Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

August 2000 (Vol. XXIV No. 5)


Indo-Israel Military Cooperation
By Farah Naaz *


India’s relations with Israel lay dormant for about four decades. However, the changes in the international geo-strategic environment compelled India to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. The main events that compelled India to reconsider the decision of establishing diplomatic ties with Israel were–the Gulf War which seriously undermined the unity of the Arab world, end of the cold war, which had a positive impact on the peaceful solutions of many international problems, for example; Arab Israeli peace talks, urgent need for better relations with the US, Pakistan’s propaganda against India in the West Asian and North African states in order to establish an Islamic bloc and to internationalise the Kashmir issue, lack of support from the Arab countries during the time of crisis and their support to Pakistan at the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) meetings, and less consideration for the Muslim vote bank in the calculation of the regime in power, on the domestic front. Besides this, India was also aware of Israel’s achievements in agricultural technologies as well as better industrial know-how which could create a big scope for cooperation.

The normalisation of relations left both countries to explore as many areas as possible. While Indo-Israel relations increased rapidly in the field of trade and agriculture, both the countries continued to explore as many areas as possible for mutual co-operation. ‘Military’ is one such area which both the countries are exploring.

In the military field, the former Soviet Union has been a strong and traditional friend and partner of India. Though the collapse of Soviet Union affected the Russian military industrial complex and their production capacity has come down from what it was in the Soviet era, but their products are export oriented and relatively low priced.

Israel on the other hand, is a late entrant in establishing diplomatic relations with India but has emerged as an important partner in various fields including the military field. Such cooperation is based on India’s realistic assesment of the global and regional security environment as well as technological requirement.


Indian Defence Industry

India has a diverse modern military industry. India’s arms acquisition has been motivated by a number of political, economic and security considerations. The past experiences of India in several armed conflicts with its neighbours led to efforts by the government to intensify both indigenous military hardware production and the import of arms.

Military strength was considered important to meet external threats, to provide backing for India’s position in world affairs, to enhance its struggle for regional powers status, for national prestige and to fulfil its wish to be recognised as a technologically advanced country.

India has kept before itself the goal of self-reliance. The two most important aspects of self-reliance have been hedging against any disruption in the supply of spare parts caused by changes in the international political system and fielding systems that are appropriate for the special conditions of the subcontinent, especially the high altitudes of the Himalayan mountains, the heat and dust of the Rajasthan desert and the high ambient temperature of the Indian ocean. 1 Indian military and industrial leaders have sought state-of-the-art weaponry, not only to ensure technological advantage, but also to demonstrate that India’s capabilities compare favourably with those of industrialised countries. Local production from indigenous designs was also intended to help the balance of payments and provide employment for those with scientific and technical skills who might otherwise seek opportunities abroad. Indigenous designs were also intended to foster India’s international prestige and save on foreign exchange. 2

India recognised the need to make its military manufacturing complex more capable by indigenously producing weapons when its chief supplier, the Soviet Union, disintegrated. Despite an energetic drive for technological independence, India imports major systems and components in great volume. India’s defence officials have indicated that they needed as many as 100,000 spare parts to maintain aircraft, tanks, guns, armaments, missiles, naval vessels and other weapons procured from the erstwhile Soviet Union. 3 Programmes such as Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Main Battle Tank, Arjun and Advanced Light Helicopter though indigenous have an unusually high precentage of imported components. 4 Each of the three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) requires equipment which includes new fighter aircraft, frigates, submarines and missile systems as well as electronic warfare systems, new transports and new helicopters. It also has requirements to revamp its communications and air defence systems. Moreover the cash strapped military has been severely limited in its ability to modernise. 5

India however is accelerating its self-reliance programme. Given the problems with Russian purchases, there was a need to diversify purchases. Many looked at the Israeli offer in this context, where it was believed that there would be no strings attached. India could seek Israeli technology and expertise in both lethal and non-lethal areas in which Israel has some credible achievements. It included weapons systems as well as support equipments like radar, electronic warfare equipment and a range of engineering items used in border fencing. Israelis are adept at the upgradation of armaments. The biggest advantage of seeking military cooperation with Israel lies in the fact that its technology is largely indigenous and facilitates technology transfer with no end user problem. Given the resource crunch India is not in a position to buy much military hardware. The answer therefore lies in upgradation of the existing armaments and the acquisition of force multipliers.


Israeli Military Industrial Complex

Israel had been motivated to develop its armed industry essentially because of security threats, vulnerability to manipulations by the (embargoes), national pride, employment in high technology, and import substitution and export potential.

Israel has acquired a great degree of self-sufficiency in arms build up. In addition to light arms, ammunition and communications devices, other Israeli weaponry included force multipliers, remotely piloted vehicles, electronic and anti electronic warfare systems, night vision devices, and naval equipment ranging from command and control systems, missiles and anti missile systems to a variety of patrol boats. Israeli hi-tech companies are known to be among world leaders in radar, avionics and command and control systems.

Defence firms in Israel have carved out a technological niche for which they are gaining worldwide recognition in the upgradation of weapons systems. Early efforts of Israel’s defence industry focussed on delivering basic weapon systems such as tanks, fighter aircraft, artillery and patrol boats. Now it has shifted its focus from developing new platforms to its expertise in crafting advanced electronic subsystems. By focussing on advanced electronic subsystems, Israel’s military industry has crafted scores of technologically advanced components that give 20 or 30 year old weapon systems new life and a qualitative edge and improves the capabilities of fighter aircraft, helicopters, combat vehicles, and command, control, communication, and intelligence systems. 6

Earnings from weapons exports are seen as essential for, firstly, the well-being of the Israeli defence industries, which in turn is the corner-stone of the country’s security, secondly, for the shoring up of its economy and finally, to support the Research and Development that enables Israel to maintain a leading edge in weapons technology. 7 Besides, the development cost of many Israeli projects is dependent on income from exports. “Certain projects would not have been undertaken, if there was no expectation of exports. Without exports some industries would collapse and certain projects would have to be abandoned”. 8 It is because of the arms exports that the Israeli arms industry is able to flourish.

The dominant policy impulse with Israel, so far as ties with India are concerned is to seek broader and deeper engagement with New Delhi. During Israeli President Ezer Weizman’s visit to India, Doron Suslik, Director of Corporate Communications of Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) affirmed that India is one of Israel’s important markets. He said Israel would be responsive to Indian requirements in producing military and civil aircraft and its need in high technology and computer software. Israel’s approach was not what could be called “in a donor’s mode”. 9 Businessmen in Weizman’s delegation clarified that they were looking for linkages with Indian firms not only for marketing Israeli products, but also to jointly design and evolve new software and technologies for export to other third world countries. 10


Military Cooperation

Pre-normalisation period

The motivations of both India and Israel pushed them into the global arena and made them suitable partners in the military area.

Though the basic structure of the Indo-Israel relations was laid down by India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, who kept the relations at a low key in deference to the value he attached to the relations with the Arab countries, the Israeli authorities nevertheless tried from time to time to upgrade the relationship. All the successive governments in New Delhi showed the courtesies to the visiting officials without upgrading the level of diplomatic representations and sought Israeli help in military matters. Before the two countries established full diplomatic relations, they clandestinely cooperated on military and intelligence matters. It was in January 1963, three months after the border conflict with China, that the government of India showed willingness to consult the Israeli specialists in military matters. In was then that the Israeli Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Military Intelligence were welcomed to New Delhi for an exchange of views with some of India’s military top brass, including the Chief of Army Staff. 11

In subsequent years, Israeli dignitaries visited India from time to time, for example, Mr. Yigal Alon, a member of the Israeli cabinet in 1965 12 and Moshe Dayan in 1977. 13

There was also prolonged cooperation between India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad (Israeli secret agency). Such cooperation existed even during the premiership of Indira Gandhi, (1966-77 and 1980-84) and Rajiv Gandhi (1984-1989). 14

India’s secret contacts with Israel were also substantiated by other sources. According to a controversial book, “By Way of Deception” written by Victor Ostrovsky, a former Israeli agent and a weapons testing expert, recruited by Mosad, India sent a secret mission to Israel, comprising top flight nuclear scientists in 1984. According to him the secret Indian mission came to Israel to exchange information. 15

Post Normalisation Period

Since establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, there had been more than 50 military related visits, contacts and consultations between India and Israel. Israel was more forthcoming in talking of defence ties and in fact offered to help India in defence matters. While Israel was more than eager to enter into a collaborative partnership with India in military production and anti terrorist measures, the Indian government was reluctant to respond. According to S. Krishna Kumar, Minister of State for Defence, “there was no proposal, no initiative, no offer for any kind of defence ties with that country–that subject had not even been formally discussed in the Defence Ministry.” 16

India’s traditional Arab policy had been mainly responsible for this, which itself was dictated by two major considerations. First, Arab countries being the largest suppliers of oil to India and source of hard currency remittance from NRIs (Non Resident Indians), India did not want to antagonise them by entering into diplomatic relations with a country hostile to them. Secondly, Congress doggedly persisted in its belief that having diplomatic relations with Israel would prejudice its electoral prospects at home by alienating the Muslim population.

Though at the outset the Indian government avoided talking of military cooperation in public, but its interest in getting help from Israel could not be hidden. Defence Minister Sharad Pawar, indicated that the formal establishment of full diplomatic ties between India and Israel paved the way for drawing on Israel’s successful experience to curb terrorism. And that India would like to get acqainted with Israel’s experience in developing technology for anti-terrorist operations. 17 Krishna Kumar too said, “technically no country could be excluded in such matters and that Israel had certain defence capabilities worth noting.” 18

By mid 1992, India and Israel had made considerable progress on the possibilities of cooperation in military matters. A six member Israeli defence team visited India and had meetings with several ministry officials. 19 The team had come at the invitation of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) but gave no details of the talks. This visit (within five months of establishing full diplomatic relations between the two countries) was a significant indicator of the rapid progress in Indo-Israel ties.

Positive signs were seen from both sides from time to time. In an interview, Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin talked very positively of defence ties with India. “I believe if there is interest on the part of India, I believe there is room for it. We are more than ready to cooperate with India in the field of defence whenever and wherever it suits India. 20 Regarding fundamentalism and terrorism, Rabin had said that they had been a victim of this for a long time and emphasised that the same had been the concern of India. 21 J. N. Dixit’s visit to Tel Aviv in the wake of the Bombay blasts, added to the speculation that cooperation in combating terrorism was a possible area of common interest. 22

In May 1993, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres visited India. Peres too dealt with the issues of terrorism and India’s territorial integrity. He also supported India’s stand on Kashmir. “We support fully and completely the territorial integrity of India and agree with the Shimla Agreement.” 23

General Helz Bodinger from Israel visited India in the first week of April 1995. During his visit India was offered a package deal, which included Airborne Warning and Control Systems, Remotely Piloted Vehicles, access to an air platform for anti detection and anti jamming manoeuvre and specialised weapons. 24 In July 1995, a high level Indian team, led by Defence Secretary, K.A. Nambiar, visited Israel. The defence Secretary’s visit was necessitated by the urgency to identify the avionics and weapons systems for MIG-21 Bis, which was being upgraded for India under the Indo-Russian joint venture. The talks on the upgradation of the Russian T-72 tank too were part of the agenda. At that time India also showed interest in Remotely Piloted Vehicles. 25

President Ezer Weizman visited India in January 1997. He underlined India as a potential partner in the area of aircraft industry. 26 During his visit the two countries decided to exchange military attaches. Following the visit, senior Indian officials, visited Israel and inspected advanced defence systems. India’s top defence ministry scientists too were reported to have visited Israel secretly and toured satellite and missile programmes. 27 A few days after India tested its nuclear devices in May 1998, a top ranking delegation from the IAI toured India. The purpose was to accelerate the sale of Israeli made pilotless aircraft anti-ship missiles. 28

India’s Defence Secretary T.K. Banerjee led a high level defence delegation to Israel in February 1997. 29 The Chief of Army Staff General V.P. Malik visited Israel from March 8-13, 1998. 30 According to India’s military attache Col. Brown it was a goodwill visit. “We are looking forward to building a long lasting defence relationship”. 31

In 1998, the IAI finalised a large scale deal with India to sell Advanced Electronic Equipment (AEEA). 32 The equipment was developed and manufactured in Israel and comprised no American technology. Both the countries Israel and India have been engaged in negotiations over AEE for over a year and an Indian delegation even visited Israel to inspect the equipment. The US was against this deal due to the nuclear tests that India had conducted in May 1998. It demanded that Israel should halt these negotiations. The US pressure on Israel started after India carried out nuclear tests, whereas in the past the US did not oppose arms deals between the two countries. According to the US, the deal violated an international arms control treaty. Israel did not agree 33 and resisted American pressure to cancel the sale of AEE to India. Israeli officials assured New Delhi, that contracts, negotiated over the past year would be honoured. 34 According to a later report, Israel sold advanced electronic warfare system to India over objections from the US which sought to block the deal after India conducted nuclear tests explosions in May 1998. The report did not elaborate but stated that it was for defensive purposes. Similarly, a spokesman for IAI declined to make any comment. 35

During the recent incidents in Kashmir, Israel agreed to speed up shipments of arms and military equipment to India on the request of the Indian government to accelerate the arms orders, which were submitted before the recent developments. The Israeli defence establishment responded favourably. 36

India and Israel have maintained extensive security cooperation in recent years. Prime Minister Ehud Barak has taken interest in the development of relations with India and even held a special debate on the matter. The two countries maintain two forums for conferring, one between their respective foreign ministries and the other between the defence ministries. At periodic meetings, the parties exchange analyses of the situation in the Middle East and Asia. 37

At the base of the relationship between India and Israel there appeared to be a similarity in an understanding of the geo-political situation. Both are surrounded by strong and hostile neighbours. According to a senior Israeli official, “From the moment we established diplomatic relations seven years ago, we found a common language”. 38 According to him, there was a deep understanding between the two countries to have a fluent and clear dialogue.

A number of ongoing programmers in India are not radically different from their Israeli counterparts. They include the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) (Israel’s Lavi), Arjun (Merkava), Prithvi (Jericho I), and Agni (Jericho II). The same can be said about a number of other Indian programmes such as Remotely Piloted Vehicles, Airborne Early Warning System, and anti-ballistic missile systems. 39 In this India can benefit from Israel as Israeli weapons are more advanced and battle tested.


Areas of Cooperation

Upgrading of Aircraft

MiGs: Since the early 1990s, India has embarked upon the upgrading of its MiG fleet. In order to upgrade the aging MiG-21s (which would be replaced by the LCA in the early part of the next decade–2005-2020), the Indian Ministry of Defence considered offers from manufacturers in several countries including France, Russia and Israel besides considering a joint proposal from two state owned Indian aerospace manufacturers (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). 40 During the same year Israel intensified its efforts to secure the lucrative contract to upgrade the MiG-21 bis aircraft operating with the IAF. According to industry sources, representatives of IAI and Elta (a subsidiary of the IAI that manufactures electronic weapons systems have had several rounds of discussions with senior officials in the defence ministry. While the IAI package was expensive, Israel insisted on the technical superiority of their package over the Russian one. 41

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, India’s avionics selection is multinational and that Israel was to improve the MiG-21 cockpit layout, including a head-up display. 42 During the same year, there were reports that the IAI had been given the contract for installing the electronic warfare equipment in the MiG upgrade that the IAF had embarked upon. 43 However, according to the latest reports, the upgradation of two Mig-21 aircraft are underway in Russia. After that the upgradation of the rest of the aircraft will be in India.

Light Combat Aircraft

India’s 17 year old LCA programme, delayed by more than a decade, continues to be plagued by serious technical uncertainties and cost overruns, according to India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The CAG report stated that it was beset with delays for almost every vital component of the aircraft and has compelled the Indian Air Force (IAF) to seek interim measures to cover the shortfall of aircraft by upgrading around 125 MiG 21 bis fighters. The LCA was originally expected to begin replacing the Mig 21s which form the backbone of the IAF, by late 1990s. LCA’s airframe, multimode radar, its flight control system are all behind schedule. 44

Also the first two LCA prototypes were to be powered by US General Electric F404-FJ23 engines (which were bought in 1986 for the prototype LCAs) despite protests from the US government after Washington imposed sanctions on India for its 1998 nuclear tests. The US engines would ultimately be replaced by the locally developed Kaveri, which has undergone extensive testing in Russia. 45 According to Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, head of the DRDO and scientific adviser to the government, each LCA was expected to cost $22 million and that foreign participation will bring down its cost to $15-$18 million. 46

Israeli experience in avionics, airframes and the incorporation of engine and weapons into the airframe can be useful in the development of LCA. 47

Advanced Light Helicopters: The development of Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) had been adversely affected after Washington imposed sanctions on India for the 1998 nuclear testing. The US embargo resulted in almost total stoppage of activity in regard to the ALH as it stopped getting the turbo shaft engine from the US. It was recommended that the government swiftly seek an alternative engine supplier and avoid all future dealings with companies in sanctions imposing countries. 48 Here again Israeli technology and expertise can be explored in order to remove the difficulties.

Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS): India was keen to collaborate with Israel in the indigenous AWACS development project. The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) received a proposal from the IAI on the probability of the collaboration in the project. 49 According to the sources in the Ministry of Defence, Israel offered to sell 3 AWACS aircraft to India. But finally, in a recent move, the Indian Air Force got two advanced early warning aircraft from Russia. They have landed at the Chandigarh airbase. 50 According to the published data, one of the variants of the aircraft is a Russia-Israel joint venture. Though the Centre for Airborne Systems in India is developing an Airborne Early Warning Systems for the Indian armed forces, the need for AWACS has been expedited by the recent Pakistan backed infiltration in Kargil. The need for the aircraft was hastened because India needed to keep a strict vigil on any movement in Indian and Pakistani airspace, along the Line of Control and the international borders. 51 The Kargil experience underscored the importance of the state-of-the-art surveillance capabilities.

Surveillance Equipments: Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs)/Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs)

UAVs are increasingly being viewed as strategic force multipliers since they send virtual real time data and pictures from deep inside the enemy territory while safely dodging enemy radars. It can give data on enemy’s force deployment, kind of weapons and equipment deployed and the level of enemy’s defence preparedness along borders.

The Israelis are among the world leaders in the field of UAV manufacturing. The Israeli UAVs are much smaller, lighter and thus have more manoeuverability and strategic value. The IAI, an established player in the UAV market has proved that there was significant export opportunity. During the Paris air show held in June 1995, the Israelis displayed its largest range of UAVs. 52

Airborne surveillance has been one of the key areas of Indo-Israel defence cooperation. India and Israel have already signed a contract for UAVs to boost India’s air surveillance arm. 53 Both the countries are exploring joint production of UAVs. Negotiations on potential joint production of the ‘heron’ UAV for the Indian Navy have already reached an advanced stage. 54 The “heron” is the most modern UAV made by the IAI and has a longer range and more sophisticated payload than the ’searcher’ which India had first agreed to buy from Israel in 1996. 55 According to the latest reports, India is all set to import from Israel more sophisticated and higher range UAVs for more effective surveillance of the high altitude ranges in Jammu and Kashmir bordering Pakistan. 56

Acquisition of UAVs has become all the more important after the Kargil experience. It was considered as one of the high priority requirements by the IAF. The Indian Air Force Chief A.Y. Tipnis confirmed, that the IAF had stressed for immediate induction of the UAVs for more intensive human intelligence of the 140 km long difficult stretch of high altitude ranges along the line of control in Kargil sector. 57 The Indian armed services already have a few UAVs at their disposal which were used during the Kargil war, but unfortunately the UAVs were not found to be that effective as world class UAVs are, mainly because not many international UAV manufacturing companies are manufacturing high altitude UAVs.

As regards the RPVs, the MOD has reached the final stage of the deal with Israel. India was planning to have one time purchase of RPVs including technology transfer which will not only fill India’s operational requirements, but also help develop the indigenous RPV project. 58

Main Battle Tank (MBT)

Another very important DRDO project concerning combat vehicles is the indigenous design, development and production of the Main Battle Tank, Arjun, which is supposed to replace the older, license produced, Vijayanta tanks. The MBT project began in the 1970s, with the original plan envisaging deployment in the mid 1980s. However in view of critical changes in technologies over the years, the army’s requirements for the tank were also successfully altered and which in turn revised costs. 59 According to Indian defence industry sources, the chassis intended for the Arjun MBT has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns. 60 Israeli expertise again can be found to be of great help in this area as Arjun is the counterpart of the Israeli tank, Merkava.


India launched its ambitious, Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme in 1983. This programme involved design, development and production of five missile systems: Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Agni, surface to surface missile, Prithvi, short range surface to air missile, Trishul, medium range surface to air missile Aakash and the anti tank missile, Nag. Israel has an impressive arsenal of indigenous missiles including ship to ship missile Gabriel, air to air missile Python, air to surface missile, Popeye, surface to surface missile, Jericho I and IRBM Jericho II. They were developed and some even deployed prior to India’s guided missile development programme in the early 1980s, and hence are more advanced and battle tested. 61

Israel is in a good position to help develop more effective and cost efficient missile defences. According to media reports, India is negotiating for Israeli missile technology to perfect the launching and guidance systems of the Prithvi, an indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile and also seeking Israeli help in electronics for its submarine launched Sagarika missile. 62

India has also sought certain technical assistance from Israel to develop Akash, the countrys indigenous missile system. These missiles can counter the threat posed by M-11 acquired by Pakistan. Israel is also helping India in developing state-of-the-art air to air missiles. 63


India and Israel are collaborating on IAI’s ‘super Dvora’ Mark II, Fast Attack Craft. In 1997, India purchased two Super Dvora Mark II attack boats and has been licenced to build another four. 64 It was followed by awarding the contract to IAI’s Ramta Division, Beersheba and Goa Shipyards limited for the production of the crafts. 65 It is reported that if India’s efforts towards fast patrol boats are successful, the two could jointly produce upto 80 boats for India’s Navy and Coast Guard. 66

According to other reports, Israeli firms have also upgraded electronic warfare equipments for the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat. 67

Maritime surveillance: Israel has offered its advanced multimode maritime surveillance radar to the Indian Navy to counter the threat from the Pakistani naval fleet which is equipped with the US made P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft. David Traim, Deputy Director Elta Electronics of the IAI informed that a proposal offering the radar to the Navy has been submitted to the Indian Defence Ministry. The Israeli radar will largely meet the immediate requirements of the Navy and can be fitted on to patrol helicopters. 68

Nuclear Issue

After the nuclear explosion by India in May 1998, both India and Israel have come in for criticism and unsubstantiated charges about cooperation in the nuclear field have been tossed around. The Indian diplomats denied the speculation that Israel assisted India in the May tests 69 and regarded the allegations of Indo-Israeli cooperation in nuclear and missile fields as baseless. Ranjin Mathai, Indian Ambassador to Israel denied any relationship with Israel in the nuclear field. 70 The same was also denied by the External Affairs Ministry spokesman who stated that, “while India had interaction with Israel in various fields, they had nothing to do with its nuclear programme.” 71 Israel took the same stand. Alon Ben David, Israel’s Army affairs correspondent said–"It is important to stress that the defence ties between India and Israel did not deal with nuclear issues, only conventional arms export.” 72

So far as Israel’s response to India’s nuclear tests was concerned, Israel’s Foreign Ministry did not condemn India’s nuclear weapons test. The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr. Haim Koren refrained from issuing a special condemnation of Indian tests and refused to say whether Israel would impose sanctions on India or re-examine the close military ties between the two countries. 73 The Foreign Ministry of Israel however stated that “Israel has signed the CTBT that prohibits any nuclear weapons test explosions or any other nuclear explosion and we hope all states will become parties to this treaty.” 74 There is however a section in Israel which brought forth the view that India’s nuclear tests could indirectly pose a threat to Israel. According to Haifa University security specialist Professor Gabriel Ben-Dor, this was very bad for Israel from several points of view. “Firstly it raises the question of punitive US action against India which might, in the future, be considered a precedent for similar action against Israel. Secondly, the Indian tests are likely to give momentum to the Pakistani nuclear programme and give it more legitimacy... The Pakistani nuclear programme is supposed to be the source of the so called Islamic bomb.” 75 The same fear was expressed by David Bar Illan, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “We are worried that Pakistani tests will encourage Tehran and Baghdad to acquire nuclear weapons.” 76

Indo-Israel military cooperation did not seem to fade in the wake of nuclear explosions by India. According to a report, Israel was providing India with intelligence on Pakistan from its spy satellite. In return, India gave permission for Israeli military intelligence experts to undertake missions on Indian territory to monitor points of interest. 77 Also, the deal on AEE was made after the May tests.

US Factor

Israel is immensely dependent upon the US for its military support besides political and economic. A lot of Israeli military equipment has US components. For the export of these items Israel has to seek the consent of the US. In 1991, Israel was brought under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and this seriously limited Israel’s ability to export sensitive technologies to India. For example, the Arrow anti-missile project, developed by Israel and funded by the US comes under the technology rights agreement between the US and Israel. As India is not a close ally of the US, this would impede any Israeli transfer of Arrow missiles or technologies to India in case India needs that technology. 78 The US also tried to bloc the sale of AEE from Israel to India even though it contained no American technology.



India’s military needs are likely to grow. There are tremendous constraints on upgrading and modernising the armed forces. Though the Indian policy makers have decided to be self-sufficient in core technologies like missiles, tanks and air craft, there is a vast need for inputs, import of components and collaboration. Moreover, the cost of doing research and development can be crippling in economic terms.

The major problems encountered in producing indigenously developed weapons are, first, the indigenous projects rely to a large extent on technical assistance from abroad, and secondly, they have a long research and development gestation period and the delayed production has led to the manufacture of weapons that were already obsolete by the time series production started. The hope to move gradually from the import of arms via licenced production towards indigenous development and production of arms has so far not been realised. There is a definite business potential for new entrants to supply military equipment to the Indian armed forces. Here, besides other countries, Israel is engaged in supplying India with state-of-the-art equipment and technologies. The biggest benefit of military cooperation with Israel can be in the areas of electronics, missile technology and intelligence. Israel has vast experience of fighting in both stony and sand dune waste areas. Given a similar desert terrain in India, a regular interaction between the two armies can be useful.

In essence, Indo-Israel relations have grown in importance because it is based on very practical considerations. For India, Israel is a source of high technology in many including military related industries and it is evidently even more vital after post-Pokhran sanctions on India. Building ties with Israel could be an effective counter-balance to Pakistan’s military and political tactics. For Israel, India is a large and lucrative market. Any meaningful relationship between India and Israel is more likely to cover joint research, joint production and technology transfer.



Note *: Associate Fellow, IDSA  Back.

Note 1: Jane’s Defence Contract, June 1997, p. 7.  Back.

Note 2: Jane’s Defence Contract, June 1997, p. 7.  Back.

Note 3: Jane’s Defence Contract, June 1997, p. 7.  Back.

Note 4: Jane’s Defence Contract, June 1997, p. 7.  Back.

Note 5: Observer of Business and Politics, March 9, 1998.  Back.

Note 6: Jason Sherman, “Niche Carving: Subsystem Upgades Catapult Israel Defence Industries to New Heights”, Armed Forces Journal, vol. 134, no. 12, July 1997, p. 34.  Back.

Note 7: Bishara Bahbah, Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection, (London: The Macmillan Press Limited, 1986), p. 7.  Back.

Note 8: Ibid., p. 8.  Back.

Note 9: “Special Focus: Indo-Israeli Defence Cooperation”, Indian Defence Year Book 1998-99, (Dehradun: Natraj Publishers, 1998), p. 119.  Back.

Note 10: Ibid., pp. 119-120.  Back.

Note 11: The Hindustan Times, May 15, 1980.  Back.

Note 12: Ibid.  Back.

Note 13: Moshe Dayan, Breakthrough, (New Delhi: Vikas Publications, 1981), pp. 26-27.  Back.

Note 14: For details see, P.R. Kumaraswamy, India and Israel: Evolving Strategic Partnership, Security and Policy Studies no. 40, (Ramar Gan (Israel): Begin and Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, 1998), p. 5.  Back.

Note 15: Indian Express, September 19, 1990, Pioneer, April 1, 1993, and Bidanda Chengappa, “Indo-Israel Relations: the Great Leap Forward”, Indian Defence Review, 1993, p. 108.  Back.

Note 16: The Statesman, February 28, 1992.  Back.

Note 17: The Times of India, February 22, 1992.  Back.

Note 18: The Statesman, n. 16.  Back.

Note 19: Telegraph, May 29, 1992.  Back.

Note 20: Strategic Digest, vol. 23, no. 12, December 1993, p. 2014.  Back.

Note 21: The Times of India, March 2, 1993.  Back.

Note 22: The Pioneer, n. 15.  Back.

Note 23: The Hindu, May 19, 1993.  Back.

Note 24: The Hindustan Times, April 8, 1995.  Back.

Note 25: The Hindustan Times, July 8, 1995.  Back.

Note 26: Observer of Business and Politics, n. 5, and MEA Report 96-97 (New Delhi, Government of India).  Back.

Note 27: Ibid.  Back.

Note 28: International Herald Tribune, June 10, 1998.  Back.

Note 29: The Hindu, February 5, 1997.  Back.

Note 30: Annual Report, Ministry of External Affairs, 1997-98 (New Delhi: Government of India) p. 54.  Back.

Note 31: Observer of Business and Politics, n. 5.  Back.

Note 32: SWB/ME/0552, August 25, 1998, p. 10.  Back.

Note 33: Ibid., pp. 10-11.  Back.

Note 34: The Statesman, August 20, 1998.  Back.

Note 35: Asian Recorder, vol. 45, no. 22, May 28-June 3, 1999, p. 28151.  Back.

Note 36: Ha'aretz, August 12, 1999.  Back.

Note 37: Ibid.  Back.

Note 38: Ibid.  Back.

Note 39: The Times of India, August 25, 1998. See also, P.R. Kumaraswamy, n. 14, p. 37.  Back.

Note 40: “Indian Industry offers MiG-21 Upgrades”, Strategic Digest, vol. 23, no. 10, October 1993, p. 1765.  Back.

Note 41: “Israel intensifies efforts to bag MiG-21 upgradation contract”, Strategic Digest, n. 20, pp. 2086-87.  Back.

Note 42: Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 25, no. 4, January 24, 1996, p. 13.  Back.

Note 43: The Hindu Business Line, April 22, 1996.  Back.

Note 44: “Technical and Cost Problems Stall India’s LCA”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 33, no. 6, February 9, 2000, p. 14.  Back.

Note 45: Ibid.  Back.

Note 46: “India Rolls out LCA”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 24, no. 22, December 2, 1995, p. 18.  Back.

Note 47: Kumaraswamy, n. 14, p. 27.  Back.

Note 48: “Extra Fighter Aircraft for India”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 33, no. 21, May 26, 1999, p. 15.  Back.

Note 49: Indian Defence Year Book, 1998-99, n. 9, p. 122.  Back.

Note 50: Asian Recorder, vol. 45, no. 37, September 10-16, 1999, p. 28387; The Hindustan Times, April 6, 2000.  Back.

Note 51: Ibid.  Back.

Note 52: “The Unmanned Air Vehicles Comes of Age”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 24, no. 3, July 22, 1995, p. 21 and “UAVs take off into a multifunction future,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 24, no. 6, August 12, 1995, p. 33.  Back.

Note 53: Indian Defence Year Book 1998-99, n. 9, p. 123.  Back.

Note 54: The Hindu, May 22, 1998.  Back.

Note 55: Ibid.  Back.

Note 56: Newstime, February 12, 2000. A UAV is ideal for surveillance on the 704 km long LoC, 140 km of which falls in high altitude ranging from 13,000 ft to 19,000 ft.  Back.

Note 57: Ibid.  Back.

Note 58: Newstime, December 28, 1998. See also, Indian Defence Year Book 1998-99, n. 9, p. 124. RPVs are small computerised aeroplanes capable of sending intelligence via visuals even from hundreds of miles away from their control base. Their mission profile also includes gathering real time reconnaissance, guiding artillery fire during war and designating laser guided bombs. The MoD opened negotiations with the IAI as the DRDO was anxious to utilise the accompanying transfer of technology not only to develop Falcon but also Lakshya, the locally developed Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA).  Back.

Note 59: Indian Defence Year Book 1998-99, n. 9, pp. 517-18.  Back.

Note 60: Jane’s Defence Weekly, vol. 31, no. 13, March 31, 1999, p. 14.  Back.

Note 61: Kumaraswamy, n. 14, pp. 29-31.  Back.

Note 62: Observer of Business and Politics, n. 5.  Back.

Note 63: The Hindustan Times, February 13, 1997.  Back.

Note 64: Observer of Business and Politics, n. 5, and Indian Defence Year Book, 1998-99, p. 123.  Back.

Note 65: Indian Defence Year Book 1998-99, p. 123.  Back.

Note 66: The Hindu, May 22, 1998.  Back.

Note 67: Observer of Business and Politics, n. 5.  Back.

Note 68: For details see, Indian Defence Year Book 1998-99, n. 9, pp. 122-23.  Back.

Note 69: The Statesman, August 20, 1998.  Back.

Note 70: SWB/ME/3246, June 6, 1998, p. 7.  Back.

Note 71: SWB/ME/3247, June 8, 1998, p. 10.  Back.

Note 72: SWB/ME/ n. 70.  Back.

Note 73: The Hindu, May 14, 1998.  Back.

Note 74: Internal Paper, Ministry of External Affairs, (New Delhi, Government of India), and Ibid.  Back.

Note 75: Jerusalem Post, May 14, 1998.  Back.

Note 76: International Herald Tribune, May 30, 1998.  Back.

Note 77: The Hindu, June 13, 1998.  Back.

Note 78: P.R. Kumaraswamy, “Indo-Israel Military Relations: Prospects and Limitations”, Indian Defence Review, vol. 8, no. 3, July 1993, p. 50; and SWB/MEW/0556, September 22, 1998, p. 7.  Back.