According to Kautilya, knowledge is the foundation of statecraft, and foreign policy is based on the concept of “correlation of forces,” a metric that considers everything that determines relative power. Kautilya’s saptanga (seven organs) theory of state demonstrates a novel dimension of state power that engages political rationality and normatively dialectically; one of the important elements is a friend or ally, which is a structural element of any state. Understanding the importance of allies, the hand of friendship extended towards India by countries around the world gives evidence of this.
Despite the fact that India recognized Israel on September 17, 1950; and Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in January 1992 was influenced in part by potential security cooperation. Bilateral relations between the two countries have since evolved into a multifaceted strategic partnership.
The emerging partnership represents a step towards a more pragmatic approach to the Jewish state from Delhi’s hostility, based on a broader integration of security, geopolitical and economic interests. The article elaborates on the various aspects of India and Israel’s new phase of cooperation, with a particular emphasis on the dominant driver — the two countries’ defense engagement, forged in the context of mutual complementarities including trade, strategic, and intelligence and security-related areas. The relationship is likely to become broader and more comprehensive over the long term, encompassing research, development, and co-production in the defense sector, water resources, innovation, and security-related areas.
Since 2017, India has also become a strategic partner and co-producer of Israeli weapons. Over the last five years, both countries have held joint military drills as well as police and army training and exchanges. Because India and Israel face similar security threats such as border security and terrorism, the India-Israel defense partnership is being strengthened through a “Vision Statement” issued by both countries’ defense ministers to ensure economic and security interests. To address the growing problems, India and Israel have elevated their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership, pledging to take strong action against bigotry and terrorism while also providing a safe haven for terrorist groups.
India is Israel’s largest buyer of military equipment, with spending in excess of $1bn per year, and Israel is India’s second largest defense supplier. Furthermore, India is Asia’s third largest trading partner. The Israeli government has recently prioritized the Indian arms market as its largest and possibly most dependable customer of military hardware. Through focus on Modi’s “Make in India” plan, India has prioritized the modernization of its armed forces and placed a significant emphasis on self-reliance in arms production over the last decade.
Between 2014 and 2021, India received from Israel combat aircraft radar equipment, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-tank missiles, and surface-to-air missiles, among other items. The Indian armed forces have received a variety of Israeli weapon systems, ranging from Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control Systems) and Heron, Searcher-II, and Harop drones to Barak anti-missile defense systems and Spyder quick-response anti-aircraft missile systems. Both nations agreed to form a Task Force to develop a comprehensive Ten-Year Roadmap to identify new areas of cooperation at the 15th Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on Bilateral Defense Cooperation.
Both countries can coordinate and complement their experience, expertise, and demands as they face similar challenges in a variety of fields. Several ongoing Indian programs, such as LCA (Lavi), Arjun (Merkava), Prithvi (Jericho-1), and Agni, are similar to their Israeli counterparts (Jericho-11). A number of other Indian programs, such as UAV/RPV, airborne early-warning systems, anti-ballistic missile systems, and cruise missile technology, are in the same boat. In this regard, India can benefit from Israel as Israeli weapons are more advanced and battle tested.
To counter the threat posed by the Pakistani naval fleet, which is equipped with US-made P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, Israel has offered its advanced multimode maritime surveillance radar to the Indian Navy. The Indian Defense Ministry has received a proposal offering the radar to the Navy, according to David Traim, Deputy Director, Elta Electronics, of the IAI. The Israeli radar will largely meet the Navy’s immediate needs and can be installed on patrol helicopters.
In context of Commercial Relations, India is Israel’s third-largest Asian trading partner and seventh-largest world trade partner. India and Israel are also in talks to sign a free trade agreement (FTA). Between April 2020 and February 2021, bilateral merchandise trade increased from USD 200 million in 1992 to USD 4.14 billion (excluding defense), with the balance of trade in India’s favor. Israeli companies have invested in India in areas such as energy, renewable energy, telecommunications, real estate, and water technologies, with the goal of establishing R&D centers or manufacturing facilities there.
At its 8th Governing Body meeting, experts from India and Israel discussed broadening the scope of the India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technological Innovation Fund which promote, facilitate, and support joint industrial R&D projects between companies in India and Israel to address challenges in the agreed-upon ‘Focus Sectors.’ They approved three joint R&D projects totaling 5.5 million USD and proposed measures to expand the India-Israel collaborative ecosystem. India and Israel also agreed to establish a $40 million fund for industrial R&D and an innovation fund, with each country contributing $20 million. Israel is also joining the India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA), which aligns very well with both countries’ goals of expanding renewable energy cooperation and partnering in clean energy.
Despite the baggage of tense and volatile neighborhoods, India and Israel have successfully navigated their relationship forward. India and Israel must overcome their religious extremist neighbors’ vulnerabilities and collaborate productively on global issues such as climate change, water scarcity, population growth, and food scarcity. The 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Israel provides an excellent opportunity to look ahead and shape the next 30 years of relations. PM of India was stated “There could be no better opportunity to set new goals for India-Israel cooperation than when India is celebrating 75 years of Independence, Israel is about to do the same next year and the two nations are commemorating 30 years of full diplomatic relations.” Indo-Israeli relations have become more important as a result of pragmatic considerations. Israel is a source of high technology for India in a variety of fields, including military-related industries, and it is becoming increasingly important following the post-Pokhran sanctions. Building ties with Israel could be a powerful counterweight to Pakistan’s military and political strategies. India is a large and lucrative market for Israel. Joint research, joint production, and technology transfer are more likely to be part of any meaningful relationship between India and Israel.