India Sends 27-Tons Weapons Shipment To Israel, Signs ‘Landmark’ Chabahar Pact With Iran: Decoding Delhi’s Diplomacy

In the volatile Middle East landscape, India finds itself performing a delicate balancing act, juggling strategic alliances while navigating the treacherous waters of regional conflicts.

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Amidst the escalating tensions between Israel and Gaza, a controversial narrative unfolds.

India, a top arms importer from Israel, has emerged as a crucial lifeline for ammunition supply to the Jewish state in the volatile crisis engulfing the region. Reports suggest that as the conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas intensified, India’s role as a strategic supplier of munitions became increasingly pivotal.

However, this delicate arms diplomacy has not gone unnoticed, nor has it been without its challenges. In a striking turn of events, a Danish-flagged merchant vessel carrying a substantial cargo of “27 tonnes of explosive material from India to Israel” found itself denied port facilities in Spain. “This is the first time we have done this because it is the first time we have detected a ship carrying a shipment of arms to Israel that wants to call at a Spanish port,” stated Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares Bueno during a press briefing in Brussels.

Meanwhile, in a striking move, in May 2024, India signed a 10-year contract to operate the strategic port of Chabahar with Iran, an adversary of Israel. This intricate move between adversaries unveils the complexities of India’s diplomatic strategy in the Middle East.

India strives to balance interests in the Middle East, especially Iran and Israel. As the conflict rages on, India finds itself at the intersection of strategic alliances and the pursuit of regional stability, prompting questions about the implications of its arms exports and the broader ramifications of the fragile peace process.

Iran and Israel are inherently not natural adversaries. Their contemporary enmity is primarily rooted in ideology rather than geopolitical factors. There are no bilateral land or resource disputes between Iran and Israel.

However, both nations came to full blows after Israel bombed the Iranian embassy in Syria, and Iran responded with a barrage of drone and missile attacks. Israel hit back at mainland Iran, but military experts called it symbolic that would not ignite a full-scale war.

This escalation has raised the specter of a conflict characterized by advanced technology, paramilitary forces, and mutual hostility. It has the potential to devastate significant portions of the Middle East, disrupt the global economy, and draw in major powers like the United States and others.

File Image: Modi, Netanyahu

India: Arms Supplier To Israel 

India and Israel share a significant partnership in various defense and security realms, with Israel being one of India’s top arms suppliers. According to annual reports from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), India is the primary foreign customer for this renowned Israeli defense giant and arms manufacturer.

Several recent reports indicate a notable surge in Israel’s demand for ammunition during the Israel-Gaza conflict. India has played a crucial role in supporting Israel during this crisis by providing ammunition. Adani-Elbit Advanced Systems India Ltd., a joint venture between Adani Defence and Aerospace and Israel’s Elbit Systems, has been instrumental in exporting munitions to Israel.

These exports include Indian aero-structures and subsystems, as well as over 20 Hermes 900 UAVs/drones. Additionally, the government-owned Munitions India Ltd. exported ordnance to Israel as recently as January 2024.

These developments have attracted international attention. India’s support for Israel has not hindered its engagement with Iran despite the US threat of sanctions. India has engaged with Iran through agreements such as the one for the Chabahar port, reflecting the complexity of India’s diplomatic engagements in the region.

India-Iran Relations
File Image: Modi with Rouhani

India-Iran Chabahar Deal

In May 2024, India inked a 10-year agreement to manage the strategic Iranian port of Chabahar. Chabahar, in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, is the nearest Iranian port to India, offering convenient and secure access for large cargo vessels. India is actively developing the Shahid Beheshti Terminal – the port’s first phase, in collaboration with the Government of Iran.

Under the deal, Indian Ports Global Limited (IPGL) and Iran’s Port & Maritime Organisation committed to the port’s long-term development. According to Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mehrdad Bazrpash, IPGL will invest around $120 million, with an additional $250 million in financing, totaling $370 million.

India’s involvement in Chabahar dates back to 2016, when it signed an agreement to bolster the port’s infrastructure. A trilateral agreement between India, Iran, and Afghanistan was forged during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Iran in May 2016 to establish the International Transport and Transit Corridor (Chabahar Agreement).

India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) took over Chabahar Port’s operations on December 24, 2018, through its subsidiary, India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ). To enhance port operations, India has already supplied six Mobile Harbour Cranes and other equipment worth $25 million.

Since then, Chabahar has handled over 90,000 TEUs of container traffic and more than 8.4 MMT of bulk and general cargo. Theportfacilitated humanitarian aid, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has transshipped 2.5 million tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of pulses from India to Afghanistan till today. In 2021, India sent 40,000 liters of eco-friendly pesticide (Malathion) to Iran to combat locust infestation through Chabahar.

Chabahar Port is a crucial transit route for Indian goods to reach Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Given the strained relations with Pakistan, the route is a strategic alternative for India.

India’s Diplomatic Strategy In The Middle East

India’s intricate balancing act in the Middle East underscores its complex strategy in the region. Both Israel and Iran are keen to strengthen their ties with India, viewing it as a reliable friend during times of adversity. Each country pursues its interests in this dynamic relationship.

However, India takes a wider strategic view of the Middle East. Its approach extends beyond bilateral ties, acknowledging the importance of cultivating relationships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This underscores the region’s critical role in India’s overarching strategic considerations.

Despite being one of the most successful regions for Indian diplomacy over the past decade, the Middle East poses ongoing challenges for Delhi’s diplomatic maneuvering.

  • Shubhangi Palve is a Defence and aerospace Journalist. Before joining the EurAsian Times, she worked for ET Prime. In this capacity, she focused on covering Defence strategies and the Defence Sector from a financial perspective. She offers over 15 years of extensive experience in the media industry, spanning print, electronic, and online domains.
  • Contact the author at shubhapalve (at) gmail (dot) com.