India, Israel talking ‘over the counter’ now
Daily Times Report
India and Israel may have formally forged diplomatic relations in 1992, but the relationship has been deliberately kept low key to avoid affecting Delhi’s ties with the Arab states, including Palestine, writes Shishir Gupta in India Today.
The 1999 Kargil conflict changed all that. Israel dug deep into its military equipment reserves to supply high-end military hardware such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and laser-guided bombs to India, giving its armed forces an edge in the war.
Now the relationship between the two countries is set to receive a major boost. While India and Israel have overtly carried on a strategic dialogue and have a joint working group on counter-terrorism, the defence deals are still conducted in a hush-hush manner. Last month, Director-General of Israeli Defence Ministry Major-General (retd) Amos Yaron made an unscheduled stopover at Delhi, while ostensibly on a trip to Bangkok, to meet Yogendra Narain, the then defence secretary. (He also met Defence Minister George Fernandes briefly.) Officials say that soon after US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to the subcontinent, Narain made an urgent request to his Israeli counterpart to fly down to Delhi as the Indian armed forces required precision-guided ammunition, ground surveillance equipment and armour piercing anti-tank shells to tackle the situation along its western border.
However, the real purpose of Yaron’s visit was to concretise the informal ties with his Indian counterparts and set up a joint working group (JWG) on defence cooperation. Headed by the defence secretaries of the two countries, the newly established JWG will prepare a road map for cementing military ties and also deal with defence purchases and joint ventures. The first JWG meeting is tentatively fixed for September 11-the first anniversary of terrorist attacks in the US-in Tel Aviv. “Earlier, the two sides discussed defence ties informally every six months, but the JWG will meet once a year. The meeting was initially scheduled for August but has been postponed to September on Israel’s request,” says a top Defence Ministry official.
The defence cooperation group will give India an opportunity to plug key gaps in its military capability and improve its internal security environment. Against Pakistan’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, India is looking for advanced surveillance equipment and an anti-ballistic missile defence system. Last year, Israel helped boost India’s anti-missile capabilities by providing a Green Pine radar for “research and development purposes”. The radar is at the core of the US-Israeli Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile project and is capable of tracking hostile trajectories at a distance of 500 km. The radar, manufactured by Elta Industries, is being used by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for building an indigenous anti-missile defence system.
While ballistic missile defence remains India’s top priority, it is negotiating with Israel and Russia for the Phalcon early warning and control system. The Phalcon, an acronym for Phased-Array-L-Band Conformal Radar, is capable of detecting hostile aircraft at a distance of 400 km and directing fighters to intercept.
Incidentally, the US, which was involved in developing the system, gave a green signal to the Rs 3,675 crore Indo-Israel deal on January 10 this year. The contract will be finalised later this year.
The Indian Navy will also beef up its war capability with the Israeli Barak anti-missile system that will be added to its arsenal next month.