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The Indo-Israeli defense relationship has its roots in the early 1990s when diplomatic ties between the two nations were established. Since then, the relationship has evolved beyond mere diplomatic niceties to a comprehensive defense partnership.

India’s recognition of Israel’s expertise in defense technology, particularly in areas such as missile defense and counter-terrorism, has been pivotal in shaping this collaboration.

Rewinding to the Kargil conflict of 1999, Israel emerged as a steadfast ally of India, providing crucial arms and ammunition that proved instrumental in turning the tide of battle.

Laser-guided missiles tailored for Indian Mirage fighter jets and mortar ammunition supplied by Israel played a decisive role in neutralizing entrenched Pakistani forces, thereby bolstering India’s military campaign.

Fast forward to today, amidst the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, recent developments have brought the defense relationship between India and Israel into focus.

Recent Reports

The recent release of its 2023 annual report by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) sparked attention by revealing that India stands as the top foreign customer of the renowned Israeli defense giant and arms manufacturer.

IAI’s annual reports refrained from explicitly naming the buyer country but provided detailed information about the deals, including dates.

“In October 2018, IAI entered into an agreement with a government company in Material Customer A’s country for the joint manufacture and supply of air defense systems totaling $777 million”, as stated in IAI’s annual report.

This coincides precisely with IAI’s announcement that same month, disclosing its agreement with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for the provision of the naval Barak 8 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system valued at $777 million.

Several of these declarations correlate with entries in the annual reports, including the additional provision of Barak 8 SAM valued at $1.6 billion in April 2017, a $550 million agreement for the Sky Capture C3 system in October 2018, and numerous others, according to the ‘Haaretz’ report.

The revelation of India’s status as the primary customer of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) further underscores the depth of bilateral defense cooperation.

It is a widely known fact that India – the world’s largest arms importer, is also the largest buyer of Israeli arms. Israel ranks as India’s fourth largest military hardware supplier, following Russia, France, and the USA.

Remarkably, despite the geopolitical complexities surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, India’s status as the largest buyer of Israeli arms remains unaltered.

India Exporting Munitions To Israel?

In February 2024, reports surfaced indicating a surge in Israel’s demand for ammunition. “Israel’s operations have created a growing need for ammunition,” said an Israeli source speaking to Reuters.

According to a recent report from The Wire, Adani-Elbit Advanced Systems India Ltd., a joint venture between Adani Defence and Aerospace and Israel’s Elbit Systems, has exported munitions in the form of Indian-made aero-structures and subsystems, including over 20 Hermes 900 UAVs/drones, to Israel. Additionally, Government-owned Munitions India Ltd. exported ordnance to Israel as recently as January 2024.

However, the report also highlights that the product MIL intended to export is classified as a ‘dual-use’ item rather than explicitly designated for military purposes under the Munitions List of Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technologies (SCOMET).

This report raises questions about India’s stance and support, including whether India reciprocates the assistance it once received. Is India extending aid to Israel by supplying munitions in their time of need? Furthermore, does this have an impact on India’s image on the global stage?

Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, the Indian army aims to eliminate ammunition imports by the next financial year. The decision aims to boost India’s defense capabilities, be self-reliant, and strengthen its position in the global defense export market.

The Indian army currently procures nearly $800M to $1B annually worth of ammo. Despite a global demand transcending $30B, India presently contributes less than 1%. Maj Gen VK Sharma, ADG (Procurement), said that New Delhi could expand its contribution to 5-10% within the next 4-5 years and 25-30% in the future.

M777 Howitzers
File Image: M777 Howitzer

India-Israel Relationship

In elucidating the intricacies of India-Israel relations, retired Indian Ambassador Soumen Ray emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the partnership.

“Yes, India is the largest buyer of defense equipment from Israel. However, we also have extensive cooperation in agriculture, homeland security, cutting-edge technology, etc. In fact, India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992”, said Ray, with over three decades of diplomatic service in the Middle East and Africa.

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Emphasizing the separation between defense trade and ongoing conflicts, Ray clarifies that “We have not supplied arms and munitions to Israel for use in the current war in Palestine. Therefore, the India-Israel defense trade relationship is not linked to the current war situation. These two aspects are completely separate from each other. Moreover, Our relations with Israel are not conditional upon our relations with the Palestinians in general and the Arab world in particular, ” said Ray.

In the end, we can just say that India and Israel have cultivated a robust partnership in defense cooperation, characterized by mutual trust and shared strategic interests.

Central to this collaboration is the exchange of defense technologies and expertise, benefiting both nations. As both nations navigate evolving geopolitical dynamics, their alliance remains resilient, grounded in shared values and strategic imperatives.

  • Penned By: Shubhangi Palve
  • Contact the author at shubhapalve (at) gmail (dot) com