India took its decision to recognise Israel on 17 Sept 1950. Soon after, the Jewish Agency established its immigration in Bombay (later Mumbai), which was later converted into a Trade Office and finally into a consulate office. Regular embassies were opened up in both countries after establishing diplomatic relations in 1992. This year on 30 Jan, India and Israel will be celebrating the 31st year of their diplomatic relationship.
The ties between India and Israel are very cordial and progressive. On 2 Nov 2021, India’s PM Narendra Modi and Israel’s PM Naftali Bennett met along sides the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, UK. India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar, paid an official visit to Israel on October 17-21, 2021, at the invitation of the PM and Foreign Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid. India’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. M.M. Naravane, visited Israel in November 2021. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R.K.S.Bhadauria of India visited Israel in August 2021.
Cooperation in numerous spheres, from technology to defence, has encouraged opening up a new probable corporation between the two tech-savvy democracies: India and Israel.
The Indian Defence Minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, and Israel’s Defence Minister, Mr Benny Gantz, held bilateral consultations in New Delhi on 2 Jun 2023. The two leaders elaborated on the defence cooperation and the current global and regional state of affairs. They discussed ways and means to expand collaboration in all domains, especially emphasising ‘Research & Development’ in future technologies and defence co-production.
India and Israel recognised their security challenges and convergences on several strategic and defence issues. They expressed commitment to work together to boost cooperation in all spheres. Both sides adopted the India-Israel ‘Vision of Defence Cooperation’ to strengthen further the existing framework of the Indo-Israeli defence cooperation architecture. A ‘Letter of Intent’ on enhancing cooperation in ‘Futuristic Defence Technologies’ was also swapped between India and Israel. It was his first visit to India to strengthen the defence ties between the two countries. Defence cooperation has been one of the significant pillars of bilateral collaboration.
India and Israel share the common discernment of danger bound by antagonistic neighbours. Both countries expanded their spheres of operations, including extensive people-to-people contact. Since 1992, India and Israel have navigated a long journey. The defence and security corporation provided the standard platform for this bilateral interaction. The Kargil War of 1999 improved this cooperation when Israel was one of the few countries to afford direct military assistance to India. These robust ties precede the India–US defence cooperation, which later materialised.
India is the primary purchaser of weapons and military equipment from Israel, and as per the estimate, it is about $1 billion yearly. Since 2017, India has become a strategic defence partner and co-producer of Israeli weapons and equipment. Since 2017, both countries have conducted joint military drills and hosted police and army personnel training and reciprocated visits.
A brief history of Indo-Israel defence ties.
Though official diplomatic relations were established in 1992, certain military deals happened before also. During the Indo-China war in 1962 and India-Pakistan War in 1965, weapons and military equipment were supplied by Israel to India. In 1962, Israel provided military aid to India. In 1965, Israel gave M-58 160-mm Mor ammunition. In 1980, Israel probably trained National Security Guard (NSG) personnel, and in 1999 Israel supplied Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV), ‘Searcher and Surveillance’ to the Indian Air Force (IAF) for Jaguar and Mirage Squadrons.
After the end of the cold war, India decided to procure weapons and military equipment from diverse sources. Though Russia remains the single largest supplier, the US, France and the UK also became reckoned suppliers of weapons to India. But Israel became India’s most trusted and all-weather friend and supplier of weapons and equipment.
After prolonged military interactions in the early 1990s, India agreed to assign a military attache to Israel. After the India-Pakistan local war in 1999 in Kargil, Israel became a reliable defence partner.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that India spent $76.6 bn on military expenditure, the third highest in the world after the US and China. Between 2017 and 2021, India and Saudi Arabia spent 11% each on the imports of weapons and equipment.
From 1997 to 2000, 15% of all Israeli weapons and equipment were destined for India. In the 2000s, this had jumped to 27% as India diversified its purchases, such as surveillance equipment, drones and surface-to-air-missiles. Since 2014, about 42.1% of all arms exports have been from Israel to India, with Azerbaijan at 13.9%, Vietnam at 8.5%, and the US at 6.2%, making up the other major customers. As per SIPRI, weapons deliveries to India from Israel increased by 175% between 2015 and 2019. In 2020, India and Israel signed an agreement to increase collaboration in the cyber-security arena.
The general profile of weapons supplied.
India’s first purchases from Israel were two Super Dvora MkII fast patrol boats in the mid-1990s. Very soon decided to import high-end military equipment, together with Israeli Searcher and Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), armed drones, missile systems, and sensors and electro-optical systems or Tavor assault weapons for the Indian Special Forces.
Between 2014 and 2021, India got combat aircraft radar equipment, armed UAVs, anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, among other hardware, Negev light machine guns, and Heron-TP Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAVs from Israel.
Although India-Israel traditional defence relations have been well established, with the shifting strategic realities that warrant more indigenisation, the associations are robust and strengthened further. The bilateral ties have been symbolised by the growing arms trade and the modernisation of weapon systems otherwise imported from somewhere else. However, even in a role-changing structure, Israel has emerged as a dependable strategic partner and will continue contributing significantly to India’s domestic defence industry. Both countries’ public and private defence sectors are well-equipped to collaborate to fulfil India’s critical defence requirements. Thus, India’s defence relations with Israel will continue to thrive as both countries provide each other with strategic, ‘unique selling points’ (USPs). Indian USP lies in its vibrant defence market, while Israel with its state-of-the-art technology. And the inclination to transfer such technologies has proven to be a dependable strategic partner. Therefore, defence cooperation will continue to bolster Indo-Israeli defence relations further.