VI. Preconditions for Strategic Partnership, Indian Airforce
VI. Preconditions for Strategic Partnership


Having been indifferent if not hostile to one another for over four decades, it would not be easy for both states to forge a security relationship posthaste. The prolonged absence of political interaction has to be overcome and remedied prior to the pursuit of any meaningful security cooperation. Nor can one ignore certain obvious limitations. Any attempt to establish a strategic partnership between India and Israel would have to address and meet at least some of the following preconditions.

A. Overcoming Past Blinkers

It is essential for both countries to discard past blinkers and to adopt a realistic attitude towards security cooperation. Since the Khilafat movement in the early 1920s, India viewed Israel primarily through an Arab and Islamic prism. In so doing it failed to perceive the value of normalization with Israel in promoting its interests in the Middle East. Although not everyone is happy with normalization, it has ceased to be a contentious issue in India, and even parties such as Janata Dal which opposed the move in 1992, have gradually come to terms with the reality, and have even endorsed and encouraged bilateral cooperation. The traditional Indian sympathy for the Arabs assumed a security dimension in the 1980s when Israel was drawn into the Sri Lankan civil war. In the words of J.N. Dixit, a former diplomat and key player in India's Sri Lankan policy

India's involvement in Sri Lanka...was unavoidable not only due to the ramifications of Colombo's oppressive and discriminating policies against its Tamil citizens, but also in terms of India's national security concerns due to the Sri Lankan Government's security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel... Israel continued to be the northern point of the arc of containment which the US Government [had created] on the south-western flank of the Soviet Union, stretching from Turkey and Israel via the Gulf up to Pakistan. As such, Narasimha Rao's decision of normalization in January 1992 was a significant departure from the past.

It is impossible for India to be immune to the vagaries of the peace process and its impact upon security cooperation. Even the most pro-Israeli government in New Delhi could not remain indifferent to India's historical ties with the Arab world, its growing economic relations with the Middle East, and the domestic pressures in support of the Arabs. Succumbing to the temptation of linking it to the peace process, however, would severely undermine any strategic partnership with Israel, particularly as most of the joint cooperation in areas suggested in this study would materialize only in the early part of next century, long after the mid-1999 deadline set by the Oslo process. Thus it would be prudent for India to emphasize its support for a negotiated settlement acceptable to all parties to the conflict. Without going into specifics, India could reiterate its opposition to all unilateral actions aimed at changing the status quo. Making security relations hostage to the peace process would make the whole idea a non-starter.

For its part, Israel still remains indifferent towards India, which draws Israeli media attention only at times of natural calamities and disasters. The emerging Asian power is largely perceived through the romanticized view of the Orient, while contemporary India does not figure in Israel's academic discourse. It is difficult to ignore the enormity of India's socio-economic problems and lack of adequate basics like health, education, clean water, nutrition and infrastructure facilities, requiring sustained, long-term planning and execution spread over a couple of generations. At the same time, one cannot ignore the progress made by India in certain key areas such as industrialization, science and technology. Any defense and security cooperation would be confined to a segment of Indian society that is set apart from the teeming millions and thus differs from the general image of poverty and social backwardness. Security cooperation with India hence requires an Israeli ability to understand contemporary India and to be willing to recognize India's military potential and progress in defense research. Past stereotypes and romanticized understanding are great impediments to a better appreciation of the expertise and potential of one another.

B. Joint Research and Production

India's annual defense budget in the early 1990s hovered around 2.5 percent of the GDP and in 1996-97 the budget was close to $10 billion, five percent of which went to defense research. India is committed to increasing the indigenous content of defense equipment from 30 percent at present to 70 percent by 2005, and within the next decade will need to replace or upgrade a large number of its aircraft and main battle tanks.

However, India does not have the financial resources for its enormous military needs and modernization programs. Its indecisive stand on acquiring Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) for over a decade and the time overruns faced by a number of key projects such as the LCA, MBT or MiG upgrading are partly due to the military's inability to find sufficient and uninterrupted financial resources. Even the decision concerning the MiG-21 upgrading was taken only after the air force resorted to 'cannibalization'. As a result, despite the number of visits and regular contacts, the quantum of Israeli exports to India is unlikely to be massive. Equipment from the Former Soviet Union constitutes a vast segment of Indian inventories, and even if India were able to find a willing supplier, India's financial ability to replace this dependency with non-Russian weapons is rather bleak. The indirect costs for spare parts, training, repairs, overhauling and organizational coordination, to name a few, would be tremendous.

Likewise, the nature of India's demands rules out Israel as a prime supplier in certain areas, such as LCA, where the primary concern regards the design and development of a platform. Another major arena that draws attention and funding is the development of Kaveri engines for the LCA. Israel's capabilities in exporting finished products are limited to the Merkava, RPVs and missiles such as Gabriel, Python AAM, Jericho 1 and 2, and Popeye, out of which Gabriel, Python and Popeye are attractive to India since it appears that India is not known to be involved in developing the latter types of missiles. However, even if Israel were interested in export, both the Jericho missiles would be unlikely to be included in India's shopping list as they are simply an advanced version of the Prithvi and Agni missiles. The position of RPV is somewhat different. Pressing demands from the services, coupled with production delays, brighten the prospects of importing a limited number of Israeli RPVs and UAVs, although substantial imports would be opposed by the DRDO as well as by the parliamentarians.

Israel's ability to compete with other potential suppliers is rather limited as India's prolonged dependence upon Moscow for military supplies was largely influenced by attractive financial terms such as 'friendly prices', a long payment schedule, and barter and credit arrangements. Given the financial difficulties faced by the Israeli military industries, the possibilities for such attractive financial terms are remote and unrealistic.

A number of principal defense projects currently underway in India began in the early 1980s, when there was no serious threat to supplies. Coming after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which it refused to condemn, India was assured of a continuous supply of advanced Soviet weapons, systems and platforms. Nevertheless, Mrs. Indira Gandhi consciously opted for the indigenous production of main battle tanks, light combat aircraft and a series of guided missiles. If modernization and the reduction of dependency upon Moscow were the prime considerations, she would have opted for imports and even dove-tailed some of her policies to suit Washington. However, the aim of these financially exorbitant projects was to acquire substantial technological experience and independence. As such, despite the time and cost overruns and technological impediments, India is unlikely to abandon its high profile programs currently underway.

However, though undertaken without any external financial support, successful and early completion of a number of these projects would require an influx of foreign technology and expertise. This would be an ideal situation for Israel as not only are technology and improvisation in the realm of Israeli expertise, they also are available for export.

These three considerations, namely, India's drive for technological expertise and independence, its financial constraints and Israel's need to export its expertise, make joint research and development an attractive proposition. Facing similar challenges in a number of fields, both countries could coordinate and complement their experience, expertise and demands. This is not to suggest that these projects exhibit identical technical expertise or that the products have similar performance standards. Nevertheless, it is a fact that a number of ongoing programs in India are not radically different from their Israeli counterparts, including the LCA (Lavi), Arjun (Merkava), Prithvi (Jericho I) and Agni (Jericho 2). The same can be said of a number of other Indian programs such as UAV/RPV, airborne early warning system, anti-ballistic missile system or cruise missile technology.

Irrespective of the DRDO's ability to deliver the LCA by 2005, India would not be able to replace its entire fleet overnight and would be compelled to upgrade the existing MiG fleet including MiG-21 as well as MiG-27 and MiG-29. Upgrading is vital even if India sought to deplete the MiGs through exports. It is not certain that Russia would again be chosen for such an endeavor. Instead of competing for the contract, it would be worthwhile for Elbit and IAI to explore the possibility of collaborating with HAL, which, like Elbit and IAI, also sought the Mig-21 contract unsuccess- fully, and bid jointly for the upgrading contract. Given the high labor cost in Israel, a joint venture with HAL would significantly reduce costs, thereby making the offer financially attractive and competitive. Such joint ventures could also be extended to third party contracts.

Factors such as access to more advanced Western technology, a pressing security situation and an early commencement of research, have given Israel technological superiority over India. A number of Israeli inventories have undergone substantial improvements and modernization based on the battle-field experiences of earlier models. For instance, Jericho 1 was introduced in the early 1970s, nearly two decades before India's Prithvi. The Merkava tank, introduced in the late 1970s, has been remodeled twice since, likewise the fourth generation of Popeye, currently being used by Israel. Collaboration with Israel would thus significantly reduce time and cost overruns for India and would enable it to overcome some of the technical bottlenecks facing the DRDO. Thus Arjun could benefit from the battlefield experiences and competence of three generations of Merkava tanks, and if HAL is keen to stay in the upgrading market, it could join hands with Elbit or IAI and compete for a larger market.

In joining hands with India, Israel would not be doing it a favor. Israel's success in maintaining the technological edge amidst growing Arab conventional and non-conventional power depends entirely upon its ability to fund special projects. For a variety of reasons, commercialization of technology appears to be the only realistic alternative. With a shirking defense budget, exploration of collaborative ventures with India makes economic as well as strategic sense for Israel. Even if third party exports are ruled out, India still presents a large market for Israel. For instance, within the next decade India has to replace most of its over 2,000 MBTs and must upgrade and replace around 400 MiGs. With more advanced Western countries pursuing joint ventures, with several principle weapons being produced in collaboration, it would be difficult for India or Israel to pursue vital programs each on their own. The era in which a single country made a whole system or platform may truly be over.

C. US Component

Even though since 1948 the US consistently pressed India to move closer towards the Jewish State, one cannot be sure that Washington would completely endorse and encourage the current Indo-Israeli security cooperation. A favorable attitude would mitigate, if not nullify tensions between New Delhi and Washington over a number of key issues. For strategic reasons as well as commercial ones, the US is apprehensive of some of India's ambitious plans, and at regular intervals has sought to impose economic and political sanctions to slow down and even bring about the termination of some of the projects. There are clear Indo-US differences over issues such as NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and perceived Israeli influence in the US is insufficient to mitigate these differences.

A strong security cooperation in areas underlined in this study, especially in anti-missile, cruise missile or Lavi technology is bound to bring the US into the picture. Some of these projects are transferred or funded by the US and hence would be subjected to end-user conditions. Having been vehemently opposed to the testing of Agni or the deployment of Prithvi, the US is unlikely to be indifferent to Israeli willingness to transfer its Jericho expertise. American criticism of Israeli export of Lavi technology to China becomes hollow if it is indifferent towards a similar Israeli venture with India. The American ability to override sensitive Israeli commitments to India would be much larger than those exhibited over Russia's attempts to sell cryogenic engines in 1993. Political proximity has not immunized Israel from American displeasure and threats of sanctions.

Hence Indo-Israeli security relations would have to be coordinated with the US and prior understanding and transparency with Washington becomes essential. Establishing a certain modus vivendi with the US State and Commerce Departments would lessen the friction which could arise by any uncoordinated security deals between India and Israel. Direct or indirect involvement of American companies in Indo-Israeli joint ventures might partially ease the situation.

D. Institutional Framework

As functioning democracies, the political leaderships in both countries have to confront a host of pressing domestic and regional concerns which divert their attention from promoting bilateral security cooperation. Their interest in foreign policy is rather limited and is largely devoted to promoting political and economic relations with the great powers. The picture is further complicated by frequent political changes in India, which had as many as five prime ministers during 1996-98. The problem of continuity is hampered by the frequent changes of bureaucrats in India. "At the political level, India remains tentative in seeking deeper cooperation with Israel. At the administrative level, the wheels of Government grind far too slowly for New Delhi to get its act together and generate a policy momentum in any direction." Unlike in Israel, there is very little cooperation between the Indian Defense and Foreign Ministries. For its part, Israel is primarily concerned about its relations with the US and its immediate neighbors, and countries such as India do not figure in its defense and foreign policy debates.

Establishing a professional, non-political arrangement, responsible for security partnership is essential for the elimination of some of the difficulties such as political instability, procrastination in decision-making, absence of continuity, bureaucratic entanglement and lack of professional input. Establishing a joint commission at the ministerial level would be an ideal if unnecessary solution. Likewise, one can dispense with certain key players on either side: As a non-specialist bureaucrat selected from the general pool of career civil servants, the ability of India's Defense Secretary to influence the decisions of the political leadership is marginal. With frequent changes and transfers he is largely confined to implementing decisions made by the political leadership. Though the appointment of the defense attache is a significant move, he would be confined to providing professional inputs and would have very little say in the decision-making process. Besides, his interest and expertise would be confined to the specific service from which he comes, thus an attache from the air force is likely to be less inclined towards other services, and vice-versa.

On the Israeli side, though Rafael is the primary weapons development authority, a large number of defense research studies and projects useful for India are undertaken by other state-owned and private Israeli firms. Rafael hence should rather be considered an actor rather than a decisive authority. Likewise, though more appropriately, Sibat has a conflict of interest, since, as an agency aimed at promoting arms exports, its decisions are based on economic considerations, thus undermining its professional judgment.

Therefore, it would be appropriate for both countries to establish a permanent body headed by the Scientific Adviser to the Defense Ministry (India) and the Director-General of the Defense Ministry (Israel). Both these positions would maintain continuity, as those appointed in recent years were in office for a long duration and have served under various governments. As professionals they have considerable influence and can easily implement and execute decisions based on sound professional considerations.

Israel does not have answers to all Indian ills nor India the solution to the economic hardships of the Israeli military industries. Absence of interactions in the past makes creditability of agreements and reliability of weapons essential for the success of security cooperation. From the very start it is essential that the Indian parties are informed of weapons requiring third-party clearance for containing non-Israeli components, otherwise Israel would be raising false and unrealizable expectations. For instance, during President Weizman's visit, Israel offered to sell Kfir fighters to India though it was unclear whether Israel had sought and obtained American permission before making this offer. If denied permission, Israel would have to sell a less powerful version than the original offer. Likewise, any weapons or systems not used by the IDF are unlikely to find favors in India. For example, it would be difficult for IAI to sell Phalcon radar as the state-of-art system, when the IDF itself is reluctant to use it. In the long run, overselling would be a bad strategy. It has been implied that most of the RPVs supplied by Israel failed during test runs, thus questioning the wisdom of dealing with Israel.

For its part, it is essential that India expedites the process of decision-making. Frequent change of personnel and the web of bureaucracy greatly undermine the trust and confidence of Israeli firms in doing business with India. The prevailing tendency of frequent 'familiarization' trips raise doubts as to the genuineness of India's motives and purpose.

E. Israel-Pakistan Rapprochement

Any significant and substantial security cooperation and under- standing between India and Israel largely depends on the position of a third party: Pakistan. The prolonged absence of Indo-Israeli diplomatic relations was partly influenced by India's preoccupation, if not obsession with Pakistan. Despite the frequency of the visits and contacts, especially in the military and security arena, there is a great Indian reluctance to forge strong political relations with Israel. Since normalization, senior Indian diplomats felt it necessary to 'brief' Arab ambassadors in the Indian capital at regular intervals of India's ties with Israel, the last major occasion being the highly publicized visit of Israeli President Ezer Weizman in January 1997. At the same time, leaders and political figures also give regular reassurance of India's commitments to the Palestinian cause.

One cannot dismiss this reluctant and somewhat apologetic approach merely as a continuation of the traditional policy. Even during the absence of diplomatic relations, Pakistan accused India of conspiring with the 'Zionist enemy' to threaten and undermine the larger Islamic world. Ever since normalization, 'Hindu-Jewish', 'Brahmin-Zionist' or Indo-Israeli conspiracies have periodically become a prime theme in the Pakistan media.

For instance in October 1997, an editorial in The Muslim commented One objective of such cooperation [between the Mossad and RAW] is to destabilize Pakistan internally through various means in order to subjugate it and ultimately tame its leadership. This tactic is a classical one, used by the Mossad against Arab countries, especially against Egypt. It is with this in mind, one notices a rather strange domestic situation [in Pakistan]... The editorial went on to attribute terrorist and sectarian violence in Pakistan to 'the Indo-Israeli connection' and warned that Pakistan had plenty of options which would lead to the "radicalization of Pakistan and the entire Muslim world, against Americanism, Zionism and Hinduism."

Neither India nor Israel can influence such a paranoid portrayal. However, normalization of relations between the Jewish state of Israel and the Islamic republic of Pakistan would immensely facilitate India to skillfully articulate its interests in forging close ties with Israel, thus preventing Indo-Israeli normalization from becoming a stigma. Not obliged to constantly explain or justify its relations, India would be free to evolve a strong security relationship with Israel. Political relations or even a public understanding between Pakistan and Israel would indeed facilitate and encourage India to be freed from its obsession with Pakistan and would pave the way for a strong security relationship between India and Israel. Conversely, the absence of an Israel-Pakistani relationship or understanding would remain a major impediment to Indo-Israeli strategic partnership.

F. Greater circumspection

Premature disclosures have become a major operational impediment to Israeli arms exports, and the tendency to disclose more than absolutely necessary has often lead to controversies and even to the cancellation of certain deals. Secrecy is a rare commodity among talkative politicians, indiscreet bureaucrats and inquisitive media in both countries. For example, in its eagerness to forge strong cooperation with the NATO member, Israel found itself embroiled in Turkish internal politics with the Islamists opposing the military's preference for Israel. Moreover, Arab displeasure and anger over security cooperation between Israel and Turkey was preceded by widespread media coverage in Israel over proposed military deals and the possible use of Turkey as a base for monitoring hostile countries such as Syria, Iran and Iraq. Given the credibility of the Israeli media, it is natural that these countries are reluctant to accept the official denials to the contrary. < p align="justify"> Likewise, the official or non-official portrayal of Indo-Israeli security cooperation being targeted at third countries such as China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or Syria would put severe and irresistible pressures on bilateral relations. If the cooperation between the two non-Islamic countries in the region is portrayed as a conspiracy against the Islamic world, even the most pro-Israeli government in New Delhi would find it difficult to endure domestic pressures to abandon security ties with Israel. While total blackout is not possible, military and security cooperation must be handled with greater circumspection and care. Those at the helm of affairs (the usual source of media leaks and disclosures), must be reminded of the consequences and be advised to be discrete. Otherwise, limited military deals would be accompanied by a lot of hot air. Unnecessary coverage would also make things difficult for the Indian government. Though normalization has ceased to be controversial, a sizable section of the population has not totally reconciled itself to the idea and is vehemently opposed to military cooperation.

India is capable of tackling the Pakistani threat by itself and on the basis of its own capability and experience. But to give the impression that India will tackle this threat with [Israeli] expertise or experience, sends the wrong signal to many people both at home and abroad.

Even those reconciled to normalization often adopt emotional positions over security cooperation with Israel. Hence circumspection becomes vital for strategic partnership.