Indiaâ€s Defensive friends | idrw.org The war was raging in Kargil. From bunkers along the mountain passes, Pakistani soldiers were shooting at any object moving on the highway below.Weeks before the war broke out in Kargil, Pakistan army chief General Pervez Musharraf had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in a helicopter and spent a night with his troops, 11km inside Indian territory. His plan was to cut the Indian Armyâ€™s supply lines from Srinagar to Leh and Siachen. It was an uphill task for the Indian soldiers to evict the Pakistanis from the surrounding heights. Two Indian fighter jets were hit by Pakistani stingers in the Batalik sector, and India lost an Mi-17 helicopter the following day. The military soon realised it was inadequately equipped to deal with Pakistan. On the recommendation of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the government decided to procure military equipment at the earliest. â€œWe were surprised by the sudden request from India,â€ says Ilan Biran, former director-general of the Israeli ministry of defence. â€œBut we knew it was an opportunity to show our desire to build a partnership.â€ Indiaâ€™s demand was met almost immediately by Tel Aviv, which supplied precision-guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ammunition, thus helping to alter the course of the conflict in Indiaâ€™s favour, and firmly forging Israelâ€™s reliability as an ally. The nature of Israeli military supplies to India remains a secret. Israel has a policy of not commenting on its military weapon programmes. Indiaâ€™s defence ministry has also maintained silence. But the Jewish state has made remarkable inroads into Indiaâ€™s defence market. Israel has become Indiaâ€™s second largest supplier of military equipment, after Russia, with sales nearing $10 billion. On the other hand, India is the largest customer of Israeli military equipment. Military ties with Tel Aviv have been one of the most reliable and fruitful security relationships India has had with any country. â€œIt is a relationship based on tangible interests and will remain so for the foreseeable future,â€ says a top Indian military official. Israeli defence companies will further upstage global defence giants, in India, as they pitch for big-ticket deals that include a billion-dollar contract for Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems), 715,000 crore worth of next-generation anti-tank guided missiles, night-vision devices, an upgraded tactical air defence system and a wireless Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS) intruder alarm system that will aid in stopping infiltration along the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are also contracts for the upgradation of Russian-supplied weapon systems. India is keen on acquiring the Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile system built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and American Boeing that has been used in Israel since 2000 to counter Iranâ€™s Shehab-3B missiles. On top of the list is the Iron Dome, an anti rocket defence system that Israel has successfully used to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from Gaza, showcased in February at Aero India in Bangalore. â€œThe Iron Dome is one of the most effective anti-missile systems in military history,â€ says Biran, who now heads Rafael, a leading Israeli defence company and manufacturer of the Iron Dome. Rafael executives proudly show a YouTube video of a wedding in the Israeli city of Beersheba where guests are unmindful of missile threats. The missiles are not visible in the night sky until the ascending Iron Dome interceptors find and destroy them. The wedding party goes on, uninterrupted. â€œRocket attacks had created such a fear among our people,â€ says Biran. â€œBut the Iron Dome has really changed the dynamic.â€ The Indian Air Force, however, is not fully convinced about its utility in India. â€œWe have seen the performance of the Iron Dome in the limited conflict between Israel and Gaza [November 2012],â€ said Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne. â€œIt proved very successful in their environment. Somehow, I feel that in our contextâ€”our borders are far too long and our airspace more congestedâ€”the Iron Dome is not the answer.â€ He, however, expressed interest in the mid-range missile defence system Davidâ€™s Sling, also developed by Rafael with US defence contractor Raytheon. Today, Israelâ€™s presence in the Indian border security domain is such that it virtually guards Indiaâ€™s borders. Its sophisticated UAVs, TISAS (Thermal Imaging Stand Alone Systems), hand-held thermal imagers, LORROS (Long-Range Reconnaissance and Observation Systems), night vision devices, artillery radars, command and control systems and firearms are mostly used along the Indo-Pakistan border in Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan. The home ministry now wants to implement the Israeli border surveillance technology along the 4,096km-long border with Bangladesh. Indiaâ€™s relationship with Israel has come a long way since it opposed the Partition of Palestine plan of 1947 and voted against Israelâ€™s admission into the UN in 1949. Even though it recognised the Jewish state in 1950, ties remained cold for more than four decades, in view of Indiaâ€™s traditional support to Palestine. Full diplomatic ties were established only in 1992, and in subsequent years, the relationship grew mainly because of common strategic interests. â€œThere were a number of factors which dictated our policy towards Israel,â€ says Lt General (retd) J.F.R. Jacob, a World War II veteran who served as chief of staff of the Indian Armyâ€™s Eastern Command in the Bangladesh War of 1971. â€œBut now, the India-Israel relationship is finally out of the closet.â€ Jacob, a believer in Jewish exceptionalism, says that historically, Jews have always had a deeply ingrained ingenuity that has helped them survive and innovate. Soon after Israel declared independence in 1948, its small population faced serious security threats from neighbouring countries. â€œIt was our struggle to survive and protect ourselves from different threats that eventually helped us advance in technology,â€ says David Sasson, senior manager at the Jerusalem-based AccuBeat, a niche defence supplier to India. â€œOtherwise, it would not have been possible for such a small country to lead in science and technology research.â€ One of the earliest technology-sharing deals came in 2003, when Israel supplied Elta Green Pine radar to Indiaâ€™s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The same year, India began negotiating for AWACS, and as part of the Phalcon deal, Israel set up five artillery shell factories in India, thus fulfilling the offset condition of locally sourcing 30 per cent of the contract. â€œWhile three AWACS already stand operationalised in the IAF, there is a proposal for procurement of two additional AWACS,â€ said Defence Minister A.K. Antony during Parliamentâ€™s winter session. The AWACS radar, the most sophisticated to date, has strengthened Indiaâ€™s defence network as it can simultaneously track nearly 250 flying objects within a radius of 800km and also has a â€˜look-downâ€™ capability allowing it to monitor movements on the ground or at sea. India is now moving ahead with its own AWACS programme, which was approved by the CCS on February 12. At the DRDO, scientists agree that its radar programme has substantially gained from its cooperation with Israel. Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was vocal about his pro-Israel stand on cooperation in R&D. â€œKalam was an incredible scientific leader,â€ says Avinash Chander, chief controller (Missiles & Strategic Systems), DRDO. â€œThough he knew that the best option is to develop our own systems, he was a great believer in international cooperation in the field of defence research and design.â€ The DRDO has undertaken a range of programmes with Israel that include joint development of long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) for the Indian Navy and medium-range SAM for the IAF. The projects will cost 713,000 crore. The IAF and Rafael have also signed a $2.5 billion deal with the DRDO for the joint development of an advanced version of the Spyder SAM. Vikram Sood, security analyst and former chief of Research and Analysis Wing, feels that though Indiaâ€™s ties with Israel will grow, the partnership will have its challenges. â€œThe question is, â€˜What is the future of the ties, given there are some political reservations about going all out with Tel Aviv?â€™â€ says Sood. He says despite the robustness of Indo-Israeli defence cooperation, some constraints on closer relations do exist, including domestic political sensitivities, entry of foreign arms suppliers and the Iran issue. Perhaps, owing to these concerns, India turned down an Israeli request for an official visit by its defence minister Ehud Barak during Defexpo India 2012. Tel Aviv felt that Barakâ€™s visit would demonstrate the growing defence partnership, but the Indian defence ministry politely told its Israeli counterpart to drop its request. India, too, was guarded about sharing details of an investigation into a terrorist attack on an Israeli diplomatic car in Delhi in February 2012. In Tel Aviv, strengthening overall ties with India will remain a top priority. In Delhi, however, the policy revolves around defence supplies. That may not be the best news for Tel Aviv.