Earlier this week India dispatched a C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft, along with a 45-member army contingent to Israel to take part in the multilateral ‘Blue Flag-17’ exercise which runs from November 2 to 16.
This is an important development as it’s the first time that India has ever sent a military contingent to Israel to participate in a multilateral military exercise and comes in the wake of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the Jewish state in July.
Modi was the first Indian PM to visit Israel 25 years after the two countries commenced diplomatic relations, and the visit came 14 years after Ariel Sharon visited New Delhi.
Even though the exercise this month diversifies ties within defence exchanges and comes on top of bilateral trade (which remains incredibly buoyant between the two), it only highlights how much growth and potential is left to come for Sino-Israeli relations going forward.
India-Israel ties had a unique history up to this point and evolution has been the watch word; with India trying to balance its policies between different actors in the region and so normalisation with Israel suffered as a result. This changed completely for the better in 1992 but has taken on a different context with Modi and the current manifestation of the BJP party.
When Modi was chief minister he often expressed his admiration towards Israel, commending its military, technological advancements and agriculture. The BJP has always looked to strengthen ties with Israel, realising that any support of a Palestinian state has never really proffered tangible results to India in any sense.
The nature of the transactional partnership between Israel and India offers a number of advantages to both actors, particularly in the area of defense with India being Israel’s biggest arms market to the tune of some $1bn worth of sales every year.
Trade has always strong between both countries notwithstanding any regional crises (whether in Gaza or in Indian domestic politics) and this has not angered regional Arab allies (not least because Modi has taken a deft diplomatic approach to them by visiting them prior to Israel).
The military exercise this month is yet another timely acknowledgement of the strength of this relationship. Israel has regularly supported India in times of stress, proving political and military assistance during the Kargil conflict, for instance. Modi has compared recent surgical strikes against militant Pakistani forces to covert Israeli operations, hinting at how the Indian military could emulate the way Israel deals with counter-terror strategy.
From my perspective, however, there does need to be a paradigm shift in the way Modi utilises its friendship with Israel going forward, by moving away from a neutral approach to forming an explicit alliance to fight the common threat of terrorism (an idea first mooted by the BJP’s National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra in 2003).
India and Israel share certain strategic objectives: Qualitative (and in some cases quantitative) military supremacy over their rivals, and autonomy in technology and weapons procurement. India has also taken advantage of Israel’s global reputation for upgrading outdated weapon systems and Soviet-era military hardware. Israeli missiles, rockets, radar and communication equipment, ships, assault and sniper rifles, night-vision devices, and border monitoring equipment have all been added to the Indian arsenal.
With the military manoeuvres taking place this week, one fact is markedly clear:
India under Modi is not going to be apologetic about its engagement with Israel.