Modi In Israel: Need For More Equitable Defence Collaboration

Published in on July 1, 2017 in my  ‘Realpolitik’ column,

Image result for pics of modi and netanyahu

It was not too long ago when Israeli diplomats considered India a hardship posting. Those souls braving the pokey confines of the Israeli Consulate on Peddar Road in Mumbai, protected 24×7 by a contingent of armed Maharashtra Police, were incentivised by higher emoluments and career advancement. This was before diplomatic relations were “normalized” and the representation scaled up in 1992 to the ambassadorial level by the Narasimha Rao government. In the new millennium, Delhi is a much sought after station. Ambassador Alon Ushpiz, for instance, went from Delhi to an appointment as Adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one fine leap and lost no time in urging his boss to establish a separate bureau in the Israeli Foreign Office to deal with India, which Netanyahu duly did two months back.


India and Israel have a uniquely close relationship. It dates back to trade in King Solomon’s time, and the first Jews seeking refuge in India after the razing of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.

The two countries share similar histories of birth as modern nation-states.

The departing British colonial power did its standard ‘cut and run’ in the Palestine Mandate territory in 1948, as it had done in the subcontinent the previous year, leaving behind the bloody partition debris for the peoples to build on.


Now, India seeks from Israel advanced military technology, agricultural techniques to turn deserts into orchards, and inspiration to be another ‘start-up nation’ in cutting edge technologies. The two countries, in other words, have experienced sort of Kondratieff Cycles in civilizational ups and downs, before settling into a steady state. In fact, in describing the prospective partnership between the two countries it is common to hear Israeli defence ministry officials use a phrase popularized by the Deputy National Security Adviser, retired Major General Amos Gilad – “the sky is the limit.”

Competing For Israel’s Attention

Other than arid land agriculture, Israel’s advanced military technology sector is at the heart of that country’s success story. This latter has three aspects – two of them that have negatively impacted India and may prevent really robust Indo-Israeli cooperation in the future.

Over 80 percent of the Israeli military research and development is funded by the United States, which endows Washington with a veto over what and to whom Tel Aviv can sell/transfer technology.

More often than seems good for India’s relations either the U.S. or Israel, deals have been nixed owing to caps on technology imposed by Washington. Thus, while Israel was eager to give its Elbit 2052 computer at the core of the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar India is building for its combat aircraft fleet (to enable fighter-bombers to switch mid-flight from air-to-ground to air-to-air roles), the US disallowed it, permitting the use of only the inferior 2032 version.

The second aspect is that the two best customers for Israeli military products are India and China. The Israeli defence industry cannot do without either because exports to these two countries virtually constitute all of its foreign sales. In 2015, for instance, of the Israeli arms exports worth $5.7 billion, China bought military hardware valued at $3.4, and India at $2.3 billion. But, here’s the rub. Beijing has looked askance at Israel helping India produce the ‘Swordfish’ variant of its Green Pines long range radar that can be used by the Indian ballistic missile defence system to detect incoming Chinese missiles 800 kilometres away.

Thus Tel Aviv has always to reconcile U.S. and Chinese concerns with Indian demands, and India loses out.

DRDO’s Grouse

The other bit of grit that has got into an otherwise well-oiled Indo-Israeli arms supply machine is the rising discontent evident in the Indian Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) with the Indian buys from Israel, which other than avionics, have been mostly in the missile field. Currently three large procurement/joint development projects are underway – the $2.5 billion deal for 50-70 kilometre medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) for the Indian Air Force and Navy, the $1.5 billion contract to produce the 15 kilometre short range SAM to replace the Barak system on Indian warships, and the $2.75 billion buy of the Spyder quick-reaction mobile air defence missile for army deployment on the border with Pakistan.


DRDO’s peeve is two-fold. One, that instead of the government and the armed services asking for variants of the indigenous 25 kilometre range and effective Akash surface-to-air missile already with the military to cover the medium and short ranges and giving a fillip to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme, money is needlessly expended on Israeli items. And, secondly, that in the joint development projects, India and DRDO agencies are stuck with the low-end work of making canisters and launchers, not the front end high-value stuff, such as warhead, guidance, and fire-control systems. The proprietary knowledge – design innovation and system algorithm – is retained by Israel, when rightly it should be Indian intellectual property because India has paid for its development.

 The suspicion is that Israeli defence R&D is being funded by India without the latter being given any ownership rights.
Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, meeting with IDF Major General Udi Adam, head of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on June 12, 2017. (Photograph: Indian Navy)
(Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, meeting with IDF Major General Udi Adam, head of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on June 12, 2017. (Photograph: Indian Navy)

These difficult issues need to be sorted out, lest the relationship begins to sour at the Indian end. Modi should ask for an equal share to India of the intellectual property rights created by high-value Israeli military technology development subsidised by Delhi. Whether he will do so remains to be seen, but the resolution of such contentious issues will brighten the prospects for meaningful future collaboration.

Modi could also, more productively, learn from Netanyahu how the Israeli government long ago transformed the socialist setup of its state-owned defence industry into a world class, cost-efficient, technology creator, with a view to replicating the Israeli model in India.

But the Prime Minister seems more intent on connecting with the section of the Israeli population that has India links at a planned mass reception of Modi in Tel Aviv (like those staged in Wembley Stadium in London, Madison Square Garden in New York, the Allphones Arena in, and more. It will not do much for India, but it is good theatre.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, NRIs, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Modi In Israel: Need For More Equitable Defence Collaboration

  1. Received this as email from Major Gordon Spector, apparently from France or residing there.
    Jul 2 at 7:31 PM
    Relating to your article complaining that Israel does not, in your opinion, share detailed information with India.
    I am curious to ask your opinion if you have exactly the same complaint about arms sales to India by Russia which are also substantial. If so, for the sake of fairness, why don’t you raise this criticism at the same time and not concentrate on Israel whom, apparently, you have some issues.
    Yours truly,
    Gordon SPECTOR (Maj)

    • Yes, exactly. This is what I have written in extenso about all arms suppliers to India to support my advocacy over the last two-odd decades for the country to take extreme measures to cut out arms imports altogether.

    • Apna says:

      Russua has given a kot to russia for then then wirthless rupees.
      Isreal and usa are parSites.
      Indians will complaint to russua in funding of t50 for which india has been dithering for too long.
      Indua is happy eith low tech obsolete f16 or low end sam missiles to hit 30 mikes only from israel !

  2. GhalibKabir says:

    Hi Bharat, all valid points, I agree Israel withholds critical know how, two minor quibbles though,

    1. Swordfish: Is not an extended range one in the works already since 2010? I assume you are hinting that Israel has held back key technology? Can’t DRDO develop domestic modules instead? I was under the impression they were doing so.

    IMHO, we need something similar to a gaofen satellite, a constellation of 5-6 of them more like to complement ground based assets…

    2. ELTA 2052 AESA: SIPRI lists a sale of 150-200 ELTA 2052 for Jaguars and Tejas as of 2016, plus it seems our indigenous AESA (800 module AAAU at least) is on its way too.., so may be this 2032 saga is finished already??

    PS: Akash is an older generation command control SAM while the Barak is not, so in that sense is not the comparison a bit incorrect? both have advantages of their own, but is not the Rajendra a big target for HARMs and PLAAF EWs?

    • 1) Yes. The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System is almost all up 2) The 2032 saga is finished; the point though is the 2052 was given at just the point when the Indian ASEA was past its critical stage. Re: Akash : Akash can be the baseline for upscaling and upgrading the system for MRSAM and LRSAM purposes. Yes, the enormous power of the Rajendra radar is its big strength and main weakness.

      • GhalibKabir says:

        Thanks Bharat. I was not referring to the IRNSS, rather this was I meant
        1. SIGINT (ELINT+COMINT): I think this is what we need to keep track of what China can do to us, plus I think all weather X-band SAR IMINT capabilities are limited as well to one RISAT satellite, we need few in GEO and a few more LEO or MEO to complement number 2 below,
        2. TDRSS: This is also another area China leads us and for us to fully leverage our Swordfish/Ashwin and S-300/400, we need a way to augment ground based systems, aircraft based systems (Phalcon) with Space based systems.

        1 and 2 should enable us to track ground movements like incursions, large warships movement, ballistic missile launch warning etc and respond faster.

        This is a candid paper published last year. a very good informative read.

        Click to access Layout_Expoliting%20Indian%20Military.pdf

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