India Turns Down Barak Request to Make Official Visit

Defense Minister Ehud Barak sought to visit military expo in New Delhi to symbolize close Israel-India ties; request denied by Indian Defense Ministry due to domestic political sensitivities.

The government of India recently turned down a request by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to make an official work visit to that country. A senior Israeli official said that the Indians cited domestic political sensitivities and were not interested in high-profile visits by Israeli officials at this time.

The spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, David Goldfarb, would not comment on the matter and referred inquiries to Barak's office. Barak's office also declined to comment.

The India Express newspaper reported on the matter for the first time on Wednesday morning. According to the report, Barak wanted to visit the Defexpo exhibition which opened in New Delhi on March 29 and was organized by the Indian Defense Ministry.

The Israeli pavilion was the largest at the exhibition and included close to 20 Israeli defense companies. Many representatives from Israel's Defense Ministry and security industry attended the exhibition and displayed their products. Israel wanted Barak to visit the exhibition in order to symbolize the close cooperation between Israel and India.

India's Defense Ministry was concerned by Israel's request and turned it down because it felt that visits to India by senior Israeli officials like Barak could produce tensions within the country and spark criticism from India's large Muslim community.

After an examination of Barak's visit request, it was Indian Defense Minister A K Antony who made the decision to keep security ties with Israel low-profile and deny the request. The India Express reported that the denial of the request by Antony was done without consultation with the Indian Foreign Ministry, which in the past year has been trying to enhance India's relationship with Israel and make that relationship more visible and public.

Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna visited Israel in January, the first by an Indian foreign minister in 11 years. During two decades of relations between the countries, visits by Indian officials have not been common. An Indian prime minister has never visited Israel. The current Indian defense minister has also never visited Israel, despite the dramatic growth of military ties between the two countries.

Israel and India maintain tight security and intelligence ties. India purchases from Israel a wide array of advanced military technologies. In fact, in recent years Israel has surpassed Russia as India's second largest weapons supplier. Israel sells to India aerial defense systems, missiles, and spy planes, and upgrades old Russian tanks and planes used by the Indian military.

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