Israel-India Strategic Ties Are No Longer a Secret

Cooperation between the two nations was ramped up over a decade ago, but the Indian government preferred to keep a low profile, until now.

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Ya'alon and Modi at the IAI exhibit. Photo courtesy of IAI.
Ya'alon and Modi at the IAI exhibit. Photo courtesy of IAI.
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

A photo released Wednesday reflects a key strategic development for Israel: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen visiting the Israel Aerospace Industries pavilion at the Aero India exhibition in Bangalore.

Modi, who presided over the exhibition’s opening ceremony, toured IAI’s pavilion and learned about Israeli drones and the company’s new seaplane in development. The photo is yet another reflection of the improving relationship between Delhi and Jerusalem, which is now out in the open.

The exhibition is also being attended by Moshe Ya’alon, the first Israeli defense minister to travel to India since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. Ya’alon visited IAI’s exhibits and was scheduled to meet with his Indian counterpart.

“This visit is incredibly significant for the strengthening ties with a rising world power such as India,” Ya’alon said before leaving Israel at the beginning of the week. “India is a true friend to Israel, and advancing joint interests will greatly benefit both nations and their defense establishments, which have excellent relations.”

Since his BJP party came in first in April’s general election, Modi has been a very public supporter of Israel. In September, during the UN General Assembly session in New York, Modi met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although the two nations ramped up security cooperation around a decade ago, India has become the largest customer of Israeli defense exports over the past two years. The annual value of arms deals between the two countries has topped $1 billion and makes up nearly 15 percent of all Israeli defense exports.

“We are open to more or less [selling] anything,” Ya’alon said at the Israeli pavilion, where executives from other major Israeli defense firms, including Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, were displaying their wares. “We believe that we have the better product.”

India is among Israel’s biggest customers for unarmed drones, and analysts say Israel is keen to use its head start over rival makers such as the United States to increase sales to Delhi.

Under Modi, Israel and India have pushed ahead with the joint development of an aerial defense system, which passed its first trial simulating combat conditions in November. In October, India opted to buy Rafael’s Spike anti-tank guided missile in a deal worth $525 million, choosing the Israeli product over a U.S. offer of its Javelin missiles.

Until the change in government last year, the Indians preferred to keep a low profile regarding security cooperation with Israel. And now Israeli relations with other East Asian nations, including Japan (where Netanyahu visited last month) and South Korea, are also on the rise.

Intelligence and strategic cooperation with those countries is also key for Israel amid the rising tensions between Jerusalem on one side and Western Europe and the United States on the other. Tensions have been fueled by a lack of negotiations with the Palestinians and disagreements over the Western powers’ nuclear talks with Iran.

With reporting by Reuters.

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