Gain­ing a New Or­bit


India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By S Sa­muel C Ra­jiv

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Naren­dra Modi’s trip to Is­rael from July 4-6, 2017 — the first ever visit by an In­dian prime min­is­ter, is a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in­deed in In­dia-Is­rael re­la­tions. It oc­curred 14 years af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Ariel Sharon came to In­dia in Septem­ber 2003 and 25 years af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of full-fledged diplo­matic re­la­tions. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, who in a re­mark­able ges­ture ac­com­pa­nied PM Modi through all of his pub­lic en­gage­ments, noted that Is­rael waited 70 years for an In­dian prime min­is­te­rial visit. Ne­tanyahu’s state­ment drew at­ten­tion to the lack of suc­cess of the re­peated ef­forts made by the Jewish state since its found­ing in May 1948 to es­tab­lish full diplo­matic re­la­tions with In­dia.


Ever since the mo­men­tous de­ci­sion of the Narasimha Rao gov­ern­ment in Jan­uary 1992, In­dia- Is­rael re­la­tions have seen sig­nif­i­cant growth, but­tressed by co­op­er­a­tion in the se­cu­rity/de­fence sphere. Com­ple­men­tar­i­ties in In­dian re­quire­ments (the need to mod­ern­ize its Soviet-era mil­i­tary equip­ment in the af­ter­math of the end of the Cold War cou­pled with a chal­leng­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment) and niche Is­raeli tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­tise in up­grad­ing equip­ment and pro­vid­ing force mul­ti­pli­ers in the are­nas of sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties and point de­fence sys­tems, among oth­ers, en­sured a ro­bust en­gage­ment in the se­cu­rity sphere.

Is­rael dis­played con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal will to sup­ply In­dia’s press­ing re­quire­ments, as in the case of the air­borne warn­ing and con­trol sys­tems (AWACS) — equip­ment which were de­nied to China on ac­count of Amer­i­can pres­sure. Is­rael’s help dur­ing the Kargil War in terms of the sup­ply of am­mu­ni­tion and crit­i­cal, cut­ting edge piece of equip­ment like laser tar­get­ing pods (man­u­fac­tured by Rafael) for the In­dian Air Force (IAF) Mi­rages also demon­strated its com­mit­ment as a re­li­able de­fence part­ner in terms of crises. Apart from de­fence, the Is­raeli foot­print across In­dia in ful­fill­ing the coun­try’s de­vel­op­men­tal re­quire­ments has earned pos­i­tive re­views to that coun­try. Fif­teen cen­tres of ex­cel­lence in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor are a tes­ti­mony to the prom­ise of the crit­i­cal role Is­raeli tech­nol­ogy like ef­fi­cient use of wa­ter re­sources, post har­vest man­age­ment, among oth­ers, can play in trans­form­ing the lives of hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple.

Given the above, the ex­tended lack of a high-level po­lit­i­cal visit to Is­rael was in­deed jar­ring. It is a fact that Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee had ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Sharon to visit Is­rael but

the visit could not take place for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, most no­table of which was the de­feat of the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA) in the 2004 gen­eral elec­tions. It is per­ti­nent to note though that sig­nif­i­cant bi­lat­eral vis­its did in­deed take place in the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod. For­eign Min­is­ter SM Kr­ishna for in­stance vis­ited Is­rael on the oc­ca­sion of the 20th an­niver­sary of the es­tab­lish­ment of diplo­matic re­la­tions in Jan­uary 2012 while Is­raeli De­fence Min­is­ter Moshe Yaalon vis­ited New Delhi in Fe­bru­ary 2015. There has also been a steady stream of vis­its by cen­tral min­is­ters and state chief min­is­ters, in­clud­ing by Mr Modi in 2006 when he was chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat.

As for Is­rael’s for­eign pol­icy goals, it has been cul­ti­vat­ing close ties with ris­ing Asian gi­ants like In­dia and China, as well as with re­gional coun­tries like Tur­key, in or­der to boost its ex­ports, en­sure the con­tin­ued growth of its econ­omy and ex­tend its diplo­matic reach. This is on ac­count of its re­gional iso­la­tion given that only two of the mem­ber coun­tries of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Is­lamic Con­fer­ence (OIC) — Jor­dan and Egypt, rec­og­nize it and the dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion it faces in in­ter­na­tional fo­rum like the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly (UNGA), where it is the sub­ject of neg­a­tive res­o­lu­tions ev­ery year. While its re­la­tions with Tur­key have seen an un­even tra­jec­tory, Jerusalem can be proud of its bur­geon­ing ties with In­dia and China.

Is­rael’s bi­lat­eral trade with China is over $10 bil­lion cur­rently, while its trade with In­dia in 2016 was over $4 bil­lion (from about $200 mil­lion in 1992). Is­rael and China on their part en­tered into a ‘com­pre­hen­sive in­no­va­tion part­ner­ship’ in March 2017, when Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu vis­ited Bei­jing as part of the 25thanniver­sary cel­e­bra­tions of the Is­rael-China ties, given that China es­tab­lished full-fledged re­la­tions with Is­rael a week ahead of In­dia on Jan­uary 24, 1992.

None­the­less, the fact that Is­rael and China

do not de­scribe their re­la­tion­ship as ‘strate­gic’ is sig­nif­i­cant, as Is­rael con­tin­ues to be con­strained in pro­vid­ing mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies to China on ac­count of US pres­sure. It has, how­ever, given the tech­nol­ogy of Lavi air­craft that it was de­vel­op­ing but did not man­u­fac­ture, to China and Bei­jing has drawn from it ex­ten­sively while de­sign­ing its fighter jets along with in­puts from Pak­istan on F 16.

With In­dia, the strate­gic as­pect of the bi­lat­eral ties is the most im­por­tant part of the re­la­tion­ship, and sig­nif­i­cantly, both Mr Modi and Mr Ne­tanyahu have now openly ac­knowl­edged it.


Apart from AWACS, un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs), aero­stat radars and as­sault ri­fles that In­dia has ac­quired from Is­rael, New Delhi is co-de­vel­op­ing with it point de­fence sys­tems for the IAF and the In­dian Navy (IN) – the long range sur­face-to-air mis­sile (LRSAM) and the medium range SAM (MRSAM), re­spec­tively. Th­ese projects are near­ing fruition while sim­i­lar sys­tems are also be­ing pro­cured for the In­dian Army. Such co-devel­op­ment/co-pro­duc­tion projects are be­ing touted as con­sti­tut­ing the es­sen­tial frame­work of fu­ture de­fence co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries. The ex­port of such equip­ment will hold fur­ther prom­ise.

A per­ti­nent ex­am­ple which could see such co­op­er­a­tion op­er­a­tionalised re­lates to the Ta­vor as­sault ri­fles. Is­rael Weapons In­dus­tries (IWI) and the pri­vate sec­tor Punj Llyod have set up In­dia’s first pri­vate sec­tor small arms man­u­fac­tur­ing fac­tory at Malan­pur, Mad­hya Pradesh — the Punj Llyod Raksha Sys­tems (PLR), to man­u­fac­ture the Ta­vor ri­fles. Com­pany of­fi­cials told In­dia Strate­gic that ex­cept for the bar­rel, all other parts of the ri­fle are to be made in In­dia. Pro­duc­tion started in May and all the com­po­nents made in In­dia are to be supplied to IWI in Is­rael for in­te­gra­tion there.

The joint ven­ture hopes to be the ‘go-to sup­plier’ for the small arms needs of the armed forces of both In­dia and Is­rael, as well as of third coun­tries po­ten­tially.

Sig­nif­i­cant equip­ment that In­dia will se­cure from Is­rael in the near fu­ture in­cludes two ad­di­tional Phal­con AWACS, to the three it al­ready has in its in­ven­tory. Spike anti-tank guided mis­siles (ATGMs) are also set to be in­ducted, pend­ing the fi­nal­iza­tion of the con­tract. In­dia con­tin­ues to get such cut­tingedge force mul­ti­pli­ers like ‘Spice’ smart bombs for its fighter air­craft, un­der­wa­ter sur­veil­lance sys­tems for har­bour de­fence, among oth­ers. A $2 bil­lion deal was re­ported to have been en­tered into in April 2017 for LRSAM and MRSAM sys­tems.

Ro­bust in­sti­tu­tional links in the se­cu­rity sphere but­tressed by nu­mer­ous joint work­ing groups, Staff talks, vis­its of naval ships to Haifa, among oth­ers, con­tin­ues to be an en­dur­ing as­pect of the re­la­tion­ship. It is per­ti­nent to note that nearly ten ser­vice chiefs from ei­ther side have un­der­taken vis­its, with the lat­est be­ing Navy Chief Ad­mi­ral Su­nil Lanba in June 2017.


Given the ro­bust and on­go­ing na­ture of such co­op­er­a­tion in the de­fence sec­tor, there was not much an­tic­i­pa­tion of any big an­nounce­ments per­tain­ing to de­fence deals dur­ing PM Modi’s visit. In­deed, the seven MOUs that both coun­tries en­tered into re­late to co­op­er­a­tion in space, agri­cul­ture, wa­ter, and the set­ting up of the In­di­aIs­rael In­dus­trial R&D and Tech­no­log­i­cal In­no­va­tion Fund (I4F). The I4F will in­volve an in­vest­ment of $40 mil­lion and help fund the most in­no­va­tive ideas and see them to fruition for the ben­e­fit of both the coun­tries.

The Joint State­ment re­leased by the two prime min­is­ters starkly il­lus­trates the dif­fer­ence in con­tent and con­text to the bi­lat­eral ties since 2003. The Septem­ber 2003 Joint State­ment for in­stance does not fea­ture the word ’strate­gic’, while the July 5, 2017 state­ment promi­nently fea­tures it, and that too twice. The two sides af­firmed that they ‘raised the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship to that of a strate­gic part­ner­ship’ and that they will be pur­su­ing a ‘strate­gic part­ner­ship in wa­ter and agri­cul­ture’. An In­dia-Is­rael CEO’s Fo­rum was set up to re­alise the full po­ten­tial of bi­lat­eral trade and in­vest­ment.

Mr Ne­tanyahu him­self gave a demon­stra­tion of a ve­hi­cle-mounted wa­ter de­sali­na­tion unit to Mr Modi, point­ing out how In­dia could source clean wa­ter in its coastal ar­eas for vil­lages and small towns.

The three MOUs re­lat­ing to space (atomic clocks; elec­tric propul­sion for small satel­lites; GEO-LEO op­ti­cal link) am­ply sup­port Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu’s view that even the sky is not the limit for the growth of the In­dia-Is­rael part­ner­ship. A frame­work for co­op­er­a­tion in the field of cy­ber se­cu­rity was agreed upon while the two sides pledged to co­op­er­ate more closely in the field of home­land se­cu­rity. The Joint State­ment lays special em­pha­sis on the trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy from Is­rael on co-de­vel­oped prod­ucts in the de­fence sec­tor. Ne­tanyahu and Modi fur­ther urge for strong mea­sures against those who pro­vide sanc­tu­ary to ter­ror­ists.


Prime Min­is­ter Modi on July 6, 2017 paid his re­spects to the mem­ory of In­dian sol­diers who died in the lib­er­a­tion of Haifa in Septem­ber 1918, af­ter four hun­dred years un­der Ot­toman rule. The Ot­toman de­feat led to the Bri­tish Man­date and the sub­se­quent de­vel­op­ments that cul­mi­nated in the cre­ation of the Jewish state. Mr Modi’s visit was not only a reaf­fir­ma­tion of such his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural links (with the In­dian di­as­pora an im­por­tant part of such links) but en­sures that In­dia-Is­rael ties will con­tinue to gain greater mo­men­tum in the higher ‘strate­gic’ or­bit that they have now been placed.

(Left): Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi be­ing re­ceived by Is­raeli PM Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, on his ar­rival at Ben Gu­rion Air­port in Tel Aviv. (Be­low): PM Modi be­ing wel­comed by Mr Ne­tanyahu at Beit Aghion, the of­fi­cial res­i­dence of Is­raeli PM

Clock­wise from Left: Mr Modi vis­it­ing the Yad Vashem Holo­caust Me­mo­rial, in Jerusalem; PM Modi along with Mr Ne­tanyahu vis­it­ing the Danziger Flower Farm; Mr Modi meet­ing Moshe Holtzberg, the sur­vivor of the 26/11 at­tacks in Jerusalem; PM Modi be­ing briefed on R&D in plant va­ri­eties

The two Prime Min­is­ters at Com­mu­nity Re­cep­tion Pro­gramme in Tel Aviv; Mr Modi calls on Is­rael Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin

(Top) Mr Modi and Mr Ne­tanyahu at the 1st Is­rael-In­dia CEOs Fo­rum; (Be­low) PM Modi leaves for Haifa to pay homage to In­dian sol­diers lib­er­ated in WW-I

(Top) PM Modi at the In­dian ceme­tery at Haifa; the two PMs un­veil­ing the plaque to com­mem­o­rate In­dian Sol­diers led by Maj Dal­pat Singh who fought to lib­er­ate Haifa

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