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Shimon Peres arrives in India to sell arms and dreams
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

New Delhi: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres arrived in New Delhi on 7 January on a three-day visit. He will be meeting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Home Minister LK Advani, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Defence Minister George Fernandes during this visit, the third within a year. Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh visited Tel Aviv in June 2000. 

According to the official news agency, Press Trust of India, "Security issues including cross-border terrorism and tension with Pakistan are likely to be discussed during the present visit." Israel is seeking India's active support for its terrorist policies in West Asia. India has recently supported the Palestinian cause and voiced concern against Israeli attacks on the Palestinian Authority areas. 

Both India and Israel have had diplomatic and defence relations for the last 10 years and share similar concerns over terrorism and security. Both sides are working closely on counter-terrorism. 

Iansa, a journal on strategic studies published in India, came out with a stunning report last August, quoting Indian defence sources as saying that "Israel is positioned to replace Russia" as India's main arms supplier. According to the journal, Israel is already the number two arms supplier after Russia; it says the deals so far signed or in the works with India are worth some $3 billion. Israel doesn't publish data on the scope of weapons deals with individual countries, but the impression from the Israeli Defence Ministry is that India has become the main market for Israeli weapons systems - sales are already in the range of $800 million a year, about the same as sales to the U.S.

India and Israel have established a joint working group against terrorism. The first meeting of this JWG was held in occupied Jerusalem on 6 January. According to a joint press communiqué, "discussions were held in a spirit of friendship and covered a number of issues including the threat of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations as well as the sources of terrorism, the legal dimensions of global fight against terrorism and other matters." The Indian side was headed by RM Abhayankar, secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and the Israelis side was led by Major General Uzi Dayan, head of Israel's National Security Council and Zvi Gabay, deputy director general in the Israeli foreign ministry. "Israel supports India fully in its war against terrorism and the steps it is taking to fight terrorism. We are facing the same problem unfortunately," said Mr Gabay.

Foreign Minister Peres's current visit is the latest in a series of high level interactions between the two countries in recent months. A high level Israeli foreign ministry delegation was in India last month as part of the sixth annual meeting between the officials of the two countries. Israeli director general of defence ministry, Amos Yaron, led a high level delegation to New Delhi last November to negotiate a number of defence deals including the transfer of Phalcon early warning aircraft. 

In 1997, the Indian defence establishment's chief scientist, APJ Abdul Kalam, considered the father of the Indian missile programme, visited Israel. The purpose of the visit has never been disclosed. Israeli defence ministry officials who travel to India always include a meeting with Kalam on their itinerary. 

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Home Minister LK Advani visited Israel in June 2000 when the two sides agreed that the national security councils of the two countries meet regularly to work-out common strategies to fight "terrorism." Delegations of the national security councils of the two countries met in New Delhi last September. The Indian side was led by the National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and the Israeli side by his counterpart, Uzi Dayan. India's first parliamentary delegation visited Israel in November 2000.

India and Israel exchanged full diplomatic ties in 1992 following Madrid Conference and the Palestinian recognition of Israel. Insignificant bilateral trade between the two countries has now shot up to over a billion dollars a year. The last few years have witnessed a steady growth of Indian demand for Israeli arms and military expertise, especially in combating terrorism.

Israeli daily Haaretz disclosed on 27 December last year that Israel is soon to replace Russia as India's number one arms supplier. It disclosed that no fewer than three official Israeli delegations visited India in recent weeks. 

The visits are a reflection of a flourishing bilateral relationship. So is the rapidly growing trade between the two countries, which has accelerated from a few million dollars in 1992 to some $600 million in exports to India - and another $600 million in imports - in 2000. And that doesn"t count sales of weapons systems, said Haaretz.

According to the Haaretz report, the Indian defence ministry officials described their difficulties in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. There are high mountains, vast open spaces, bad roads, and poor weather conditions. The Israelis laid out a range of capabilities developed over the years: stationary and mobile observation systems, camera-carrying drones, sensors, control systems, balloon-born cameras. Yaron made it clear to his counterparts, led by Indian Defence Ministry Director General Yogendra Narain that Israel is ready to provide India with all the knowledge and technology developed in Israel for fighting terrorism.

The security cooperation between the two countries started in 1994, two years after diplomatic relations were established, when Israel signed an agreement with the Indian defence ministry for security cooperation between the two countries. On lines with Israel's security relationship with Turkey, it was clear that the joint effort would lead to expanding bilateral ties on all levels. Indeed, cultural and commercial ties have increased dramatically since then. A turning point came in 1998, when elections led to a significant political change in India. The long-ruling Congress party lost to the BJP, the rightist Hindu party, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister. Interior Minister LK Advani, the strongman in the party, is a great admirer of Israel. The road was now vast open for close cooperation with Israel in all fields. Israel stepped in to offer military hardware India's traditional arms supplier, Russia, was unable to provide, especially electronic subsystems, upgrading planes, ships and tanks. The technologies range from ammunition to night vision equipment, navigation equipment to target acquisition systems and sensors, which dramatically improve the capabilities of otherwise outdated platforms. 

The first major weapons deal was for two Green Pine early warning stations against ground-to-ground missiles. That was a $400 million deal. Since September 11, the U.S. suspension of its sanctions on India has opened up other possibilities. One issue that keeps coming up is whether the U.S. will allow Israel to sell Arrow anti-ballistic missiles to India.

Israel Aircraft Industries, the main body dealing with all weapons systems sales to India, provided Barak naval missile systems for $300 million in 2000, and for about the same amount, sold India Searcher drones. The IAI has upgraded MiG-17 aircraft for tens of millions of dollars, while naval shipyards in India are working on Devorah V-2 patrol boats designed by the IAI for the Israeli navy. Meanwhile, Israel Military Industries has sold some $100 million in munitions to India. 

According to Haaretz, non-state companies are also involved. Soltam is refitting Russian 133mm cannon into 155mm howitzers, as well as bidding for a half-billion dollar tender to fit canons on trucks. Four Israeli companies, including Elbit Systems and Tadiran Communications, are bidding to upgrade T-72 tanks, another half-billion dollar deal. And Rafael, the state-owned corporation for weapons development, is hoping to sell India Gil anti-tank missile systems. The Indian air force is interested in Elisra electronic warfare systems. 

But the crowning deal in the relationship will be the sale of the Phalcon airborne early warning stations. India and Israel are preparing to sign a deal that would supply three or four Phalcons to India. The deal, worth $1 billion, came together after the U.S. scotched a similar deal between Israel and China following the forced landing of an American spy plane by Beijing in April last year. As in the Chinese deal, it's essentially a three-way venture. Russia will supply Ilyushin cargo planes as the platform for the Israeli electronics for the Indian planes. Elta, a subsidiary of the IAI, will provide the radar, the heart of the system. 
The Defense Ministry is convinced the deal can be signed in the first quarter of 2002. 

In July 2000, at IAI headquarters in Lod, the two countries signed an unprecedented agreement for cooperation between their aircraft industries, for a $2 billion technology transfer to India. One element of the agreement is a joint venture that would upgrade hundreds of outdated MiG 21s and 29s. The IAI document indicates that in the next five years another $2 billion in deals are in the offing with India. 

Arab countries, as well as the League of Arab States and OIC, have expressed concern from time to time over the growing Indo-Israeli ties. Indian analysts say that India has been frustrated by Arab support to Pakistan and lack of interest in India. There are negligible Arab investments in India and the Arab countries have nothing to offer India apart from oil at market prices. Arab cultural and commercial interaction with India is minimal. Although India is their immediate neighbour across the Arabian sea, Arab dignitaries are seldom seen in New Delhi. Arab missions too are least active in terms of interaction with the Indian media and society.

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