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Tension bolsters Israel-India cooperation
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

There are constant Indo-Israeli contacts on various levels, especially in the realm of cooperation in "counter-terrorism" measures and purchase of Israeli arms. According to recent reports, Israel is about to overtake Russia as India's number one arms supplier.

This week an Israeli security delegation paid a secretive visit to India which was passingly reported in both Indian and Israeli media unlike earlier occasions when such visits were accorded full glare of media attention. India, of late, has realised that though it would like to strengthen its relations with Israel, it's best done behind the scenes. The current rulers of India are great fans of Israel and admire how this tiny country is braving all alone an ocean of Arab enemies. 

Britain's authoritative defense publication, Jane's Terrorism & Security Monitor, reported last August that Israel and India have formed a military relationship and that Israeli intelligence is active in Indian Kashmir.

Though there has been no official word from the Indian side, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson issued the following statement in Jerusalem last Sunday, June 2: 
"The second meeting of the India-Israel Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism was held in New Delhi on 27-28 May 2002. The Israeli delegation was led by Mr. Zvi Gabay, Deputy Director General in the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Major General Uzi Dayan, the National Security Advisor of Israel. The Indian delegation was led by Shri R.M. Abhyankar, Special Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External affairs. This dialogue was held in the context of India's cooperation with the international community to counter the scourge of terrorism and to address this problem in light of UN Security Council Resolution 1373."

Haaretz had disclosed on May 28 that "a high-ranking Israeli delegation left this week for India for talks on cooperation in the war against terror." The Israeli paper went on to say that "cooperation between Israel and India in the war against terror had increased markedly in the past two years."

Britain's authoritative defense publication, Jane's Terrorism & Security Monitor, had reported last August that Israel and India have formed a military relationship and that Israeli intelligence is active in Indian Kashmir. Jane's said on August 14 last year that "Israeli intelligence agencies have been intensifying their relations with India's security apparatus and are now understood to be heavily involved in helping New Delhi combat Islamic militants in the disputed province of Kashmir..."

However, the main field of Indo-Israeli cooperation is in the field of supply of arms to the awestruck Indian leaders who believe that Israel has every thing they need to fight "terrorism." 

On December 27 last year Haaretz reported that Israel is trying to become number one arms supplier to India replacing Russia. It reported 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. 

Haaretz went on to say that the security discussions that take place every six months between the two sides overshadow everything else. "These talks are comprehensive, and the most recent, taking place against the background of the terror attack on the U.S. and the war on Afghanistan, reflected the common strategic outlook and depth of security interests that form the foundation of the relationship between the two countries. More than ever, defense establishment leaders in both countries felt that they share a common fate. Both countries….the only democracies, with secular governments, neighboring a vast ocean of non-democratic Muslim states. They both have large Muslim minorities, and suffer from terror imported from neighboring Muslim countries - Israel from the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, and India from Pakistan," the paper said.

The paper added that "there is also something unexpected that the two countries share. In the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, both countries were left out of the U.S.-led coalition against terror. Washington did not want Israel in the coalition, in order to be able to include the Arab states; it needed Pakistan, originally the Taliban's sponsors, so it kept India at arms length. No wonder, then, that India, despite its huge size, feels, like Israel, that it has to build its own tools for protecting its citizens and borders from terrorism. Those were the subjects of discussion at the meeting that took place on November 21 at the Defense Ministry in Delhi."

In 1994, two years after diplomatic relations were established, then director general Maj. Gen. David Ivry signed an agreement with the Indian Defense Ministry for security cooperation between the two countries. As in the case of 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, said the Haaretz report.

The "turning point," according to Haaretz, came in 1998 when elections led to a significant political change in India. The long-ruling Congress party, with its socialist outlook, lost to the BJP, the extremist Hindu party, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister. Interior Minister L.K. Advani, the strongman in the party, is a great admirer of Israel. Ever since Indo-Israeli relations progressed by leaps and bounds. Big arms deals soon followed.

The first major weapons deal was for two Green Pine early warning stations against ground-to-ground missiles from Pakistan. That was a $400 million deal. Since September 11, the U.S. suspension of its sanctions on India opened up other possibilities. 

According to the Haaretz report, Israel Aircraft Industries is the main body dealing with all weapons systems sales to India. Half a year ago it provided Barak naval missile systems for $300 million, 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. Israel Military Industries has sold some $100 million in munitions to India. 

Non-state Israeli companies are also involved. Soltam has refitted 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 provide Gil anti-tank missile systems. Meanwhile, the Indian air force is interested in Elisra electronic warfare systems. 

But the crowning deal in the relationship is the deal that would supply three or four Phalcon airborne early wanting stations to India. The deal, worth $1 billion, came together after the U.S. scotched a similar deal between Israel and China. 

Last year in July 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 indicated that in the next five years another $2 billion in deals are in the offing with India. 

Iansa, a journal on strategic studies published in India, came out with a stunning report last August, quoting defense sources there as saying that "Israel is positioned to replace Russia" as India's main weapons 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. 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.

Most recently India has bought $35 million-worth advanced tactical radios from Israel's Tadiran Communications. This is in addition to $80 million worth medium-range tactical communications systems ordered by India from Tadiran, Jane's Defence Weekly said in its May 29 issue

Another report in the Times of India on June 2 said that India is taking further steps to bolster its air defence capabilities against incoming enemy aircraft and missiles. It has asked Israel to speed up the supply of long-range "Aerostat Programmable Radars." According to the report, India and Israel recently signed the agreement for the aerostat radars, basically sensors mounted on blimp-like large balloons tethered to the ground with cables. These radars can detect and track cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft much earlier than ground-based radars. As part of the effort to strengthen surveillance capabilities, defence ministry officials said top priority is also being accorded to upgrading border radar systems.

Meanwhile Israel has asked its citizens to leave India. In recent years India has become a favourite destination of Israeli youth and about 30,000 travel to the country every year, most of them after their mandatory army service. Only last month, the Israeli foreign ministry had advised Israelis not to travel to troubled areas in Jammu and Kashmir.

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