India and Israel recently celebrated 25 years of their diplomatic relations, which began in 1992. India recognized the State of Israel on 17 September 1950. Following India’s recognition of Israel in 1950, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stated, “we would have [recognised Israel] long ago, because Israel is a fact. We refrained because of our desire not to offend the sentiments of our friends in the Arab countries.”
Now on the anniversary of India-Israel’s 25 year old diplomatic relations and yet in another diplomatic masterstroke, India’s Modi has now fully aligned India with Israel. While India has been enjoying great relations with Israel for a long time, this new realignment is being seen by analysts as Modi’s confidence in India and what it can bring to the table. Indeed, good relations with Israel have and will continue to benefit India, something that is hard to digest for Pakistan, where many actually hate Israel more than India even though Pakistan and Israel have never gone to war. Modi has also all but trashed Pakistan’s old, burnt out argument that Pakistan doesn’t make relations with Israel because it doesn’t want to anger the Arabs. One may inquire how was Modi able to align India with Israel after he got Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award. To that, many in Pakistan would say India is an economic giant and can afford to do something like that, but to me those are just lame excuses to cover up own shortcomings and failures.
Now India has cashed in its Israel card and while Pakistanis will continue to ignorantly dismiss it as nothing significant, this new alignment comes at a great cost to Pakistan. This will be proven in the years to come. Modi has also sent a message to US and Russia which goes something like this: we’re no longer dependent on your defense industry alone and we will go where our interests take us.
It is important to note that even without formal diplomatic relations, Indo-Israeli military ties existed during the Cold War. These ties have certainly increased in volume since the 1990s. A constant theme in the history of Indo-Israeli relations has been that their public visibility has been conditioned on who is in power in New Delhi. To be precise, every time a Hindu nationalist government is in power in New Delhi, the visibility of India-Israel ties increases, but not the substance. On the other hand, India’s more liberal Congress Party has historically downplayed India’s ties to the Jewish state. In short, the key difference between the secular-liberal Congress Party and the Hindu nationalist BJP lies in their public-relations management of India-Israel bilateral relationship. The former publicly downplays strategic ties between India and Israel while the latter loudly champions them. Beyond these semantics, however, both political parties maintain largely similar ties with the Jewish state.
India-Israel Alliance – Military and Intelligence Cooperation:
- In 1996, India purchased 32 IAI Searcher UAVs, Electronic Support Measure sensors and an Air Combat Manoeuvering Instrumentation simulator system from Israel. Since then Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has serviced several large contracts with the Indian Air Force including the upgrading of the IAF’s Russian-made MiG-21 ground attack aircraft. There have been further sales of laser-guided bombs.
- In 1997, Israel’s President Ezer Weizman visited India as the first Israeli President to do so and negotiated the first weapons deal with India, involving the purchase of Barak 1 vertically-launched surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. This purchase of Israeli Barak-1 missiles by India was a tactical move against Pakistan since Pakistan had earlier purchased Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and 27 Harpoon sea-skimming anti-ship missiles from the United States.
3. In 2003, India purchased three Phalcon AWACS, fitted with IAI radar equipment mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft at cost of $1 billion from Israel.
4. In 2005, India purchased 50 Israeli drones for $220 million.
5. In 2007, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd signed a US$2.5 billion deal with India to develop an anti-aircraft system and missiles. This was the biggest defence contract in the history of Israel at the time. IAI CEO Yitzhak Nissan visited India to finalise the agreement. IAI has also developed the Barak 8 missile for the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force which is capable of protecting sea vessels and ground facilities from enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. The missile has a range of over 70 kms.
6. On 10th November 2008, a delegation of Indian military officials visited Israel to discuss joint weapons development projects, additional sales of Israeli equipment to the Indian military, and anti-terrorism strategies. This visit was seen as a significant expansion in the Indian-Israeli strategic partnership.
7. Following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Israel offered a team of about 40 SOF and help with the investigations. Magen David Adom dispatched a team of paramedics, medics and other professionals to assist with rescue efforts. However, Manmohan government turned down an offer by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to send counter-terrorist units to help fight the attackers.
9. In March 2011, a new deal was reached between India and Israel as Modi took office as India’s new Prime Minister. Under this new deal, India would buy 8356 Israeli Spike anti-tank missiles, 321 launchers, 15 training simulators and peripheral equipment for $1 billion from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
10. In September 2015, New Delhi approved Indian Air Force’s request to purchase 10 Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
11. In 2015, a delegation from Israel’s Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs led by former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold visited India. Apart from shared strategic interests, Islamist terrorism and the security situation in the Middle East and South Asia, two very important topics were also discussed in these meetings: Pakistan and Kashmir.
12. In 2016, New Delhi approved the purchase of two more Phalcon AWACS from Israel.
13. Israel and India have maintained strong intelligence sharing. India’s premier intelligence agency R&AW and Mossad have worked in close coordination in the past, including in Kashmir. In 1990s, Pakistan feared excessive Israeli involvement in Kashmir and Pakistani intelligence assets in Kashmir attacked Israelis, who Pakistan believed were IDF soldiers posing as Israeli tourists. In one such case, an Israeli was kidnapped by Kashmir Liberation Front in 1991. Later the kidnapped Israeli was released without any harm because Kashmiris feared that Israeli lobby in US will turn against them and lobby US government against Kashmiri groups.
14. An explosive story in 2003 revealed clandestine links between R&AW and Mossad. This story involving R&AW and Mossad spies was extensively covered by Indian media, which was still not as pro-Israel as it is today. For intelligence analysts, this story was a goldmine.
15. In 2015, The Times of India reported that secret agents from Mossad and MI5 protected Indian PM Narendra Modi during his visit to Turkey.
16. India has also been quietly taking advice from Israeli military experts on how to handle the situation in Kashmir. In 2015, Jerusalem Post reported that Indian government has sparked anger, not just among Kashmiri Muslims but also Hindus, by trying to adopt an Israel-inspired settlement policy in India-held Kashmir.
17. Israel has also greatly helped India against Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and Kargil War of 1999. Israel also helped India in its 1962 war against China. Moreover, Israel was among the first countries to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country, right after it had helped India defeat Pakistan. But amusingly enough, despite being among the first countries to recognize Bangladesh and playing an important role in Pakistan’s defeat, Bangladesh didn’t return the favor and still doesn’t recognize Israel. That makes Bangladesh one of the 29 UN member states that don’t recognize Israel.
19. In 2005, Israel launched TecSAR, its first synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite, on India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV. In 2008, TecSAR was successfully inserted into orbit by India’s PSLV. One of its primary functions is to monitor Iran’s military activities.
Israel sees India as a reliable strategic, defense and trade partner in Asia while it sees Pakistan as a potential enemy and China as merely a trading partner. While China-Israel relations are excellent, Pakistan has not helped its case over the years and is still seen by most Israeli strategists as the “Islamic bomb“, a liability.
India is Israel’s top destination for arms exports, buying 41% of Israel’s arms export between 2012 and 2016, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Israel is India’s third-largest source of arms, with a 7.2% share of imports between 2012 and 2016, next to the USA (14%) and Russia (68%).
In September 2016, India conducted successful tests of a new India-Israel jointly developed Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile with a range of 70 km, intended to equip three guided-missile destroyers of the Indian Navy.
India and Israel also closely cooperate on counter-terrorism. This cooperation is only expected to grow after Modi’s visit to Israel.
Indian media was up in arms about Israeli PM Netanyahu referring to India-Israel friendship as a “marriage made in heaven”, which is exactly what Netanyahu said about Israel-China relations earlier while visiting China. While all serious analysts understand that these are just diplomatic one-liners, a question arises here: How does China see Israel’s defense deals with India, considering they not only challenge Pakistan’s position in the region but also China’s. And needless to say, Beijing is eyeing this alliance with much suspicion but at the same time Beijing also understands what’s in it for Israel. Israelis are great businessmen and understanding that, China has started pouring in a lot of money into Israel, hoping to buy as much influence as it can. This influence, however, will be mostly used in China’s interests, not Pakistan’s, regardless how close are China-Pakistan relations.
On Indian PM’s Israel visit, Indian companies have signed twelve strategic agreements with Israel for air defense systems, radars, anti-ship missiles, medium altitude UAVs under tech transfer worth $4.3 billion.
Bangalore-based Dynamatic Technologies and Elcom signed a ‘Strategic Teaming Agreement’ to produce, assemble and support UAVs in India with IAI as part of the Made in India campaign. The joint venture is targeting the lucrative medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV market in India under technology transfer from IAI. The Indian defense ministry invited a response from indigenous manufacturers for procurement of MALE UAVs for use by Indian Army, Air Force and Navy.
Indian company Alpha Design has signed a joint venture agreement with Elbit Security Systems worth $500 million. This deal will provide much needed indigenously manufactured thermal image-based sights and fire control systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, long range reconnaissance and observation systems (LORROS), coolant dewar detector, eye-safe laser range finders under technology transfer.
Indian company Garware-Wall Ropes Ltd (GWRL) and Israel’s Aero-T signed the agreement to manufacturing and supplying advanced aerostat systems for India. The aerostat is served as early warning systems against enemy air attacks as well as for low-level ground surveillance. Mahindra Telephonics and Shachaf Engineering of Israel will jointly design, develop and manufacture strategic electronics systems for aerospace projects.
India’s Texmaco Rail and Engineering Ltd of Adventz Group and Israel’s LeshmanLesico Group will execute light rail projects worth $2 billion including Greenfield light rail projects in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
These are some of the most significant latest defense deals that have been reached between India and Israel. When completed, these deals and the side deals they come with will transform Indian military’s might and posture.
Pakistan In The Wrong Camp
Pakistan-Israel don’t recognize each other and don’t have diplomatic relations. That being said, Pakistan and Israel do enjoy backdoor ties in some areas but they are there out of necessity, not will or friendship. While Pakistan’s security establishment, understanding Israel’s importance, has always wanted good ties with Israel, the same attitude isn’t found among much of Pakistani public. Pakistan’s politicians, while quietly enjoying business ties with Israelis in countries like US, continue to misguide Pakistani youth about Israel and no one in Pakistan blinks an eye when someone engages in antisemitism or anti-Israel conspiracy theories. Hearing hatred for Jews from Pakistani politicians and media persons, not to mention the average citizens, is considered normal and politicians casually label their opponents “Yahoodi agent” without facing any consequences. Similarly, in Israel there are a lot of misconceptions about Pakistan and many Israelis still mistake Pakistan for an Arab country. Israeli strategists still see Pakistan’s nuclear assets as a liability despite Pakistan’s assurances that it won’t transfer nuclear tech to Iran. Recently Pakistan’s defense minister tweeted a nuclear threat to Israel after reading fake news. The threat was dismissed by Israeli government which issued a clarification rejecting the fake news. This little goof up made international headlines. Due to such level of miscommunication, or to be more precise lack of communication, both Pakistan and Israel still view each other with suspicion.
In 2016, Pakistan Air Force and Israeli Air Force conducted a joint drill with UAE Air Force in United States. Later Israeli Air Force praised the drill and the professionalism of Pakistani pilots. Indeed, it was Pakistan’s security establishment that made ties with Israel during Afghan Jihad (some say the ties have existed well before that but this is up for debate) when Israel supplied Soviet weapons to the Afghan mujahideen via Pakistan. Pakistan’s ruler at that time, General Zia, established a special desk at the ISI (Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency) to deal with their counterparts in Mossad. Since that time, Pakistan and Israel have maintained on and off intelligence ties out of necessity. While both Pakistan and Israel were allied with the American bloc during Cold War, history seems to be repeating itself as once again Israel and Pakistan are more or less standing on the same ground: Both countries have somewhat drifted away from the United States and have balanced their relations with US – with China and Russia.
In 2013, Britain’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that Israel had exported military technology to Pakistan. In 2011, Israel sought to purchase from Britain equipment that would then be exported to Pakistan. These included electronic warfare systems and aircraft parts. Both Pak Army and Israel denied the report, with Pak Army spokesperson calling it “misleading”, but analysts with intelligence sources know it happened and both countries have good reasons to cover it up. For Pakistan, the main concern is rebellion by hardcore anti-Israel elements within Pakistani military as well as massive protests and even armed clashes with Islamists. For Israel, the main reasons to cover it up were Pakistan’s concerns as well as the possibility of outrage in Israeli public, which would not have wanted their government to arm the only Muslim nuclear state. Israel, like all countries, lies to its public when necessary. Moreover, there are many more rumors of covert ‘arrangements’ between Israel and Pakistan but the details of those arrangements likely won’t be coming out anytime soon. Unless there are unauthorized leaks by groups such as WikiLeaks, Anonymous, etc.
Pakistan’s security establishment has been eyeing the latest deals between Israel and India very ‘keenly’, and while Pakistan has its own reasons to feel threatened, there’s also the China factor at play here. Right now the ties between Pakistan and United States, a close ally of Israel, are at an all time low due to the war in Afghanistan but Pakistan can strike a balance by reaching out to Israel via Beijing, which is in the best position right now to bring Pakistan and Israel close.
While some excellent progress was made between Israel and Pakistan relations during the era of Musharraf, that progress wasn’t enough to remove the distrust that exists between the two nations. Musharraf’s removal and his failure in politics further alienated those who argued in favor of Musharraf’s Israel initiative. Today Pakistan is more or less back to square one where it is worried about India-Israel defense and strategic relations without giving much thought to the fact that Pakistan has berated Israel at the UN for decades, rejected several Israeli offers to normalize relations and continues to be a haven of antisemitism in the region. While India enjoyed close relations with both Palestinians and Israel, Pakistan ignored Israel and stuck with Arabs who were never able to give good returns on Pakistan’s diplomatic support, not even on Kashmir issue. So far Arabs have paid mostly lip service to the Kashmir issue while Palestinians sided with India, not Pakistan, on Kashmir. In short, Pakistan’s relationship with Arabs and Palestinians have been give, give give and ask for nothing in return. Many Pakistani analysts today complain that Israel is disturbing the balance in South Asia region but here’s my question: What was Pakistan thinking when it blindly sided with the Arabs against Israel for decades? That disturbed the balance too, as Arabs felt more powerful because of Pakistan’s support when in reality they were not even worth fighting the IDF. Today Arabs are scattered and fleeing their countries for Europe partially because of their rejection of Israel. The chaos in Syria, Iraq and much of Middle East is indirectly part of those past mistakes where Arabs consistently rejected repeated Israeli offers for peace. Today, having learnt that Israel cannot be defeated, Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc are trying to move close to Israel but it may be too late for them. Israel will now not deal with Arabs the way it was ready to deal with Arabs three or four decades ago. Today Israel is a regional power, has nukes pointed at every major city of the world, has some of the best tech in the world and has become economically more powerful than ever before. Israel has no reason whatsoever to deal with Arabs on their terms. No, Israel will now deal with Arabs on Israel’s terms and Arabs, too desperate to save their remaining governments, will have no other option but to go along with it. While Pakistan has historically sided with Arabs, it is not a party to the conflict and should protect its own interests first and foremost. Pakistan has already realized how foolish Arabs can be at times, which is why Pakistan is not siding with the Arabs blindly anymore. This was proven in the Saudi-Iran rift as well as in GCC-Qatar rift. While Pakistan’s foreign policy is somewhat maturing, it still needs to be more realistic and focused on Pakistan’s national interests instead of appeasing the sentiments of some segment(s) of the public or ‘brotherly Islamic nations’.
While Modi would want to create a US-India-Israel alliance against China-Pakistan-Iran and push it as an alliance of freedom lovers against Commies and Jihadis, Pakistan should be doing everything it can to bring down this little scheme of New Delhi.
In part 2 of this series, I will write about the diplomatic and propaganda implications of India-Israel alliance for Pakistan.