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Israel's India Missile Deal Will Be Partially Implemented After Netanyahu's Attempts at Persuasion

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greet during the India-Israel Business Summit in New Delhi. January 15, 2018
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greet during the India-Israel Business Summit in New Delhi. January 15, 2018Credit: MONEY SHARMA/AFP

The agreement to provide Spike missiles to India, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resuscitated on his visit to India last week, has been in the works for nearly a decade. Israeli pressure helped, but it’s too soon to say how much. The revised deal will be at most half the size of the original, from which New Delhi withdrew last month.

In a bid to heighten the anti-tank capabilities of its ground forces, India issued a call for bids for thousands of anti-tank missiles, which was awarded about three years ago to Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Rafael committed to providing 8,000 Spike missiles (the international version of the Gil missile used by the Israeli army), with a range of four kilometers.

The total value of the original deal exceeded $600 million. The missiles would be manufactured by Rafael in India, in cooperation with two local companies. Rafael outbid a French firm (which dropped out relatively early) and the American Lockheed Martin, whose Javelin missile has a range of only 2.5 kilometers. The final agreement with India was yet signed.

In December, shortly before Netanyahu’s five-day visit to the country, India announced that the deal was off. Behind the decision was a power struggle between India’s armament development authority and the commanders of its ground forces. The weapons agency insisted that India could make its own, similar missiles, although these are only in the first stages of development. But after the deal with Israel was scrapped, the Indian army resumed its advocacy for the agreement with Rafael, saying that only the Israeli manufacturer could meet its needs.

Netanyahu invested great time and effort in persuading his Indian hosts. He was joined in his efforts by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat; the head of the Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate, Michel Ben-Baruch and Israel’s Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon. Rafael CEO, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Har-Even was also in India during Netanyahu’s visit. The new understandings between the parties have not been published, but according to estimates between 2,500 and 4,000 missiles will be supplied, down from 8,000.

The complex negotiations with India, Israel’s No. 1 arms buyer in recent years, say a lot about the future of the global arms market for Israeli defense firms.

After the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s, the United States dominated the international scene, and the number of military confrontations between states declined. Since 2001, after 9/11 and the wars the United States fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, many states began to focus on defending their populations from terror.

But recently, and especially since 2014, the arms market underwent another dramatic transformation.

Terror attacks increased in the West, as a secondary effect of the shake-up in the Arab world and actions of Islamic extremist groups, alongside increased and more complex use of military power by Russia and China. China’s Asian neighbors are jittery and so are Russia’s neighbors in Eastern and Central Europe. These countries have been increasing their defense budgets and showing more interest in advanced weapons.

A multipolar world has been created, with many competing forces and local conflicts. From the perspectives of arms manufacturers, this is quite good news. Contacts to buy arms from Israel have clearly proliferated from countries like Japan, South Korea and India, concerned about China, and North Korea’s transformation into a nuclear power.

In Europe, interest comes mainly from Poland, Romania and even Germany, in light of renewed tension between Moscow and NATO countries. Some of this interest is on “traditional” weapons, from submarines to air defense systems and even tanks. At the same time, demand is increasing for cyberdefense, in the context of Russia’s proven ability to mount cyberattacks (in Georgia, the Baltic States and Turkey) and over fears that China could undertake similar operations.

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