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Israel's Indian alliance: the Jewish state has become one of Hindu India's most important strategic allies, providing arms and intelligence in their common war against militant Islam.


The day Osama bin Laden's suicide squads unleashed their terrible wrath on the United States, Major-General Uzi Dayan, who in 200l headed Israel's National Security Council and was a key adviser to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was conducting a "strategic dialogue" in New Delhi with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra, and other top officials.

Dayan's presence in the Indian capital on 11 September 200l was, of course, pure happenstance. But it underlined how events in the Middle East and Asia are becoming increasingly entwined and how Israel's influence in South and Central Asia is forging ahead by leaps and bounds.

The events of that fateful day cemented a strategic relationship that has never stopped growing from its clandestine beginnings in the 1960s. Since India recognised Israel in 1992, the Jewish state has become one of India's most important defence suppliers, second only to Russia. Over the last decade or so, Israel has sold India weapons systems and military technology worth an estimated $10bn.

Even so, the Israelis are reluctant to discuss this burgeoning relationship. Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv, recently noted: "It's an extremely sensitive issue. With both countries basically facing similar threats of terrorist incursions, I believe the Indians have come to value more than ever their strategic cooperative relationship with Israel because of the weapons, technology and operational experience we offer them."


The alliance may have blossomed with both countries facing the common threat of Islamist terrorism. But over the years, it has expanded into a much more profound relationship, nurtured by the United States. This is changing the geo-strategic landscape in the Middle East and Asia, primarily targeting Iran and China.

The establishment of diplomatic relations was a major breakthrough for Israel, which at the time was shunned by the Third World. India, reluctant to antagonise its large Muslim population (the second largest in the world), had long championed the Palestinian cause. The alliance with Israel marked a major shift in India's foreign policy.

Both countries--one Jewish, the other Hindu--are locked in deadly combat with Islamist extremists. After 26 November 2008, attacks in Mumbai--India's 9/11--which killed 173 people, including five Israelis, security cooperation between the two nations has skyrocketed--literally.

On 20 April, India launched its Risat-2 satellite, built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the state-owned flagship of Israel's defence industry. The craft is equipped with the same multi-spectral aperture radar as the TechSar i satellite developed for Israel's military and launched amid considerable secrecy in January 2008 by India.

New Delhi's acquisition of Risat-2 was fast-tracked after the coordinated attacks on Mumbai by 10 Islamist gunmen in November 2008. The seaborne attack had not been detected by the Indians and the slaughter exposed a major gap in their intelligence and military networks despite massive defence spending.

Indeed, some counterterrorism specialists in India are convinced that the country's expanding links with Israel were one of the key motivations for an attack on a Jewish centre in Mumbai during the November assault. There has been no hard-and-fast evidence to substantiate that yet, but Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, have been speaking out against a "Zionist-Hindu war against Muslims" since 2006.

Risat-2 gave New Delhi vital surveillance capabilities to guard against further attacks by jihadist raiders. The Indians have deliberately sought to play down the intelligence bonds that now bind them to Israel, but such demonstrations of common cause with the Jewish state may indeed intensify jihadist attacks against India.

The launch also gave Israel an important breakthrough: a satellite that will provide additional surveillance of Iran and its missile-launching zones with sensors that can reportedly take photos with a maximum ground resolution of one metre day and night and through cloud.

That kind of spy capability, provided by Israel, gives India a major intelligence and early-warning edge over Pakistan, and indeed every other Asian state except China and Japan.

Israel has been hampered in its efforts to keep tabs on Iran because, due to the Jewish state's geographical location, it is only able to launch its own intelligence-gathering satellites westwards, against the earth's rotation.

That limits the range of orbits over Iran. Launching from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the Gulf of Bengal in southeastern India means Israel can launch eastwards, adding another dimension to its surveillance of the Islamic Republic.

The 650-pound Risat-2, delivery of which the Israelis accelerated after Mumbai, also cemented a burgeoning intelligence alliance that has been expanding over the last 40o years.

Built by IAI but operated by India, the satellite will provide real-time surveillance on Iran direct to the heavily guarded defence ministry in Tel Aviv. Two further launches in India are likely.

In January, India took delivery of the first of three Phalcon-2 all-weather, early warning command and control systems, manufactured by IAI and mounted on Russian-built Ilyushin 11-76 aircraft under a $1.1bn deal signed in 2004. Negotiations for another three Phalcons are under way and if that deal goes through, it would be the largest defence contract ever sealed by Israel.

In August 2008, New Delhi signed a $2.5bn contract with IAI and Israel's Rafael Advanced Defence Systems company to jointly develop an advanced version of the Spyder surface-to-air missile. That was Israel biggest military contract to date.

Last April, India signed a $1.4bn deal to purchase a shore-based and seaborne anti missile air-defence system modelled on Israel's Barak long-range naval weapon built by IAI. Related contracts raise the overall value of the deal to $2bn.

So far, the Americans have blessed Israel's expanding ties with India, along with the Jewish state's growing intelligence and economic reach into energy-rich Central Asia, since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades ago. The US has agreed to develop India's nuclear energy programme.

But India's growing need for oil and gas, and other raw materials to fuel its swelling economy, means it is increasingly competing with the United States and Asia's other economic titan, China, for energy.

Somewhere down the road, perhaps not too far off, India's strategic and political interests in the Middle East and Africa are going to start colliding with those of the US, which has long been the dominant power in the Middle East, and this could be awkward for Israel.

"It is surprising that India has been so slow to recognise that its national security will demand a deeper involvement in the Gulf and the greater Middle East," said US analyst Eric Margolis. "While India's strategists are well aware of this fact, its politicians have been slow to understand just how dependent their growing economy will become on imported oil."

So far, the Israeli-Indian relationship does not seem to have had a particularly negative impact on the Arab Muslims who control the energy wealth of the Gulf that India covets.

But there have been signs of Muslim unease. The secrecy-shrouded launch of Risat's predecessor, TechSar 1, in January 2008 was postponed several times. Indian officials blamed this on technical difficulties, but media reports suggested that the real reason was intense political pressure from some Gulf countries, including Iran.

India has been building its military forces, with its navy concentrating on projecting power across the Arabian Sea, a vital energy artery from the Gulf to Asia.

The Chinese, competing with India for Middle Eastern oil, have been doing the same thing. Their naval operations have been curtailed by the long logistics routes from their mainland bases in northern Asia, but that is likely to change within a few years.

Adding to the growing geopolitical complexities, Israel's German-built Dolphin-class submarines, reportedly armed with cruise missiles capable of hitting targets deep inside Iran, have begun prowling the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

There is a wide-ranging technological collaboration, particularly in missile development. Israel is reputed to have the Jericho 2B ballistic missile with a range of at least 1,500km and India is developing the Agni-IV ballistic missile with a projected range of 6,000km.


India also wants to acquire the technology for Israel's anti-ballistic theatre missile, the Arrow 2, designed to shoot down Iranian missiles before they reach Israeli territory.

The US has blocked the transfer of Arrow technology to India since the system, largely financed by Washington, contains US components. But India already has the Israeli-made Green Pine radar system used with the Arrow, and the missile technology may not be far behind.

There have been persistent reports over the years of nuclear cooperation between Israel, the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, and India. This stems in part from Israeli concerns that Pakistan's nuclear arms capability could find its way to Israel's foes.

Unlike most states, Israel did not condemn India's nuclear arms tests in 1998 and indeed, exchanges of intelligence on nuclear technology date back to the 1980s. After Pakistan carried out its first nuclear tests in 1998, that exchange intensified.

How extensive this relationship is remains deliberately obscured. But there have been suspicions that because Israel cannot conduct nuclear tests in its own backyard (since it refuses to admit it has such weapons), it may well have had its devices tested by India, a function once performed by South Africa during the apartheid era.
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Title Annotation:CURRENT AFFAIRS
Comment:Israel's Indian alliance: the Jewish state has become one of Hindu India's most important strategic allies, providing arms and intelligence in their common war against militant Islam.(CURRENT AFFAIRS)
Author:Blanche, Ed
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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