The two nations share a common threat: radical offshoots of Islam in the greater Middle East. Israel regards parts of the Arab world — Saudi Arabia in particular — as hubs for Islamic extremism, while India views Saudi‐Pakistani relations with suspicion. Moreover, India fears the Pakistani nuclear arsenal might ultimately fall into the hands of Islamic radicals.
For Israel, Islamic radicals in the Arab world and in the Islamic Republic of Iran constitute a constant security challenge. This challenge has become more acute as Iran’s nuclear potential has grown. The more recent ISIS phenomenon has ramifications beyond the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, as its offshoots threaten the stability of Egypt and Jordan — Israel’s neighbors — and are increasingly sources of concern in south and southeast Asia.
India has gradually overcome its inhibitions and engaged in security cooperation with Israel. The November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks underscored the need for better counterterrorism preparations in India and elicited greater cooperation with Israeli agencies.
Arms supply and technology transfer have become important components in the bilateral relationship. Initially, Russian failure to deliver promised weapons at expected prices and/or schedules led India to turn to Israeli companies to upgrade some of its aging Soviet platforms, such as its Mig‐21s and T‐72 tank fleet.
New Delhi purchased advanced radar and communications equipment from Israel, as well as portable battlefield radars, hand‐held thermals, night warfare vision equipment, and electronic fences to improve border monitoring. A long list of Israeli military items, such as ammunition, UAV parts, and even missiles (Spike anti‐armor, the Python‐4 air‐to‐air, naval Barak‐8 surface‐to‐air) are being produced in India.
Israel was the third‐largest arms supplier to India in the three years ending March 2016. In April 2017, India signed a contract worth about $2 billion to procure anti‐tank missiles and air defense systems from the Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI). This was the largest order in Israel’s history. One month later, the IAI secured another contract for $630 million to supply Barak‐8 missiles for the Indian Navy. Both deals involve technology transfer and production in India. These deals are part of PM Modi’s $250 billion plan to modernize the armed forces by 2025 amid tensions with neighbors China and Pakistan.
The Indian‐Israeli nexus has various Indian Ocean implications, particularly in response to China’s growing presence. The Indian Ocean, where India is an important actor, has become an area of growing interest for Israel because of its apprehensions about Iran and Pakistan.
India and Israel represent two ancient civilizations. They share a British colonial past and were the first to become independent (in 1947 and 1948, respectively) in the post‐WWII decolonization wave. Both were born as the result of messy partitions and have maintained democratic regimes under adverse conditions ever since. Nevertheless, it took over four decades to establish a fruitful bilateral relationship.
For Israel, good relations with India reflect awareness of structural changes in the international system as the center of gravity moves to Asia and the Pacific Rim. India is an extremely important protagonist that requires Israel’s utmost attention.
Asia Pacific Bulletin