Guest Column | New Beginnings

Time to reassess Indo-Israeli defence relationship

AVM Manmohan BahadurAVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)

Israel, a country with a land mass of just around 20,000 square km, evokes feelings of respect for its demonstrated ability to stand up to a hostile neighbourhood comprising four immediate neighbours and a larger grouping of nations that includes Iran, Iraq and the Arab and Gulf countries. Additionally, there are many more distant countries, like Pakistan, who have deep animosity towards the Jewish state. What adds to the aura is the leading status it has achieved in multifarious fields in cutting edge technology, agriculture, water conservation et al. With the first prime ministerial visit from India due in July this year, as also the first-ever Indian participation in an air exercise with the Israeli Air Force(IAF) around the corner, the environment is ripe for a re-assessment of Indo-Israeli relations, especially on air power and defence procurement issues. But first, a bit of history would be in order.

Israel became an independent state in 1948, a year after India, and was immediately at war with its neighbours – the nation, whose width at the minimum point was just 15 km came out victorious and gradually built up its armed forces such that the next round in 1956 saw it reaching the Suez Canal (albeit with France and UK siding with it against Egypt, post the nationalisation of the Canal). The pre-emptive strike by its air force in June 1967 heralded the six-day war, which was a textbook conduct of warfare, and is studied in war colleges throughout the world. However, the 1973 Yom Kippur war was a wake-up call and though the end, which saw Israel troops besieging the Egyptian Third Army in a pincer, was in its favour it also led to subsequent peace treaties with Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In all this period and up to the beginning of the Nineties, Indo-Israeli relations were governed by India’s public posture of support to the Arab and Palestinian cause. However, documents are slowly emerging that show that there was behind the scenes contact between the two governments on defence issues. Of real interest is the fact that arms had been sent by Israel to India in the 1962 Indo-China war as also in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Then again in 1971, Indian Ambassador to France DN Chatterjee suggested obtaining ‘oil and arms’ from Israel, a proposal that was accepted by Indira Gandhi, resulting in their supply.

An Indian Air Force AWACS during Exercise Livewire

On the diplomatic front, Israel had a consul in Mumbai while Indian interests was looked after by the British in Tel Aviv. Attempts were made to get full-fledged relations when Moshe Dayan made a secret incognito visit in 1977 and met Indian officials. An Israeli June 1979 news item ( stated that an attempt was made to get Moshe Dayan to come for another visit but he refused to travel incognito. Subsequently, in September 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had the first public meeting with the Israeli Premier in New York and from then on the pace of progress increased culminating in full diplomatic relations in 1992 after the opening up of the Indian economy a year earlier.

In January this year, India and Israel celebrated 25 years of establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992. However, it was not until 1997 that the first Defence Attaché was placed in the Indian Embassy at Tel Aviv. He was, then Group Captain NAK Browne, who later rose to become Indian Air Force (IAF’s) Chief.

Indo-Israeli defence interaction has become very deep, with India becoming the largest importer of Israeli arms exports. Of the total arms imports of India, Israel is at the third place (7.9 per cent) after Russia (68.29) and the US (14.5). What is important is the fact that the majority of imports are high value and hi-tech items of the three Services. Some important imports are hereafter covered, not necessarily in terms of value but in relation to the importance technology imported; the study has been kept restricted to air power issues.

You must be logged in to view this content.





Call us