No. 41, December 2005

No. 41
(December 2005):

India's Place in the US Strategic Order

Appendix II
Growing Relationship with Israel

An important aspect of India's integration into US strategic designs is its growing relationship with Israel – the US's closest ally in Asia and the recipient of giant annual subsidies from the US. This is not restricted to the purchase of weaponry, as is sometimes made out in the press. It is a broad military, intelligence and political relationship.

Let us begin with the booming weapons trade. Israel has emerged as India's second largest supplier of military equipment (after Russia), with sales of nearly Rs 120 billion over the last three years. (This amounts to about $900 million per year, as compared to $1.5 billion per year from Russia.) The range of India's purchases is considerable. The most important agreement is India's $1.1 billion purchase of Phalcon early warning radar and communications systems, Israel's largest arms sale. Other important deals include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force; sea-to-sea missiles; border monitoring equipment; night vision devices; artillery; artillery radars; fast attack naval craft; an electronic warfare system for the INS Virat; and ammunition. India's shopping list is much longer, and includes missile defence systems. If indeed Israel replaces Russia as India's main weapons supplier, the strategic implications are obvious: greater dependence on an intimate US ally. The US can exercise a veto on Israeli arms exports; for example, it recently forced Israel to cancel a sale to China, for which Israel had to pay China $350 million in damages.

The two countries are also planning to collaborate on the design and manufacture of certain weapons; and Israel will participate in India's planned mission to the moon ('Chandrayaan I'), with funds and perhaps a second, Israeli, satellite.  

Growing Indo-Israeli military cooperation is evidenced by the repeated exchange visits of senior military officials. since the UPA government assumed office in May 2004, the vice-chief of the Army, the chief of the Navy, and the chief of the Air Force have visited Israel, and the chief of the Israeli Army has visited India. One aspect of this cooperation is training. Israel is training upto 3,000 Indian commandos in urban warfare and counter-insurgency operations, and India's Cabinet Committee on Security has decided to solicit Israeli training for four new Special Forces counter-insurgency battalions for Kashmir.2 India's Border Security Force has proposed specialised training for its officers in Israel, since the latter has "a long history of guarding its borders along the Palestinian territories effectively."3 Israel, on the other hand, wants to use the facilities of India's Jungle Warfare and Counter-Insurgency School in Mizoram to train its forces.

Beyond this, however, is a strategic element. Israel wants a sea-borne force armed with nuclear weapons. Martin Sherman, a senior Israeli analyst, writes that the Mediterranean is not the ideal location for such a force, as a number of littoral states are unfriendly to Israel:

In this regard, the Indian Ocean, as location... facilitating the deployment and maintenance of this capability could well assume vital importance.... Of course, for the establishment and operation of such a maritime venture, cooperation with the Indian navy would be vital. In this regard, it is especially significant that in 2000, Israeli submarines reportedly conducted test launches of cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the waters of the Indian Ocean off the Sri Lanka coast.4

Further, he speculates that in order to counter "the growing Chinese challenge to US primacy.... a powerful, progressive India bolstered by Israeli technological expertise appears the most plausible and practical alternative." (It should be remembered that, during his June 2000 visit to Israel, deputy prime minister L.K. Advani referred mysteriously to Indo-Israeli nuclear cooperation, a remark that was never clarified.)

The two countries' intelligence services have established close relations. The Israeli intelligence services have been allowed, like the FBI, to open an office in Delhi. A joint commission has been set up at the ministerial level for cooperation in 'combating terrorism'. There are reports that Israel's secret service, Mossad, will train Indian intelligence personnel. Details of these matters, of course, are hard to obtain, but the press reported that on Advani's visit to Israel, experts of the Mossad and Shabak agencies made a presentation on their methods of agent recruitment, tailing, eavesdropping, and information processing.

The political relationship between the two countries was most explicitly stated by India's National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra, in his May 8, 2003 address to the American Jewish Committee:

India, the United States, and Israel have some fundamental similarities. We are all democracies, sharing a common vision of pluralism, tolerance and equal opportunity.... The US, India and Israel have all been prime targets of terrorism. They have to jointly face the same ugly face of modern day terrorism.... As the main targets of international terrorism, democratic countries should form a viable alliance against terrorism...

Thus in the 2001 Durban conference on racism, India blocked attempts by Arab countries to include a sharp censure of Israel's anti-Arab policies in the conference's final resolution. Shimon Peres, then Israeli foreign minister, warmly praised India's action, which helped "tipping the scales on the side of justice". When, in September 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited India, the Indian side made no mention of the Palestinian question. And when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited India in May 2005, the Indian government hosted him in a deliberately low-key fashion, calling for an end to 'violence' but neglecting to condemn Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza.

Further, the Indian government wants to use the services of the pro-Israel lobby in the US both as support to, and a model for, its own lobbying activities in Washington. "I am pleased to see so many distinguished members of the United States Congress here today", Brajesh Mishra told the AJC. "They are friends of Israel. They are also friends of India.... The increasing contact between the AJC and the Indian-American community organisations is another positive reflection of shared values of our peoples." Martin Sherman notes that

For India, Israel and its affiliated lobbies in Washington can be a useful instrument, for promoting New Delhi's case on the Pakistani issue. This was a topic raised in a recent trilateral meeting held this month in New Delhi, attended by Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA), the influential Washington-based think tank, former Israeli intelligence chiefs and Indian security and defence experts.5

In June 2004, shortly after the UPA government assumed office, a seven-member delegation from the AJC visited Delhi to call on the National Security Advisor and the External Affairs Minister. All this is not, of course, to suggest that either the Israeli or Indian rulers can manipulate US foreign policy by lobbying; the US follows its own interests irrespective of any such efforts. However, such exercises do express the political orientation of the Indian rulers, for whom obtaining the blessings of the US is a matter of life and death.


2. Natural Allies, p. 120. (back)

3. "BSF wants to train in Israel", Times of India, 24/9/05. (back)

4. "From conflict to convergence", Jerusalem Post, 28/2/03. (back)

5. Sherman, op cit. (back)



NEXT: App. III: Manufacturing Justifications for an Aggressive Alliance


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