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Paper 131

by Dr.Subhash Kapila

India’s Nehruvian policies kept India and Israel politically apart for over forty years despite sharing many attributes in common. India and Israel emerged as nation states within months of each other. Following India’s emergence as an independent nation on 15 Aug. 1947, Israel emerged as nation state on 14 May 1948, as a result of a decision by the United Nations, the first such nation. India and Israel though comparatively emerging as new nation states were steeped in history of over five thousand years.

India and Israel are democracies and have survived in a sea of hostility, surrounded by implacable adversaries and a heavily militarised security environment. Both nations have fought wars in nearly every decade of their existence. Both countries also have been facing external and internal security threats in the form of Islamic terrorism and sabotage. It should have been therefore natural for India to reach out to Israel in terms of establishment of meaningful political and economic relations. India’s record has been otherwise.

Contemporary global and regional developments now dictate that the distortions of past Indian policies be jettisoned and both countries put value on the imperatives for enhancing their strategic cooperation. Events since 1998 indicate that a beginning has been made.

India – Israel Relations : Indian Policy Distortions of the Early years

India’s policy distortions in its West Asian policies were to say the least, reprehensible and inconsistent with the ground realities. India’s historical record is a sorry one in terms of opposing the creation of Israel as evident from the following facts.1

*  In the Pre-Independence period, Gandhi, Nehru and the Indian National Congress had opposed the creation of a ‘Jewish National Home’.

*  India did not subscribe to the majority plan of United Nations Special Committee on Palestine recommending partition of Palestine.

*  India voted against the admission of Israel into the United Nations in May 1949.

Despite the official line propagated by Nehru, the entire spectrum of India’s Opposition parties from the Left (Communists and Socialist parties of all hues) to the Right (Jan Sangh and Swantantra Party) ceaselessly stressed the need for close political and economic ties with Israel.2

The stubborn opposition to establish diplomatic relations with Israel arose from the Nehru - Gandhi regimes of the Congress Party being captives to domestic compulsions of appeasement of Muslim minorities  (support for Arab causes) and a greed for Muslim votes.  Ironically the first Janata Govt. did not change things either. India’s current Minister of External Affairs had to concede during an address to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations that "India’s Israel policy became a captive to domestic policy that came to be unwillingly as unstated veto to India’s larger West Asian Policy"3. In other words to exclude Israel from all Indian contacts

It is to the credit of the State of Israel and its political maturity that in the emerging deepening of ties between the two countries, Israel has not let this sad record to cloud its views.

India’s Military and Intelligence Contacts with Israel in the Years Before Diplomatic Recognition

Devoid of access to classified documents and entirely by deductive analysis, it becomes apparent that beginning in the 1970’s, India did realise that its West Asian Policies of excluding Israel were wrong. In the military field in India’s critical hour of need of the 1971 war with Pakistan, India sought Israel’s help to supply it with the devastating artillery weapon, 160 mm mortars and ammunition, exclusively manufactured in Israel.

Facilitating such covert Israel aid was that:

"Acting widely as an alternative diplomatic service, the Mossad has opened doors and maintained relations with dozens of countries which prefer that these connections not be known. The Mossad simply gives the other nation an easy way out – receiving military, medical and agricultural advice from the overenthusiastic Israelis without risking economic or political boycotts of the Arab World".4

It also appears that at the about the same time India - Israel intelligence cooperation had commenced. The book under quote sets out lucidly that: "India even more populous was another useful contact point for Meir Amit's Mossad, even though the Indian Government was also unwilling to tell its 800 million Hindu and Muslim people about the secret relationship with the Jewish State. Clandestine cooperation is always based on common interests, leading to an exchange of information. For India and Israel, the common potential enemy was Pakistan – a Moslem nation committed to helping the Arab countries of the Middle East".5

India had yet not given diplomatic recognition to Israel, but in a rare display of pragmatism and need, it began a covert relationship with Israel in the 1970's. Again with no records to go by, it can be safely assumed that covert military and intelligence exchanges should have ensued till 1992.

India – Israel : Formal Diplomatic Relations Establishment, 1992

India accorded formal recognition to Israel in 1950 but continued to resist establishment of formal diplomatic relations till 1992. Probing visits by Israeli officials had taken place to test the temperature in New Delhi ending with the visit of Israel Deputy Director of Israel Foreign Ministry Moshie Yaeger in 1992.6

Following the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1992, India and Israel have signed a number of agreements on economic, scientific, agricultural and cultural matters. Joint Commissions stand established in many of these fields including regular foreign office discussions.

VIP visits also commenced and the important ones till 1998 (those after 1998 will be discussed later) have been those of: 7


- President Ezer Weizman (Dec 1996). First ever visit by an Israeli President to India, leading a 24 member business delegation. For President Weizman it was a sentimental visit as during the Second World War he was posted as an RAF pilot at Yelahanka, Bangalore.

- Israel Services Chiefs

- Foreign Minister


- Services Chiefs

- Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam then Head of DRDO.

- Defence Secretaries

Besides the above a sizeable number of official and business delegations from both countries have visited each other and thus the neglect of earlier years was corrected.

India – Israel : The Imperatives for Strategic Cooperation

For those who still subscribe to the old policies of domestic compulsions in terms of avoiding good relations with Israel, the imperatives for strengthening strategic cooperation needs to be spelt out.

Indian Imperatives – The Defence Field

* Israel offers a valuable autonomous source for purchase of sophisticated weapons and military equipment, indigenously developed; it therefore, precludes external pressures on Israel not to supply.

* Israel’s defence industries have earned a global reputation for upgradation of old weapon systems to latest technological capabilities. It applies to India’s vast holdings of Russian combat aircraft and tanks holdings. Israel has done it for number of countries.

* Israel’s technological advances in the fields of satellites, satellite imagery, missiles, rockets and nuclear fields are appreciable. Most of them being indigenous developments, they can be a source of advanced technology for India.

* Potential exists for India – Israel joint defence production and marketing of conventional military equipment. India’s under - utilised and aging defence production facilities could be modernised and upgraded for export purposes. Export earnings could subsidise India’s requirements for enhanced defence expenditure.

Indian Imperatives – The Intelligence Field

* Israel from its existence recognised "that they needed excellent intelligence to aid their fight for survival. Their country was among the tiniest on earth but would have to develop the finest services in the world". 8 They have done so in the form of Mossad (Foreign Operations), SHIN BET (domestic security) and AMAN (Army’s Intelligence Agency). Each one of them have acquired global reputation for excellence.9 This was achieved both by the imperatives of national survival and being "a synthesis of various traditions that were learned, adopted, inherited, or copied from other countries that have longer histories as states and more deeply ingrained intelligence customs".10

* With India facing both internal and external onslaughts from adversaries, India’s intelligence agencies need toning up. Israeli expertise would be invaluable as inputs for strenghtening of India’s intelligence agencies.

* India is under attack from Islamic fundamentalists. Intelligence exchanges with Israel would provide valuable inputs as Israel too is under similar attacks and has developed considerable expertise in dealing with them.

* Israeli industries produce hi-tech sensitive gadgetry for intelligence purposes. India could tap this source for its requirements.

* India’s counter-terrorism mechanisms and responses are poor. Israel experience could help.

    India’s Imperatives – The Internal Security Field

    * "Israel is in almost permanent state of war and has been since its birth in May 1948. It is surrounded by hostile nations and a constant, threat so the rules of defence and intelligence must differ from those that apply in America or other Western countries."11 India is in a similar predicament and the Israel experience would be valuable.

    * Israel’s border management and counter – terrorism techniques could help India in getting over its major weaknesses in internal security management.

      Israeli Imperatives for Strategic Cooperation With India

      The Israeli imperatives may not incorporate a wide a list as the Indian requirements. The major ones are:

      *  India offers vast markets for arms sales. India’s weapons and military equipment requirements in the next ten years add upto billions of dollars.

      *  India needs autonomous sources of both military equipment and technology in the fields of nuclear power generation, space technology and satellite imagery. Attractive market exists for Israel in India.

      *  Cost effective joint defence production.

      *  India is a vast market for Israel’s super speciality – agro-tech industries.

      *  Israel’s hi-tech industries could find India as an attractive market for sales, transfers and joint production and marketing.

      *  Tapping India’s advanced IT industry for both civil and military uses.

      Israeli Official Responses for Enhanced Strategic Cooperation with India

      In marked contrast to India, Israeli official pronouncements on enhancing ties with India and so also strategic cooperation display an open ended approach.

      Bar Illan, Senior Adviser to then Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu made the following statements to a group of Indian journalists in July 1997:12

      On ties with India "We don’t have any limitations, (in terms of ties with India) we would like it to be as deep and tight and as prolific as possible."

      On defence cooperation: "quite a bit of it is there; there is nothing in the world that cannot be improved."

      On strategic cooperation: "as long as India and Israel are friendly, it is a strategic gain. I hope there is the kind of strategic cooperation that will benefit both."

      During President Weizman’s visit to India on Dec 1996, he expressed that Israel was keen on lending expertise in fields of missiles technology and avionics to India. Israel also offered both investment and technical cooperation in production of military aircraft, reverse engineering and upgradation of weapon systems.13

      No other nation has made such open offers to India not even those who were India’s strategic partners in earlier years.

       India – Israel Cooperation since 1998

      India-Israel cooperation has intensified since 1998 and rightly so. India at long last has pragmatically realised the imperatives of strategic cooperation outlined above and efforts have begun as highlighted by the visits of India’s Home Minister L. K. Advani and India’s External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh to Israel in quick succession in mid 2000.

      Indian Home Minister L. K. Advani’s visit to Israel drew much attention in external media both in terms of the composition of the delegation (Heads of India’s intelligence agencies RAW, IB, and central police organisations fighting terrorism) and Advani’s inter-action at the Israel end besides the protocol ones.

      The focus of external media was on the emerging India-Israel cooperation in the internal security management field as under: 14

      - Advani’s visit was first ever by senior Indian Minister since 1992 and that too a hardliner.

      - Advani formalised intelligence sharing and cooperation agreement in his meetings with the MOSSAD Chief and Israel’s Ministers dealing with security.

      - Israel supported India’s anti-terrorism efforts. Israeli intelligence agencies would open offices in New Delhi on the lines of United States FBI. Agreement modeled on similar lines.

      In terms of India -Israel defence cooperation the following was highlighted:15

      - Advani spent a long time with Israeli arms manufacturers besides his discussions with intelligence and border management agencies.

      - Israel is willing to share defence technology with India.

      - Israeli armaments technology is first class and prices reasonable.

      Coverage of Mr. Advani’s visit would be incomplete without quoting the Israeli Ambassador’s impressions about Mr. Advani. He said "Mr. Advani is a very unique man. I like him very much. Ideologically and personally he reminds me of some people from an earlier generation of Israelis."16 Such impressions, presumably, would have fostered meaningful interaction.

      The other notable event was the visit by Mr. Jaswant Singh to Israel closely following that of the Home Minister, Major events / discussions during this visit, the first ever visit by an Indian Foreign Minister were:17

      - Cooperation in defence and counter – terrorism will hence forth underpin a greater political and strategic dialogue between India and Israel.

      - Discussions between the two Foreign Ministers spoke of intensified cooperation in areas ranging from counter – terrorism to Information Technology.

      - Israeli Foreign Minister Levy stressed Israel would never back off from its commitments to India.

      Both Foreign Ministers additionally agreed/ discussed the following: 18

      - Joint Commission established at Ministerial level for cooperation in combating terrorism. This is in addition to the Foreign Ministers Consultation Process.

      - Strategic discussions will be held every 6 months.

      - Defence purchases were also discussed including the GREEN PINE radar (one of the sub-systems of Israel’s anti-ballistic missile system).

        - Additionally visits of India’s National Security Adviser Mr. Brajesh Mishra and Services Chiefs have taken place since 1998 underlining the growing strategic cooperation between India and Israel. In non-strategic areas visits to Israel have taken place in 1998 – 99 from the Indian side by the Ministers of Urban Affairs, Health and Welfare and the Attorney General. 19

        The Indian Navy has also conducted goodwill visits by its ships to Israel. INS SHAKTI, INS GOMTI and INS RANVEER visited Port EILAT around March 28, 2000 Senior Indian Naval officers held talks with Israeli defence officials.20

        India’s Recent Defence Purchases from Israel and Areas of Potential Interest

        Recent defence purchases by India from Israel as reported include the following:

        * Artillery Guns 130mm upgradation to 155mm-  180
           (To be done in Israel)
        * Artillery Guns 130mm upgradation to 155mm- 250 21 
           (To be done in India)

        * Battlefield surveillance radars (Artillery) – 250 
        * Battlefield surveillance radars hand held (Infantry)- unspecified
        * Fast attack naval craft Super Davora – 2 plus four to be built in India.
        * Electronic Warfare System for INS VIRAT (aircraft carrier)
        * 160mm Mortar ammunition - 30,000 rounds
        * 130mm artillery gun ammunition - 50,000 rounds
        * 125mm shells (for tanks) - 100,000 rounds 
        * 5.56 mm ammunition for rifles - Unspecified 22

        * Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) - 8 in 1999 for surveillance purposes (Army) - 20 in 2000
        * Indian Navy (UAV) requirements (Shipborne) - 50 23

        * Russian MI 35 helicopter prototype upgradation - 25 24  
        with Israeli avionics and night vision devices.

        * India seeking defence equipment worth- unspecified number25 
        $ 200 million to include UAVs, avionics 
        for IAF SU – 30 MK I, MIG 27 ML, and
        JAGUAR upgrades Fire Control radars

        During the Kargil War, Israel responded magnificently, despite pressures from various quarters not to supply. UAVs for high altitude surveillance, laser – guided systems and many other items were supplied within 24 hours.26 Israel is reported to have emerged as India’s No.2 defence supplier after Russia, and with costs of Russian spare parts for replacement escalating by 300-500%, Israel may emerge as India’s No. 1 defence supplier. India is presently faced with the daunting prospect of buying immediately $200 million worth of ammunition and further $ 1.5 billion later to make up for losses in recent fires at Indian Army Amunition Depots.27 Israel may be the only source for immediate replacement.

        In terms of areas of potential Indian interest in Israeli defence equipment, briefly it can narrow down to the following items.

        * Submarine launched cruise missiles.28

        * Micro-satellite systems for surveillance which can be launched from aircraft or in clusters from a missile.29

        * Laser guided systems and precision – guided mention munitions (PGMs)

        * Anti – ballistic missile systems.

        * Upgradation of all Soviet – origin aircraft, artillery, tanks etc.

        * Radars of all types.30


        India, at the turn of the millenium seems, to have broken out of the straitjacket of moral histrionics of the last 50 years in terms of its foreign policies and approaches to strategic cooperation. In terms of India’s national interests related to the context of its present external and internal threats, the imperatives of strategic cooperation with countries willing to contribute to enhancement of India’s security, becomes inescapable. Israel as the preceding survey would indicate, is a prime example of a country willing to go the whole length for strategic cooperation with India. That it is willing to do so without pre-conditions or succumbing to pressures from other countries, makes it a safe source for meeting India’s defence needs. India is in dire need today to reform its intelligence apparatus and add teeth to its counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism responses. Israel has expressed its readiness to assist in these fields and can be expected to provide blueprints appropriate to Indian requirements.

        United States, Russia and China especially, all have noticeable political, economic and defence cooperation with Israel, currently. Arab countries of West Asia have accepted this pattern. There should be no logical reason for them to be concerned about India - Israel strategic cooperation either. Israel’s practical approaches on India’s close relations with Iran do not also either come in the way. Bar Illan, Senior Adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had commented on this in 1997 that "countries that keep good terms with Israel and at the same time maintain good relations with Iran without providing them arms, could be used as conduits for dialogue" 31 China is a case in instance. India could be a better conduit.

        India's national interests are paramount and these dictate the enhancement of India-Israel strategic cooperation. In terms of strategically educating itself from Israeli experience, India could learn to have the will to use power, unapologetically.




        1. BR Nanda Ed. 'India’s Foreign Policy : The Nehru Years', Delhi,Vikas      Publishing Ltd. 1976. P75

        2.  Ibid P 69

        3.  'Asian Age', New Delhi, July 4, 2000 based on ‘India Abroad News Service’ despatch by P. Jayaram. The item was headlined "Greed for Muslim Votes Restricted all Ties with Israel: Jaswant Blames Politicians for Decades of Estrangement." P 3

        4.  Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, 'Every Spy a Prince' – Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990 See Pages 436 and 437.

        5.  Ibid P 157

        6.  Lt. Gen R. K. Jasbir Singh (retd.) Ed. 'India Defence Year Book 1998 – 1999', Dehradun PP 119 – 120.

        7.  Ibid P 119.

        8.  'Every Spy a Prince' (1990) PP 1-2.

        9.  Ibid P 5.

        10.  Ibid P 13.

        11.  Ibid P 413.

        12.  'India Defence Year Book  1998 – 99'. P 117.

        13.  Ibid P 119.

        14.  'Far Eastern  Economic Review' June 29, 2000. P 10. Article entitled "India Works with Israeli Intelligence".

        15.  'Asiaweek', June 30, 2000. Newsitem entitled "India – Israel Growing Ties."

        16.  See 'Outlook' Issue of July 2000. PP 20 – 21. Remarks were made by Israeli Ambassador Dr. Yehoyad Haim. He also highlighted that a very unique affinity exist between Jews and Indians.

        17.  'Indian Express', July 3, 2000. P12, Newsitem entitled "India Israel Talk Business."

        18.  'Far Eastern Economic Review', July 13, 2000. P 8. Newsitem entitled 
        "India Shops for Israeli Air Defence".

        19.  Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 'Annual Report 1998 – 99'. P 44.

        20.  'Janes Defence Weekly (JDW)', April 5, 2000 issue. P15

        21.  JDW March 22, 2000 P 14.

        22. See JDW issues of May 5, 2000 (P4) and June 9, 2000 (P8).

        23.  'Defense News', Vol 15 No. 12. March 27, 2000.

        24.  'Flight International', May 19 – 25 1999.

        25.  'Aviation Week & Space Technology', October 18, 1999.

        26.  'Indian Express' July 3, 2000 P 12.

        27.  'Defense News', Vol 15 No. 9, May 15, 2000 P11.

        28.  Israeli capabilities can be referred do in 'Every Spy a Prince' (1990) PP423-424.,  Also see JDW, Jul 14, 1999.

        29.  For details of Israeli progress in this fields see JDW, March 29, 2000. P24.

        30.  Israel has provided a sizeable quantity of battlefield surveillance radars for artillery and infantry. India is interested in missile detection radars. India is also considering Synthetic Aperture Radars (SARs) pods for its MIG27 combat aircraft. See 'Flight International', May 13, 1999.

        31.  'India Defence Year Book'  (1998-99). P118.