The veil of secrecy that surrounded diplomatic or defence contacts between India and Israel during Congress rule has now given way to a more open manner of exchanges after the BJP government took office. Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon’s visit and his meeting with prime minister Modi reflected the winds of change in the relationship. Ya’alon offered defence technology towards the ‘Make in India’ initiative that India sorely seeks. There is no reason why India must be shy of Israeli cooperation. Every nation, especially an emerging regional power like India, needs to shore up its defence.
The Congress doubtlessly pursued a policy of shunning Israel because of its virtual obsession with the Muslim vote bank. In an atmosphere of brazen appeasement of the minority that Congress governments followed, there was no room for a truck with Israel except through hush-hush meetings and unpublicised deals. Any open give-and-take held the prospect of annoying the Arab nations. But as Ya’alom pointed out last week, Israel has emerged as India’s second biggest arms supplier after Russia over the past two decades. He said Israel, a tiny country which has fought enemies from all around by developing technologies to intercept rockets and missiles, can cooperate closely in the defence and security sector with its offers of flexible technology transfer.
India is estimated to have purchased defence equipment worth over $10 billion from Israel. Big-ticket items procured include the 2004 deal for three Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft worth over $1.1 billion. Other niche technological equipment purchases have included unmanned aerial vehicles and aerostat surveillance radars for the Indian Air Force besides underwater surveillance systems for the Indian Navy. It is indeed apt that India’s foreign policy now is not dictated by what others think but by enlightened self-interest.