The recent visits to Israel, by the President and the Foreign Minister, did not bring the country suddenly on our radar. It has for a long time been an ally and a supplier of military hardware, as also in the field of agricultural technology. However, relations with Israel have emerged over the years.
For a long time after independence, India followed an anti-Israel policy. The reasons as stated at that time did sound logical; however they were against the concept of realpolitik. The logic as adopted by the Indian government was that it did not want to alienate its local Muslim population. It also wanted to support the Arab nations, forming part of the non-aligned movement, who were against the existence of the state of Israel. In reality the reason was to ensure there was no impact on Indians employed in West Asia, as also ensure continuation of oil imports from the Middle East. Thus India voted against Israel in various international forums.
One of the famous stories of the 1971 war, stated by the late Field Marshal Manekshaw, was that India fought the war, employing ammunition for the 130 mm guns, manufactured in Israel, but without Israeli markings. The erstwhile USSR had then stated its inability to supply India with the quantity of ammunition it had wanted. An agent representing the Israeli armament industry had approached us and agreed to provide the ammunition. Israel had captured the guns from the Egyptians in the 1967 war and to employ them had set up factories to manufacture the ammunition. Thus, it was this ammunition which became the backbone of Indian artillery in the war, though officially India had yet to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
With time, our relations with Israel grew stronger. Trade increased and simultaneously did procurement of military hardware. Presently, the entire Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) fleet, employed by the military, is Israeli manufactured. The latest order for procuring 10 missile-armed drones has also been awarded to the Heron Company in Israel. The air force also employs Israeli radars mounted on Russian IL 76 aircraft as Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). India and Israel are jointly developing the Barak Missile system. The last successful test of the Barak 8 missile was conducted recently from the Indian ship INS Kolkata. It would soon become naval armament on board Indian and Israeli ships.
Militarily there have been regular exchanges between the two countries including officers attending specialisation courses, while at the intelligence level; the two nations have been coordinating on common issues concerning terrorism and counter-terrorism. Israel due to its location and threats emanating from its neighbours has developed quality military hardware and sophisticated intelligence equipment, some of which we employ at present.
The two Prime Ministers share a common bond. Prime Minister Modi is expected to visit Israel in the near future. The visits by the President and the Foreign Minister also included Palestine, thus indicating that India still has the ability to intercede between the two. It also gave a message to the Palestinians that India does not discard old friends, when it grows closer to their enemies.
Located in parts of the world that are in constant turmoil, threatened by acts of state-sponsored terrorism, as also surrounded by nations who threaten their very existence, India and Israel have much in common.
Terrorism is a common thread which joins the two nations together. The infamous Mumbai terrorist strike of 2008 also specifically targeted the Nariman House (renamed as the Chabad House), an Israeli residence and killed six occupants. As early as June 1991, at the height of the Kashmir insurgency, militants struck a houseboat in Srinagar, occupied by Israeli tourists, killing one occupant and injuring two. Thus both nations have been common targets of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Therefore it is but logical that the two nations set up joint mechanisms to share, monitor and counter terrorism.
Israel faces economic issues with various European nations, which have placed restrictions and limitations on Israeli goods produced in occupied territories. Thus India, with its rising economy, becomes a ready market for these. India-Israel trade has witnessed an ascendency in recent times. India can gain immensely from Israel in the fields of agriculture, science and technology and health, where they have made remarkable progress. Israel has never shied away from sharing technology and its development benefits with India.
While considering the problems faced in the recent past, with the Pathankot strike and the options available, India needs Israeli expertise in a few fields. First is electronic surveillance of borders, especially in stretches which cannot be fenced due to flowing rivers and thus are natural ingress routes for terrorists and smugglers. It is internationally known that Israel has the most modern and secure border fencing in the world, relying more on electronic means and less on human. Duplicating the same would enable controlling infiltration. Second is retaliation. While employing the Israeli method is illogical, since levels of militarization between Israel and Palestine on the one hand and India and Pakistan on the other are worlds apart, however early procurement of missile-armed drones, with requisite weaponry and avionics, would provide the military a cross-border strike capability, without employing physical troops or escalating tensions. These could target known camps, at a time of one’s own choosing should such a need arise.
Thus the two countries are natural candidates for developing closer relations and enhancing cooperation in a variety of fields, spanning from agriculture to health and on to modern defence equipment and border fencing. The past visits and the future one by the Prime Minister would only bring them closer.