Home | About | Documents | Previous Editions |Search |

Edition 18 Volume 1 - November 20, 2003

Israel, India and the Arab world

The Indo-Israel military relationship and its impact on the Arab world  - byAhmed Abdel Halim
Tracing the roots of Indo-Israel military relations, one notes that they began decades ago.

The Indian-Israeli partnership  - byEfraim Inbar
The relationship gives enhanced credence to the notion of the Greater Middle East.

Close regional ties and contrasting loyalties  - byChinmaya R. Gharekhan
The Sharon visit was highly controversial in India.

Arab-Israel relations: can India be the fulcrum?  - byVinay Shankar
For over 40 years India literally pandered to the Arabs, but its persistent overtures went unrequited.

The Indo-Israel military relationship and its impact on the Arab world
by Ahmed Abdel Halim

Despite the absence of Israeli contacts with the Asian continent in the early stages of Israel's establishment when the Israeli state was busy fortifying its bases inside occupied Palestine, the past ten years have seen a transformation in the international and regional climate that has activated Israeli advances towards Asia. Israel invested in the start of a process of political settlement in the Middle East in part to eradicate Asian reservations over cooperation with the state of Israel; indeed, Israel called on some important Asian powers to participate in the political process. Asian countries responded to these Israeli efforts, and partial Arab absence from the scene contributed to the invigoration of Israeli-Asian cooperation. Thus, Israeli interests in Asia extended to the most important of countries in geopolitical and geo-strategic terms, namely India.

The importance of the relationship between Israel and India emanates from the nature of Israeli foreign policy, which seeks consistently to invest in an international climate and conditions that serve Israel's national goals, especially those concerning the Arab-Israel conflict, and the emerging and ever-increasing role of Asia's sizeable forces and their international impact. India, on the other hand, desires to update its civilian and military technology, but more importantly, to enhance its military capabilities towards Indian national goals, especially in tackling Indian tensions with Pakistan. In light of the absence of Arab efforts to draw India closer to Arab causes, Israeli-Indian relations and interaction advanced. The Israeli policy of exploiting the political, security and military crises of some Asian countries at the expense of others, for example siding with India in the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, has also contributed to strengthening Indo-Israel cooperation.

Within these changes, external military cooperation has become one of the most important mechanisms of Israel’s foreign policy. Israel has consolidated its military cooperation with many Asian countries, especially India, thus violating American laws that ban selling weapons built with US military technology to a third party. This implies that Israel has succeeded in achieving the maximum level of independence in its political decisions, all the while exploiting military cooperation to shore up its international political influence. Israel has also received access to military facilities that aid its freedom of movement.

Notably, even as Israel’s military exports come to 30 percent of the whole, Israel has become capable, through direct assistance from the US, of manufacturing a variety of high-tech weapons systems on its own. Simultaneously, Arab countries have been deprived of potential sources for attaining specific weapons systems, or even the possibility of cooperating with Asian countries in the areas of security and the military.

Moreover, the US has allowed Israel to become a broker for procuring weapons in cases where the US does not want to demonstrate direct engagement, such as the case of India, or when the US desires to improve its political and economic relations by consolidating direct technological and military cooperation between Israel and India.

Israeli capabilities in maintaining, upgrading and fixing various weapons systems mark a notable advancement, hand-in-hand with Israeli progress in traditional and non-traditional military technology, and of course the services that Israel offers to countries that desire to buy weapons sold on the cheap in Israel as compared with the western arms market. The fact that there are no diplomatic ties between Israel and some countries in Asia has not impeded the spread of Israeli military influence over those countries. India is considered one of the most striking examples.

Tracing the roots of Indo-Israel military relations, one notes that they began decades ago as invisible cooperation in the fields of security and defense. In the sixties, these relations reached the point of several reciprocal secret visits and mutual military aid during their respective armed conflicts. Following the 1973 war, visits by Indian military delegations to Israel increased as a means of benefiting from Israel in the fields of electronic warfare and anti-tank missile defense. After the 1982 Lebanon war, India sought to benefit from Israeli expertise in operating early warning planes and organizing and managing the South Lebanese security zone, with the idea of implementing similar ideas on the border zone with Kashmir. Later, in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won India's elections and worked on advancing the relationship between India and Israel. Full diplomatic relations were established and ambassadors were appointed in both countries on January 29, 1992.

The motives of both countries in pursuing cooperation range from strategic, security and military to political and economic. There is no room here to detail these; what concerns us is a quick survey of some specifics of the military relationship between Israel and India. In this regard, the most important is the nuclear dimension. India embarked on its nuclear tests with the support of the international community, namely the United States and Israel, because the US desired a nuclear force to balance China as a nuclear power in Central Asia. Israel benefited from this cooperation--according to some sources--by being permitted to conduct two nuclear tests on Indian territory, the components transferred on board an Israeli C130 military aircraft that landed in India two weeks prior to the tests. India also makes use of its nuclear cooperation with Israel in maintaining qualitative superiority over its enemy, Pakistan.

Other than nuclear cooperation, military cooperation between Israel and India covers traditional and non-traditional weapons, and ground, sea, air and space. This cooperation encompasses the transfer of advanced military technology from Israel, with the support of the US, to India. The details are numerous, but the guiding principle of this relationship is worth studying. The Israeli vision of its important relationship with India is based on one premise: that any non-Arab and non-Islamic country that possesses advanced traditional and non-traditional military capabilities represents a strategic ally and a supporting power for Israel. The Indian premise stipulates, on the other hand, that close ties with Arab countries that are technologically far behind Israel are not worth sacrificing close ties with high-tech leader Israel, not only in the region but worldwide.-Published 20/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org

General Ahmed Abdel Halim is a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA).

The Indian-Israeli partnership
by Efraim Inbar

The rapprochement between India and Israel is an important component of a new strategic landscape in the greater Middle East that includes Central Asia and parts of the Indian Ocean littoral.

The two countries discovered affinity in outlook on their regional disputes and a common strategic agenda. Generally, the two states exhibit a resemblance in strategic culture, entertaining similar notions about behavior during armed conflict. Indians and Israelis display extremely high levels of threat perception, as they feel beleaguered in their region. Both states waged several major conventional wars against their neighbors and have faced limited armed incursions and terror.

The current source of threat to the two nations is similar--the radical offshoots of Islam in the greater Middle East. India regards parts of the Arab world, Saudi Arabia in particular, as a hub for Islamic extremism. Moreover, this threat is felt closer to home regarding Saudi-Pakistani relations, which India views with suspicion. For Israel, the Islamic radicals in the Arab world and in the Islamic Republic of Iran constitute a constant security challenge. Moreover, religious extremism energizes residual Arab enmity toward the Jewish state. The combination of Iran’s fanatic hatred and nuclear potential especially constitutes an existential threat. The Pakistani nuclear arsenal is similarly viewed in New Delhi as being in danger of falling into the hands of Islamic radicals.

The September 11, 2001 attacks, and the ensuing war against international terror appear to have created a political climate even more conducive to Indo-Israeli collaboration. India has become an important market for Israel’s military industries. An array of Israeli missiles, radars, communications equipment, ships and guns have been added to the Indian arsenal. Israeli firms bid for additional defense contracts in India and military industrial cooperation is progressing.

The links between Jerusalem and New Delhi seem to be stable beyond an ephemeral convergence of their interests as sellers and buyers in the arms bazaar. The relationship has wide geostrategic implications beyond the strength it gives these two regional powers. It solidifies the Arab nations’ reluctant acceptance of Israel as a fait accompli, which is predicated upon a strong Israel. India, an important international actor, is no longer unequivocally on the Arab side. The diplomatic traffic generated by the relationship between Jerusalem and New Delhi also strengthens the links among West, Central and South Asia, giving enhanced credence to the notion of the Greater Middle East.

The Indian-Israeli nexus has various Indian Ocean implications. Israel’s main strategic concern after the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 is Iran, along the shores of the Indian Ocean. Israel developed already in the nineties the capability to project long-distance (greater than 1,500 km) air and naval power, procuring from the United States long-range aircraft. Israel also built an ocean-going navy and its Saar-5 corvettes have been seen in the Indian Ocean. The three new Israeli submarines are equipped with long-range cruise missile launching capability. One such missile was tested in the Indian Ocean, generating reports about Indian-Israeli naval cooperation. Generally, the Israeli strategic community is increasingly interested in the sea, both to provide depth and for the deployment of a submarine-based nuclear second-strike force.

Pakistan’s missile and nuclear weapon technologies are of concern not only to India, but also to Israel. Pakistani plans to become a supplier of intermediate-range missiles for such countries as Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, with the Saudis playing a major role in financing such deals, are of concern in Jerusalem and New Delhi. Israeli fears focus primarily on the seepage of nuclear technologies, with governmental authorization or as a rogue operation.

Pakistan is equally concerned by Israel’s relations with India, which probably serve as a catalyst for intensifying the intra-Pakistani debate over establishing ties with Israel. President Pervez Musharraf has made several calls for public discussion of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, noting that other Arab and Muslim countries have done so. The Jewish state, with no end in sight to its conflict with the Palestinians, is equally interested in normalizing its relations with important Muslim states. Cordial relations with a populous Muslim country such as Pakistan could, like the improved Israeli-Turkish relations, help dilute the Islamic dimension in the Arab-Israel conflict.

India has long-standing strategic and cultural links to energy-rich and newly accessible Central Asia, which it describes as its “extended strategic neighborhood,” and where it jockeys with rivals China and Pakistan for influence. Israel is equally interested in this new part of the “greater Middle East.” Like India, Israel sells military equipment to Central Asian states and has a modest diplomatic and business presence there. Both Israel and India aim to limit the influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the agents for radical Islamization. They prefer the presence of secular Turkey and hope the Central Asian states will emulate the Turkish model rather than the Iranian. Both states also want the flow of oil and gas there to be unimpeded by instability. While there may be differences over the direction of planned pipelines, India and Israel are in agreement as to the desirability of low-energy prices. India’s economy needs them, while in Israel’s assessment low prices reduce the influence of the Arab world.

Indian-Israeli cooperation is also valuable in the US-led war on terrorism. This is an important reason for Washington to lend support to the Jerusalem-New Delhi entente, similar to the American involvement in Israeli-Turkish relations, while allaying as much as possible Pakistani fears. Washington has good grounds to encourage Indian-Israeli cooperation, as its own interests in the Indian Ocean will likely grow. The Indian Ocean has gained in geopolitical importance as a number of issues, including weapons of mass destruction, Islamic radicalism, terrorism, and narcotrafficking converge on its littoral. In addition, Washington should capitalize on the Indian-Israeli entente to promote closer cooperation among the Asian democracies, which face comparable security challenges--terrorism, ballistic missiles, and WMD--from US rivals. Turkey, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are prime potential additions to Israel and India in such a comprehensive security architecture.-Published 20/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org

Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.

Close regional ties and contrasting loyalties
by Chinmaya R. Gharekhan

Having suffered partition at her independence, India inevitably did not support the United Nations partition plan for Palestine in 1947. India extended recognition to the State of Israel in September 1950 and established diplomatic relations in 1992. India gave diplomatic recognition to Palestine soon after it was announced.

Since the establishment of respective embassies in New Delhi and Tel Aviv in 1992, relations between India and Israel have progressed rapidly. Trade between the two countries increased from about $200 million in 1992 to nearly $1 billion in 1999. Diamonds account for nearly 60 percent of India’s exports. Indians have always admired the way Israel has made the desert bloom. It was, therefore, natural for areas such as drip irrigation, greenhouse technology, floriculture and horticulture to receive particular attention in the development of bilateral relations. Officially, a number of agreements have been signed providing a legal framework for trade and economic exchanges. An Air Services Agreement signed in 1994 enabled the two countries to establish direct air links. There have been several ministerial visits in either direction and the president of Israel paid a state visit to India in 1996.

India and Israel have had useful exchanges in the field of science and technology. There is, however, absolutely no substance to the reports, mischievously carried in Arabic media from time to time, that India has helped Israel in the nuclear field. India is strongly committed to not exporting any nuclear-related technology to any country. In any case, Israel is known to have developed its "bomb in the basement" well before India’s nuclear weapons tests in May 1998.

The two countries do have ongoing and expanding cooperation in the defense field. The chief of the Israel's air force visited India in January 1998 and the chief of India’s air force reciprocated in Israel two months later. In September 2003, Amos Yaron, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, held talks in India on co-production and procurement of defense equipment and systems. The talks centered on imports of aircraft-mounted aircraft, co-production of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) commonly known as drones, and installation of electronic warfare systems. Substantial defense deals were negotiated during Prime Minister Sharon’s visit to India in September 2003.

The Sharon visit was highly controversial in India. Editorials in leading newspapers criticized it and political parties as well as private organizations held rallies in protest. The opposition was not so much to the visit of the Israeli prime minister per se, but to the visit of Mr. Sharon, whose name is forever associated with the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla and who, in more recent times, has incarcerated Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his quarters in Ramallah. Mr. Sharon was, of course, given all the honors due a visiting head of government, but the negotiations over the joint statement issued at the end of his visit were quite tough. The Indian side wanted to include a reference to United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, but the Israeli side did not agree. The Israelis tried hard to get the Indians to share their concern over Iran’s nuclear program, but the Indian side made it very clear that relations with Iran were of great importance to India.

Strong support for the Palestinian cause has been a consistent strand in India’s foreign policy, irrespective of which political party is in power in Delhi. There seems to be a perception in some circles that the present government in India, headed by BJP leader Mr. Vajpayee is not as strongly committed to the Palestinian struggle as previous Congress governments. The Vajpayee government utilizes every available opportunity to remove such an impression. It is significant that the Indian government lost no time in denouncing and condemning the statement of the deputy Israeli prime minister, made within hours of Mr. Sharon’s departure from India, suggesting plans for killing Yasser Arafat. Mr. Vajpayee, during his recent visit to Syria in November 2003, reiterated support for the Palestinian cause.

At the popular level in India, sympathy and support for the Palestinian struggle remain strong. At the same time, the people of India, who never forget a good turn done to them by anyone and at any time, remember that it was Israel that supplied badly-needed defense material at the time of the Kargil war in 1998 when Pakistan surreptitiously attacked India across the line of control in Kashmir.

India has extremely close, historical ties with the entire Middle East region. Several million Indians are working and contributing to the prosperity of the countries in the region. A great portion of India’s energy needs come from the region. India was, and remains, vastly concerned at the developments in Iraq and has decided, despite American approaches, not to send troops to Iraq.-Published 20/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org

Ambassador Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative to the multilateral talks on Middle East peace and as the UN Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories from 1996 to 1999.

Arab-Israel relations: can India be the fulcrum?
by Vinay Shankar

Upon gaining independence, it was only natural that India would seek to build good relations with the Arab world, not for its oil wealth--that came much later--but for the shared religious and cultural heritage. The colonial rule that India and the Arab countries had been subjected to was admittedly another binding factor. The notable absence of empathy for Israel that India demonstrated during the first few decades of its independence was simply a reflex response directed to convince the Arabs of its sincerity. To be friendly with the enemy of a friend would be a kind of betrayal. And that was also the period that India was wedded to lofty ideals.

With the passage of time and in the face of some very compelling reasons, this had to change--only it took longer than it should have.

Besides historical and cultural bonds, there were other considerations that drove India’s pro-Arab policy. To begin with, India aspired to lead the non-aligned movement and for that Arab support was important. Concurrently, there was the requirement of reducing international support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Later to surface were concerns for energy security and the remittances from India’s sizeable work force in this region, especially during the eighties when India’s economy was facing a crisis.

Barring rare exceptions, on all counts India failed to elicit the desired response. Its persistent overtures went unrequited primarily because the Arab nations remained fixated on viewing India through Pakistani eyes. They failed to comprehend the truly secular character of India and that the percentages of each religious denomination do not accurately represent the influence of religions on the people of India. They may be only 16 percent Muslim (the largest number of Muslims in any country other than Indonesia) and three percent Christian, but if you scratch a large percentage of the "others", you discover that deep down the Indian embodies all three faiths, notwithstanding the occasional instances of communal violence.

For over 40 years, India literally pandered to the Arabs and thus hesitated to respond to the hand of friendship proffered by Israel. It was only in the beginning of the nineties that India began to carve a fresh West Asia policy. The timing of the move coincided with the end of the Cold War as also the beginning of Pakistan-sponsored militancy and terrorism in Kashmir. That new economic policies were also launched at the same time could also be construed to mark the beginning of a resurgent India.

From the Israeli perspective, India’s regional significance was obvious. In Asia, India marked the eastern periphery of the Islamic threat. With Pakistan in possession of the "Islamic bomb" and claiming the leadership of the Islamic world, Israel is naturally sensitive to developments in this country. India, like Israel, is the victim of continued terrorist violence sponsored by elements that perhaps have links with each other and maybe share the same patronage. Depending on developments, India can obviously play a critical role in any crisis situation. In any case, fighting terrorism is a common cause between India and Israel and that is sufficient reason for strengthening bilateral ties.

Economically, again India is important. It offers a huge market for Israeli technology especially in the defense sector, electronics, software and agriculture. The rapid increase in Israeli exports to India, particularly of defense equipment, is testimony to the commercial attractiveness of India. Additionally, enormous mutual benefit can be derived through a strategic alliance that seeks to combine Israeli technology and Indian raw materials and low cost labor.

In India’s case, its security posture has improved considerably with the infusion of a wide variety of defense equipment from Israel, in some cases with technologies that were not accessible to India from other sources. If this momentum is maintained, India may witness a significant enlargement of its strategic space as an enhancement of its capability to combat terrorism and militancy. Israel can also contribute substantively in modernizing India’s agricultural sector. Recent bilateral agreements seek to address these issues. Altogether the strengthening of cooperation has led to considerable mutual benefit.

After 9/11, the US-led war against terror is having a profound global effect. The dismantling of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the second Gulf War directed at the removal of Saddam Hussein have triggered turmoil in West Asia. With the resistance in Iraq gathering momentum, the US is finding itself somewhat off balance. Consequently, levels of uncertainty are rising in the region. The requirement is for stabilizing forces to step in. And it would appear that the prospects of success would be greater if such forces were to be generated from within Asia.

India’s foreign policy in recent years has begun to acquire a more pragmatic and dynamic character. In such a dispensation, India is unlikely to let concerns for better Indo-Arab relations affect Indo-Israeli relations or vice versa. India remains conscious of the advantages of good relations with the Arab nations, but unless they reciprocate there can be no meaningful forward movement. With Israel, relations are on a firm and irreversible footing.- Published 20/11/03©bitterlemons-international.org

Lt. Gen. Vinay Shankar retired from the Indian Army in 2000 after 40 years of service. He writes a fortnightly column for a leading national daily on matters related to security and strategy, and is a consulting editor to the Indian Defense Review on national strategy.

Notice Board