Despite the absence of Israeli contacts with the Asian continent in the early stages of Israel’s establishment when the Israeli state was busy fortifying its bases inside occupied Palestine, the past ten years have seen a transformation in the international and regional climate that has activated Israeli advances towards Asia. Israel invested in the start of a process of political settlement in the Middle East in part to eradicate Asian reservations over cooperation with the state of Israel; indeed, Israel called on some important Asian powers to participate in the political process. Asian countries responded to these Israeli efforts, and partial Arab absence from the scene contributed to the invigoration of Israeli-Asian cooperation. Thus, Israeli interests in Asia extended to the most important of countries in geopolitical and geo-strategic terms, namely India.
The importance of the relationship between Israel and India emanates from the nature of Israeli foreign policy, which seeks consistently to invest in an international climate and conditions that serve Israel’s national goals, especially those concerning the Arab-Israel conflict, and the emerging and ever-increasing role of Asia’s sizeable forces and their international impact. India, on the other hand, desires to update its civilian and military technology, but more importantly, to enhance its military capabilities towards Indian national goals, especially in tackling Indian tensions with Pakistan. In light of the absence of Arab efforts to draw India closer to Arab causes, Israeli-Indian relations and interaction advanced. The Israeli policy of exploiting the political, security and military crises of some Asian countries at the expense of others, for example siding with India in the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, has also contributed to strengthening Indo-Israel cooperation.
Within these changes, external military cooperation has become one of the most important mechanisms of Israel’s foreign policy. Israel has consolidated its military cooperation with many Asian countries, especially India, thus violating American laws that ban selling weapons built with US military technology to a third party. This implies that Israel has succeeded in achieving the maximum level of independence in its political decisions, all the while exploiting military cooperation to shore up its international political influence. Israel has also received access to military facilities that aid its freedom of movement.
Notably, even as Israel’s military exports come to 30 percent of the whole, Israel has become capable, through direct assistance from the US, of manufacturing a variety of high-tech weapons systems on its own. Simultaneously, Arab countries have been deprived of potential sources for attaining specific weapons systems, or even the possibility of cooperating with Asian countries in the areas of security and the military.
Moreover, the US has allowed Israel to become a broker for procuring weapons in cases where the US does not want to demonstrate direct engagement, such as the case of India, or when the US desires to improve its political and economic relations by consolidating direct technological and military cooperation between Israel and India.
Israeli capabilities in maintaining, upgrading and fixing various weapons systems mark a notable advancement, hand-in-hand with Israeli progress in traditional and non-traditional military technology, and of course the services that Israel offers to countries that desire to buy weapons sold on the cheap in Israel as compared with the western arms market. The fact that there are no diplomatic ties between Israel and some countries in Asia has not impeded the spread of Israeli military influence over those countries. India is considered one of the most striking examples.
Tracing the roots of Indo-Israel military relations, one notes that they began decades ago as invisible cooperation in the fields of security and defense. In the sixties, these relations reached the point of several reciprocal secret visits and mutual military aid during their respective armed conflicts. Following the 1973 war, visits by Indian military delegations to Israel increased as a means of benefiting from Israel in the fields of electronic warfare and anti-tank missile defense. After the 1982 Lebanon war, India sought to benefit from Israeli expertise in operating early warning planes and organizing and managing the South Lebanese security zone, with the idea of implementing similar ideas on the border zone with Kashmir. Later, in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won India’s elections and worked on advancing the relationship between India and Israel. Full diplomatic relations were established and ambassadors were appointed in both countries on January 29, 1992.
The motives of both countries in pursuing cooperation range from strategic, security and military to political and economic. There is no room here to detail these; what concerns us is a quick survey of some specifics of the military relationship between Israel and India. In this regard, the most important is the nuclear dimension. India embarked on its nuclear tests with the support of the international community, namely the United States and Israel, because the US desired a nuclear force to balance China as a nuclear power in Central Asia. Israel benefited from this cooperation–according to some sources–by being permitted to conduct two nuclear tests on Indian territory, the components transferred on board an Israeli C130 military aircraft that landed in India two weeks prior to the tests. India also makes use of its nuclear cooperation with Israel in maintaining qualitative superiority over its enemy, Pakistan.
Other than nuclear cooperation, military cooperation between Israel and India covers traditional and non-traditional weapons, and ground, sea, air and space. This cooperation encompasses the transfer of advanced military technology from Israel, with the support of the US, to India. The details are numerous, but the guiding principle of this relationship is worth studying. The Israeli vision of its important relationship with India is based on one premise: that any non-Arab and non-Islamic country that possesses advanced traditional and non-traditional military capabilities represents a strategic ally and a supporting power for Israel. The Indian premise stipulates, on the other hand, that close ties with Arab countries that are technologically far behind Israel are not worth sacrificing close ties with high-tech leader Israel, not only in the region but worldwide.