VIEWPOINT: PRIME MIN­IS­TER MODI’S ISRAEL VISIT – EX­PEC­TA­TIONS?

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD) The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to Israel on July 5-6 this year, first by any In­dian Prime Min­is­ter will be a his­toric event of ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­por­tions since it also will mark 25 years of es­tab­lish­ment of In­dia-Israel full diplo­matic re­la­tions in 1992, which al­lowed in­creased eco­nomic, cul­tural and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two na­tions. It was also dur­ing the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA)-I regime that Jaswant Singh be­came the first In­dian For­eign Min­is­ter to visit Israel.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, bi­lat­eral trade be­tween In­dia and Israel has gone up from $675 mil­lion in 1998 to $4.52 bil­lion in 2014, ex­clud­ing mil­i­tary sales. Com­mer­cial ties have widened to span ar­eas such as tech­nol­ogy, so­lar en­ergy and agri­cul­ture. As per re­ports, Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit to Israel will be stand-alone, same as his vis­its to the United Arab Emi­rates, Saudi Ara­bia, Iran and Qatar. It goes with­out say­ing that stand-alone vis­its have spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance in bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships. At the same time, Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas is also sched­uled to visit In­dia this sum­mer, most likely be­fore Modi’s visit to Israel though the dates have not been an­nounced.

Israel is among the top four mil­i­tary hard­ware sup­pli­ers to In­dia; by 2012, the In­dia-Israel de­fence re­la­tion­ship was es­ti­mated to be worth ap­prox­i­mately $9 bil­lion, with mil­i­tary hard­ware sales from Israel to In­dia amount­ing to $1 bil­lion an­nu­ally. How­ever, as per news re­ports, Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit to Israel will fo­cus not only on de­fence ties alone, but en­com­pass long-term eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion, re­sult­ing in a free trade agree­ment (FTA) which Israel is keen upon. Dur­ing the visit of Israel’s Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin to In­dia in Novem­ber 2016, there were talks on shar­ing Is­raeli ex­pe­ri­ence in wa­ter man­age­ment and agri­cul­ture.

Ahead of Modi’s trip, For­eign Sec­re­tary S. Jais­hankar will visit Israel in May to tie up de­tails. In March 2017, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) and Israel’s Rafael Ad­vanced De­fense Sys­tems signed a $1-bil­lion deal for Rafael to sell In­dia Spike anti-tank mis­siles; a por­ta­ble fire-and-for­get-guided mis­sile equipped with an imag­ing in­frared seeker and the high-ex­plo­sive anti-tank (HEAT) war­head. A month ear­lier in Fe­bru­ary 2017, Prime Min­is­ter Modi cleared a mega deal for the Army worth Rs 17,000 crore to ac­quire the Barak-8 medium range sur­face-to-air mis­sile (MR-SAM) sys­tem from Israel de­signed to de­stroy hos­tile air­craft, mis­siles and drones at a range of 70 km; to ini­tially in­clude one reg­i­ment of 16 launch­ers and 560 mis­siles for the In­dian Army. Ac­cord­ing to IHS Jane’s, the deal in­cludes the sale of 275 launch­ers and 5,500 mis­siles, as well as sim­u­la­tors and the trans­fer of tech­no­log­i­cal (ToT) for as­sem­bling 1,500 sys­tems and pro­duc­ing an ad­di­tional 30,000 mis­siles in In­dia.

Over­all, the Army will in­duct over five reg­i­ments of the Barak-8 MRSAM sys­tems which will have around 40 fir­ing units and over 200 mis­siles of the sys­tem. These mis­siles will be de­ployed for air de­fence of vi­tal as­sets and points across the coun­try. De­liv­ery of the first sys­tem for the Army units will be­gin in 72 months of the sign­ing of the con­tract and they would be ready for de­ploy­ment in field ar­eas by year 2023. In­dia and Israel are jointly de­vel­op­ing sim­i­lar sys­tems for the In­dian Air Force and the Navy. Bharat Dy­nam­ics Limited (BDL) based in Hy­der­abad will pro­duce the mis­siles, with mul­ti­ple In­dian com­pa­nies like the Bharat Elec­tron­ics Limited, Larsen and Toubro, Tata group will con­trib­ute in the pro­duc­tion sys­tems and sub­sys­tems in it. A new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity to de­liver 100 mis­siles a year has been es­tab­lished for such type of long and medium range sur­face-to-air mis­siles at BDL. The sec­ond deal to be inked was for a sim­i­lar SAM sys­tem to be fit­ted on board the 40,000-tonne in­dige­nous air­craft car­rier INS Vikrant be­ing built at the Cochin Ship­yard. This pro­ject fol­lows two sim­i­lar on­go­ing De­fence Re­search and Devel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO)-IAI pro­grammes for the next-gen­er­a­tion SAMs for In­dian war­ships at an ini­tial cost of Rs 2,606 crore and nine air de­fence squadrons for the In­dian Air Force for Rs 10,076 crore. Other big-ticket deals in the pipe­line in­clude ac­qui­si­tion of two more Is­raeli Phal­con AWACS (air­borne warn­ing and con­trol sys­tems), which are to be mounted on Rus­sian IL-76 mil­i­tary air­craft, and four more Aero­stat radars at a cost up­wards of $1.5 bil­lion.

In ad­di­tion, In­dia is likely to soon ac­quire 10 x Heron-TP armed drones for around $400 mil­lion. Ac­cord­ing to Daniel Car­mon, Is­raeli Am­bas­sador to In­dia, Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s will be a very im­por­tant visit. It will be one of the most im­por­tant vis­its that Israel has wit­nessed in many years,” re­flect­ing the depth of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries in a range of key ar­eas. He added that the re­la­tion­ship has gone beyond buy­ing and sell­ing and that the two coun­tries are now fo­cus­ing ma­jorly on joint re­search and devel­op­ment. That the co­op­er­a­tion should log­i­cally also span the covert and cut­ting edge tech­nol­ogy is in­dica­tive by Car­mon say­ing, “We are re­ally talk­ing about things which are very deep. Much deeper than the de­liv­er­ables.” Un­doubt­edly, Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit will pro­vide a mas­sive fil­lip to In­dia-Israel re­la­tions.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi with the Pres­i­dent of Israel Reu­ven Rivlin in New Delhi on Novem­ber 15, 2016.

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