar, is a pointer to engagement on strategic programmes.



However, India needs seeker and imaging technology, which is elusive. Indian industry can learn from the ingenuity of their R&D, as Israeli firms have bagged innumerable aircraft upgrade projects despite the host aircraft being of Russian or Western origin.

Cooperation in space has been ongoing quietly and Israel has used ISRO’s launch vehicles for some of its satellites. With ISRO’s leadership in commercial launches, it is the time that more business is garnered from Israel. How can this import-dependent relationship be put to India’s advantage?

The answer lies in using the Make in India initiative innovatively. When one considers the three services in totality and homeland security acquisitions (night vision, carbines, et al), the figures are indeed phenomenal. While there are some joint ventures on the ground and a factory in Madhya Pradesh to manufacture Israeli assault rifles, the multitude of forthcoming contracts should act as enablers for technology acquisition and employment generation.

Also of interest is the role of small, but technologically advanced, start-ups in the Israeli defence sector that constitute Tier-II and Tier-III suppliers in the international defence supply chain — they can serve as models for our Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).


In the world of realpolitik, nothing comes for free, and this is true for IndoIsraeli relations as well. However, the political environment cannot be more enabling than the one prevailing now. The governing dispensations in the two nations have an ideological pull towards each other and the trials and tribulations of the modern Israeli nation have many admirers in India.

There is another connect, that of the Jewish émigrés from India. The presence of the Indian diaspora in Israel, in a manner of speaking, can only strengthen the relations between the two countries. So, while the cooperation in the field of security and defence, seen through an economic prism, could serve as a catalyst, the real boost to more robust defence relations would come only from a strong political handshake.

All pointers indicate an upward trajectory and the visit of PM Modi to Tel Aviv should open a new chapter in Indo-Israeli relations.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: GST: 7 tough challenges India now faces


AVM Manmohan Bahadur AVM Manmohan Bahadur @bahadurmanmohan

The writer is a retired Air Vice Marshal and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.

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