December 28, 2020



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Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 2003.

Judging from contemporary internal and external developments, India and Israel-currently strategic partners-are poised to grow into a partnership of strategic allies within the international arena in the near future. This article studies the relationship between India and Israel, focusing on politics and defense, from 9/11 to the present day. It gives a brief overview of the historical relationship between India and Israel, especially in the political and military realms, establishing that relationship within a continuous trajectory which has led to the current flurry of bilateral engagements.


As history testifies, the nations of India and Israel have each met with many destructive impediments in course of their development. However, each has emerged with distinctive characteristics that define their respective self-identities. Only six and half decades have passed since they were declared “sovereign states”-for India, in 1947, and for Israel, in 1948. Each at that point created and consolidated existing state institutions, furthering their own internal and external sovereignty[1] as independent, modern, “Westphalian” states.

From the late 6th century CE onwards, Jews and people from Bharat (the old name for India) have engaged in trade, commerce, and the exchange of academic and scholarly ideas.[2] Throughout this period, the relationship between the Hindu and Jewish ethno-national communities has always been congenial and characterized by mutual respect and affection. However, the relationship between India and Israel during the period between both nations gaining independence and the end of the Cold War was marked by relative bitterness.

The influential Muslim populace residing either adjacent to or within the territories of the two nations has been a crucial factor in plotting the relations between the countries at the political level. Muslims in India played a leading role in attempting to inhibit India’s establishing and maintaining an official relationship with the state of Israel.[3] This demographic greatly determined and shaped India’s foreign policy engagement with Israel throughout the Cold War era; except for the brief rule, from 1977 to 1979, of the Janata party, which was not as inclined towards the country’s Muslim populace as the Indian National Congress (INC) party-the longest ruling political party in the country-had been. Also during the Cold War era, Palestinians within Israel cultivated strong bonds with India as INC, under the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family, took a single-mindedly supportive stance towards the Palestinian statehood cause.

On September 18, 1950, India finally granted full de jure and de facto recognition to Israel.[4] However Nehru’s firm rebuff to Ben Gurion’s overtures initially pitted the national governments of the two countries against one another.[5] This political deadlock between the two countries continued throughout the Cold War era. However, many authoritative security experts claim that despite the political deadlock, the two countries managed to maintain clandestine military and intelligence contacts. This study attempts to ascertain if these previous military/intelligence engagements played a role in cementing an official relationship between the two countries after Indian Prime Minister Narashima Rao established full diplomatic relations with Israel on January 29, 1992.[6]

This paper describes the political-military relationship between India and Israel, first examining individual political and military characteristics of both states, then establishing the impact and significance of previous bilateral political-military engagements, both during the Cold War and from the official restoration of diplomatic relations until 9/11 and beyond, into the post-9/11 era.[7] Further, it briefly describes the future bilateral strategic alliance between India and Israel, based on factual and critical analysis of contemporary dynamics.

Such analysis is particularly significant at the moment, given that Israel and India stand at a decisive juncture whereby political-military co-operation between the two is likely to significantly increase in the near future,


Indian Military Emerges from Previous British Model

The state of India inherited a British imperial model of bureaucratic-military establishment, which was imposed on it during the 200-year British occupation of India. Many attributes of the Indian military stemmed from this model, including civilian control over the military as a commonly accepted norm. The first official act in British India that advanced civilian control over the military was the Pitt’s India Act of 1784, which for the first time stipulated that the head of the military was subordinate to the civilian government and could not revert to the governor-generalship during a vacancy.[8] Following this, high-level civil-military conflicts emerged in British India, like the rift between Lord Curzon of Kedleston and his commander-in-chief Kitchener of Khartoum in 1904-05. At the end of each of these conflicts the degree of civilian control over the military further increased.

Even during the heightened phase of India’s independence movement, political leaders deliberately kept the military out of the political realm. This gave political leaders the legitimacy to command the state post-independence based on the moral authority of their long association with the country’s freedom struggle.

The decision not to involve the military in the freedom movement is evident from a statement made at the time by Pandit Motilal Nehru, a prominent Congress leader, to General K.S. Thimayya and other Indian officers urging them not to resign their commission to join the freedom movement: “We are going to win independence. Perhaps not this year or the next, but sooner or later the British will be driven out. When that happens, India will stand alone. We will have no-one to protect us but ourselves. It is then that our survival will depend upon men like you.”[9] His words proved fortuitous and restricted the army to the professional sphere. Hence, the Indian officer corps in the British Indian Army remained separate from class, ethnicity or political affiliations.

Even after India gained independence, the highest political stratum of India was not in favor of enlisting the Indian military as an equal partner in the state-building process. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru worried that giving power to the military would threaten civilian control later on.[10] Nehru acted on these apprehensions in many ways, such as by elevating Krishna Menon, a loyalist of authoritarian character, to the position of defense minister. In this way, Nehru hoped to strengthen the iron-clad civilian grip on the military establishment.[11] For its part, the military during this period remained reticent to question the excesses of its civilian leadership on national and institutional issues, which further devalued its role in the national decision-making process.

The overall outcome of these early tensions was maximum civilian control in all areas of civilian society, and a fairly non-existent role for the military in the country’s defense policies in the early decades of India’s independence.[12] This has partially carried through to the modern era: though today’s military enjoys operational autonomy, the political establishment still maintains absolute control over the military at the highest levels of national security policymaking.[13]

Bureaucratic Functioning of the Political-Military Relationship

In India, supreme command of the Armed Forces, comprising mainly its Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, rests with the president. The cabinet is entrusted with the responsibility for national defense, which it discharges through the Ministry of Defense, which in turn provides the policy framework and wherewithal to the military to execute its instructions on all defense and security related matters. Overall responsibility for the military and Ministry of Defense rests with the Defense Minister.[14]

The Defense Ministry is accountable to the Government of India for dealing with all matters relating to defense and the armed forces of the Union of India. It acts as a go-between, connecting the Government of India with the Armed Forces. Respective chiefs of the services are responsible to the president, through the Defense Ministry, for command, discipline, recruitment, training, organization, administration and preparation of war.[15]

This hierarchy lays out a strict vertical order of engagement between the military and the political establishment, leaving little or no space for engagement between the two domains, and keeping them relatively insulated from one another.

Civilian Establishment Lack Of Expertise In Military Affairs

Civilian employees working for the Ministry of Defense rarely have sufficient past military experience, as conscription is not mandatory in India, unlike in Israel. Lacking military experience, they have no clear understanding of on-the-ground security challenges, which are necessary to devise appropriate policies and strategy directives. Also, officials within the Defense Ministry generally do not have long enough tenure to develop personal expertise in military matters as they are constantly rotated among different ministries and departments.[16]

In the past, even defense ministers have been alleged to lack adequate technical knowledge relating to military needs and concerns. As was the case with immediate former defense minister A.K. Antony, who was widely considered a “status-quoist” with little enthusiasm for innovative ideas.[17]

Given politicians’ negligent knowledge of military technicalities, inexperienced government bureaucrats have become de facto policy makers for the military. N. N. Vohra, current governor of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, has described this situation as “bureaucratic control and not civilian political control of the military.”[18]

Individualistic Approaches of the Military Branches

Since India attained independence, the different branches within its Armed Forces have competed with one another to further their own organizational interests. The goal of each is to accumulate the largest share of the total annual defense budget, to procure artillery, logistics, and other resources, and to further their self-defined strategic objectives within the political establishment.[19] Traditionally, the Army has been the most influential and privileged among the services. However, more recently, the Navy and Air Force have begun to challenge the Army’s predominance within the defense establishment.

This competition among the services and institutions within the military has largely prevented India’s defense establishment from establishing a functioning internal benefit sharing arrangement that would allow each to reap optimal benefits. According to founder and director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar,

“the Defence Intelligence Agency cannot deliver as the Intelligence Agencies of the three services feel threatened by it,” [and about the Integrated Defence Staff] “the services will never allow this body to function as they feel threatened that it will start examining the basis of their budgetary proposals, acquisition plans and force structures”.[20]

Functional and Existential Synthesis

Despite these structural and functional tensions between India’s political and military establishments, the civil-military relationship in India has reached a state of stability in that it functions efficiently without major clashes of interests. Since India’s independence, its military has maintained a high degree of professionalism. Also, its overall strength, in terms of efficient use of personnel, technical advances, quality and quantity of weaponry, and by other measures, has been increasing rapidly.

Although a few clashes between the military and political establishment have surfaced recently, as when ex-army chief V.K. Singh challenged the Ministry of Defense head-on over a controversy regarding his date of birth.[21] However, the structural stability between India’s military and its political “masters” has established a dynamic wherein both efficiently discharge their respective functions in a mutually complementary way.


IDF Backbone of the State

When the state of Israel was established on May 14, 1949, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) was entrusted with the responsibility to protect the borders of the state, while enemy states from all sides were steadfastly attempting to obliterate Israel.It had to equally protect the country’s populace, which included Jewish and non-Jewish groups and denominations,[22] Over time, IDF has upheld these two primary responsibilities, while also playing a contributing role in keeping the state’s economy of the state rolling.[23] Moreover, it has constantly remained in a state of readiness for war by standing at the front lines, like along the Israel-Lebanon border, to deter enemies from attacking.[24]

The IDF played a pivotal role in the process of state-building, in defining the very identity of Israel, and, for its part emerged as a unique citizen army, in which ethical and political aims of the people were preserved in life, along with, those subordinate to the overriding purposes of effective defense.”[25] Thus, this disciplined military institution has earned high esteem, and prestige within Israeli society.

Furthermore, the IDF has won every single war Israel has fought (though perhaps not in absolute terms). In the process, it has maintained a massive advantage in planning staff relative to civilian staff, keeping a strong military monopoly on intelligence, strategic planning, security and information supply. This has given the IDF tremendous bureaucratic and given it more power than other Israeli institutions.[26] For all these reasons, the IDF rightly qualifies as the primary agent for building Israel’s global image as a “nation in arms.”[27]

Politicians Take The Final Shots

Despite the dominance of the IDF, the national government and its politicians have always insisted on playing a major role in the political decision-making process regarding Israel’s national interests. This insistence is in keeping with Israel’s prevailing cultural more of openly questioning the authority while stating individual and institutional opinions.

Adept politicians, like Ben Gurion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and others, have taken differing approaches to ruling Israel during their long political careers. However, almost all of them have been associated with the IDF in some major capacity. This stems from the fact that the Jews in Israel initially pursued a military struggle to secure an independent state, paving the way for leaders of these armed groups (such as the Irgun, Stern Gang, etc.) to subsequently become civilian leaders. Further, once Israel gained independence, every Jewish citizen was mandated to serve a period of conscription. Even though most Israeli mid-level political leaders have commanded in the IDF, the realm of national politics has always remained distinct from the military domain. Professionally, the military is subordinate to its political rulers, and all final decisions relating to national interests and security of Israel are made in the political realm. Nevertheless, the judgment of military leaders carries a great deal of weight in matters of security. Public friction between civilian and military leaders is rare.[28]

Ex-Soldiers Jumping On The Political Bandwagon

In Israel, military officers often become active in politics upon retirement. Unspoken rules call for a “cooling-off” period between military and political service, and public indignation has even erupted in cases where retired officers haven’t respected this rule. Former Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz sparked controversy when he entered politics almost immediately after his retirement.[29]

Many reserve officers have stood as candidates and won seats in the Knesset in each of the sixteen parliamentary elections held in Israel since the foundation of the state in 1948.[30] While these representatives represent the entire political spectrum, in the past, many senior officers have sided with the left or center-left wing of the parliamentary chamber, while recently, a growing number are allied with right-wing political parties.[31] As Yoram Peri writes,

Since the 1960s, on average, 10 percent of Israel’s Knesset members have been high-ranking reserve officers. Further about 20 percent of cabinet ministers are generally high-ranking reserve officers, and of the three most important offices-prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister-at least one (usually two) has been occupied by a former career officer, such as in the governments of both Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.[32]

Fusion and Fission of Political Parties

The Israeli political system has been characterized throughout its brief history by a process of fusion and fission: the splitting apart and merging of its political parties.[33] For example, the Labor party was founded in 1968 in a merger of the Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda, and Rafi parties, and it immediately emerged as the country’s dominant political party, only to experience a steep downturn in subsequent decades. Its defeat in 1977 brought about a split within the party, with one camp led by Yitzchak Rabin and the other by Shimon Peres.[34] Further, in 2011, former prime minister Ehud Barak walked out of the Labor party to launch his own party, called Independence.[35]

This suggests that Israel’s political superstructure has constantly witnessed the rise and progress of new internal dynamics from the time of the state’s formation until the present.

Permeable Boundaries between Civil and Military Domains

Throughout Israel’s modern history, the IDF has maintained a three-tiered military model, where a large reserve component that is part of the civil society is called up at times of crisis to complement a small professional and conscript force.[36] This has created a continuous two-way transmission of values and ideas, in areas like politics, ethics and morality, between the military and civilian spheres.

Alan Weinraub, a senior analyst with National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (USA), in his comprehensive Master’s thesis on Israeli civil-military relations, writes, “The [Israeli] military is constantly involved in the affairs of the state as is the civilian authority in the affairs and that this two-way influence is constant.[37]

Today, as in the past, the IDF’s “professional” mentality in dealing with Israel’s enemies continues to lead political discourse and decision-making. Also, the profound infusion of liberal civilian and political ideas into the military’s professional domain over time has exerted a subtle but certain influence on Israel’s military strategies and operational approaches.


Religion-Underlying Factor for Affinity

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in India, which came to power in 1998, was the first in independent India’s history to proactively begin engaging with Israel. This strategy was formulated in a BJP convention in October 1991, which had a clause calling for establishing full relations with Israel. The BJP, which espouses a modestly strong version of Hindu nationalism, saw in Israel a potential ally against a religious third party, the Muslims. On the home front, BJP’s alignment with the Jewish state was an attempt to consolidate Hindu voters by politically marginalizing the country’s Muslim community. This became somewhat clearer after gory Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in the state of Gujarat in 2002, and the BJP-led state government, under Narendra Modi, was allegedly reluctant to immediately rescue Muslims from the local Hindu community which had perpetrated the violence.[38] At the same time, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, a coalition led by BJP, ultimately delayed sending in either military or paramilitary forces to nip the in the bud, maintaining firmly that law and order is a domain that falls under the state list of India’s constitution.[39]

The 2002 Gujarat riots happened at a time of intense anxiety and loathing of Muslims was fast building within the international community, especially in the West. Then-U.S. President George Bush was in no mood to show tolerance towards the radical Muslims due to their perceived role in abetting violence worldwide. This biased approach by the U.S. gave flexibility to other nations around the world, in particular those with Muslim minority populations, to behave high-handedly towards their restive Muslim populace within their respective jurisdictions, under the pretext of curbing Islamic terrorism. The Israeli political-military establishment leveraged this changed attitude within the U.S. to further its own national interests.[40] At this juncture, these two new allies, India and Israel, also started making overtures at the national and even sub-national political levels to further strengthen their own ties.

The U.S. Dimension

In 2003, Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli prime minister to visit India. He was accompanied by a heavyweight delegation which included both government officials and business leaders.[41] The Indian government warmly hosted Sharon and his delegation. At the end of the summit, an 18-point joint statement was issued that laid out the two nations’ consensus on mutual cooperation in various fields, clearly emphasizing the joint resolve to tackle terror.[42] This visit cemented the foundation for the emerging India-Israel Axis.

India and Israel had lot more to offer each other than mere reinforcement in the fight against a religious third party. Moreover, with the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA I) government coming to power in India in 2004, the country’s perception of its Muslims grew more moderate, except towards secessionist and violence propagating elements within those communities.

India under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government during this period endeavored to forge an amiable relationship with the U.S., while constantly kept the Israeli lobby in the loop. India was aware of the latter’s influence with the U.S. political-defense establishment. This strategy continued even during UPA I & II government and ultimately paid rich dividends for India when it secured a much-debated global civil nuclear deal with the U.S. The powerful Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), members of both of which are well-connected with the Israeli political-military establishment, played an instrumental role. As MIT researcher Subrata Ghoshroy wrote in 2006,

The powerful Israeli lobby worked less conspicuously, but made its substantial network available to the relative neophytes in the embassy and the Indian lobbies [such as the U.S. India Friendship Council, US India Political Action Committee etc]. The American Jewish Committee expressed its strong support for the deal by sending a letter to influential lawmakers. Collectively, they launched a massive lobbying effort by blanketing Capitol Hill with receptions, meetings and briefings, and the like.[43]

The realization of the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal and the process leading to its realization may, in fact, have turned the tables on U.S.-Israel relations. Soon after Bush met with Indian president Manmohan Singh on 18th July 2005, Israel discreetly began engaging in discussions with the U.S. to secure a similar deal for itself.[44] In 2006, the U.S. reportedly rebuffed an Israeli request for exemption from the NSG trade rule.[45] One reason for the U.S. rejection might have been Israel’s official silence on the issue of whether or not it possesses nuclear capabilities. It is possible that Israel may not have completely scrapped this plan, which-if realized-would greatly tilt the balance of Middle East power in its favor..

The increasingly powerful Hindu lobby in the U.S., which has also grown more politically connected within India[46], has also been extending its relations with the Jewish diaspora in the U.S., with the Hindu lobby willing to reciprocate the favors it previously secured with the help of the latter. For instance, Narrain Kataria, President of Indian American Intellectual Forum, while speaking at a “Rally for Israel” in New York on April 28, 2010, to around 2500 people representing 50 Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Sikh organizations, expressed the Hindu community’s firm support for Israel’s right to exist, calling it the “frontier of [the] free world.”[47]

Enemy State Dimension

On 29 April 2008, Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited India, followed by Singh’s visit to Iran to attend the 16th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran in 2012. Since then, India and Iran have been devising innovative bilateral arrangements to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons activities, with a particular eye to continuing the energy trade between them.[48]

Amos Yadlin, Director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said in an interview for this article “We are not at all happy with India cooperating with Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel. There is a possibility that the advanced technology that we share with India might land up in the wrong hands. India needs to understand our sensitivities.” Despite this concern within the Israeli political-military establishment, India has continued to expand its defense dealings with Iran from the time of 9/11,[49] except for a short period of overwhelming U.S. pressure from sanctions against Iran during late 2000s and early 2010s.

Similarly, Israel has expanded its economic dealings with China-the real enemy state of India as perceived by its higher political-defense establishment. In 2001, the two-way volume of Israel-China trade surpassed USD 1 billion;[50] and this figure steadily rose to $8 billion in 2012.[51] Out of the total volume of bilateral trade in 2012, Israel’s exports contributed $2.74 billion, primarily in non-defense items. Since Israel’s civilian economy is intricately tied with its defense sector, practical delimitation of the two sectors becomes difficult. Hence India has become increasingly concerned that China might tweak and refit imported Israeli technology, adapting it to indigenous defense productions, in the same way that it purchased, refurbished and re-launched the retired Soviet-Ukranian multirole aircraft carrier Riga.[52]

These cross-cutting engagements of India and Israel with each other’s enemy states act as an “alluring” force, making further consolidation of positive relations even more imperative in order neither allows the other to become too intimate with its own enemy state.



Defense diplomacy is a means of reinforcing perceptions of common interests between engaging state parties. It is an adjunct to military diplomacy as it pursues the recognition of (political) diplomacy by military means.

Prof. Anton Du Plessis in his acclaimed work on Defense Diplomacy (2008) gives an inclusive definition for the term-“the use of armed forces in operations other than war, building on their trained expertise foreign objectives abroad”. He also emphasizes Cottey and Foster’s inclusive definition as:”the peacetime use of armed forces and related infrastructure (primarily defense ministries) as a tool of foreign and security policy” and more specifically the use of military cooperation and assistance.”[53]

These definitions make clear that defense diplomacy is deeply intertwined with the national politics of any country, especially when the country is a great power or regional power and has to maneuver and assert itself in the whirlpool of regional and global geopolitics. Hence, defense diplomacy holds great potential for both India and Israel.

Evolution of Defense Diplomacy

The intriguing defense relations between India and Israel dates back to the Cold War era, when the two countries cooperated in specific covert military and intelligence operations. In quite a few instances, especially in moments of crisis, India made requests for military assistance from Israel, which it promptly provided despite the official “frozen” relationship between the two countries before the end of Cold War.

For instance, during the 1971 India-Pakistan War, Israel, then facing a shortage of arms and ammunitions, did not hesitate to respond positively to India’s discreet request for arms, ammunition and other weaponry to be used against the Pakistani Army. The external intelligence agency of India (RAW) coordinated with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to liberate Bangladesh in 1971.[54] The Indian political-defense establishment maintained a cloak of absolute secrecy regarding this political-intelligence cooperation and to this day has never acknowledged it officially.[55]

During this war, India faced rebuke from many Arab nations for engaging in this war against Pakistan, an Islamic state. Saudi Arabia and Jordan harshly condemned India’s actions, whereas Egypt and Syria stayed neutral. Israel resolutely sided with India in criticizing Pakistan’s war crimes in East Bengal, especially the mass murder of Bangladeshi Hindus.

Further, under the Janata party government (1977-1979), then-foreign minister Vajpayee helped Moshe Dayan’s clandestine visit to India to explore the prospect of establishing full-scale diplomatic relations,[56] even though they were ultimately only established in l992. Establishing this formal relationship spurred a spate of high-level individual and group visits of officials from the political-military establishment of the two countries. For example, in March 1994, Israel’s Air Force Commander visited India. In 1996, then-Chief of Indian Defense Research and Development Organization A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited Israel. Israeli President Ezer Weizman visited in December 1996, and there were many more visits between the two countries.

Thus, it is clear that defense diplomacy between India and Israel has remained on a straightforward track over many years. The notable event of official restoration of diplomatic relations simply gave legitimacy to activities that were previously carried on clandestinely as military engagements within a strategy of defense diplomacy. Once official relations were established, bilateral arms trade soon became the primary component of defense diplomacy between the two countries.[57] Further, this trade has witnessed mutifold growth in the 21st century.[58]

For Israel, capitalizing the Indian market became especially urgent after controversies surfaced involving its alleged re-transfers of American technology to China, as with a $250 million Phalcon AWACS deal that was on the table in 2000[59] and plans for “repairs” of Israel’s Harpy drone in 2005.[60] The U.S. put intense pressure on Israel for its alleged deceit by imposing economic sanctions and suspending cooperation on several development projects during first half of the 2000s.[61] These measures convinced Israel not to proceed with any planned “controversial” deals as well as to completely scale back its defense ties with China.[62] And at the same time, Israel started cooperating with India in all spheres of defense activities, viewing India as a strategic partner state of the U.S.

As a result, Israel has been selling and sharing its state-of-the-art defense equipment and technology with India, for it needs a demand market capable and willing to buy what it has to offer. This ensures a continuous inflow of money to sustaining the research and development activities of its large defense industry.

In the early 2000s, India began to grasp the imperative to constantly upgrade its military arsenal and maintain indigenous defense production in order to match the defense capabilities of its powerful neighboring countries. Also, it has faced intense pressure to resist rising internal threats, like Maoism and conflicts in the northeast arising from terrorism, ethnic conflicts, crime, and other factors. Thus, it has been actively securing Israeli defense equipment and technology to strengthen its own Defense Indigenisation and Military Modernization programs. In the process, it has engaged with Israeli defense companies under offset contracts to co-develop or locally produce various types of weaponry, like missiles,[63] radar systems,[64] electronic manufacturing services,[65] and more. While many such projects are in the execution phase, key projects remain under consideration for future development, such as joint production of a ballistic missile defense system involving state-owned companies from both sides.[66] This would shield India against nuclear strikes from both Pakistan and China.

Challenges to Smooth Conduct of Defense Diplomacy

Two critical factors have constantly put brakes to the course of post-9/11 bilateral defense engagements between India and Israel. These are the sluggish and error-ridden workflow of the Indian bureaucracy and growing competition from American defense providers that are backed by the powerful U.S. government.

In 2012, the Indian Defense Ministry blacklisted Israel Military Industries along with three other foreign manufacturers for 10 years on grounds of alleged involvement in the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) scam in 2009.[67] This was supported on appeal by a ruling of the Delhi Court supporting the government’s action.[68] Deba Ranjan Mohanty, Vice President of New Delhi’s Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, calls this blacklisting a “lose-lose situation for both the companies banned from bidding contracts and the country [i.e. India].” [69]

Pressure from the U.S. as it exerts its veto rights against Israeli military technology exports have caused Israel to pull out from bidding on a number of Indian defense acquisition competitions, as with Israeli Elta Systems’ withdrawal of a proposal to supply advanced radar to SAAB Gripen fighters as part of Gripen NG’s proposal for the Indian air force’s medium multirole combat aircraft.[70]

These challenges have shoved India reluctantly into a position in which it is struggling to stay abreast, maintaining the latest defense technology that can match its enemies’ firepower. A secretary in the Indian Home Ministry, speaking anonymously to the Asia Sentinel, explains the prevalent situation in the country by saying, “The defense ministry has blacklisted so many artillery makers that India is still struggling to find a replacement for the Bofors gun,[71] The Israeli political-military establishment has also begun re-thinking India’s reliability as consumer market for its defense items, due to all these barriers to smooth and efficient business relations.


Today, Israel finds itself in a situation of intense chaos amid breakdown of order across the Middle East and inside the country. Externally, Israel is witnessing chaos on numerous fronts: the collapse of Libya as a functioning state;[72] the intense blood-bath perpetuated by Islamic State across Syria and Iraq in pursuit of its attempt to create al-Sham Caliphate;[73] Egypt’s path toward future clashes between Muslim Brotherhood-the world’s oldest, largest and most influential Islamist organization, now banned in its country of origin-and Sisi’s military government that secured power with a counter-coup[74] ; Turkey’s endeavors under strongman and conservative Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to re-entrench its dominant position in the Middle East that is only made possible by castigating Israel.

Internally, Israel recently witnessed first the intensification of relations between Hamas and Fatah,[75] which led to collapse of the U.S. brokered peace talks with the Israeli government and Palestinian authority.[76] This was followed by Hamas’s initiation and continuation of a gory war against Israel, which forced Israel to target the former’s terror installations and leaders.[77]

Currently, Israel faces heightened economic and political challenges, such as the possibility that the EU will extending the range and scope of its boycott against Israel in the near future and the emerging split between the U.S. and Israel. In this environment of growing uncertainty, the IDF continues to have and execute the wherewithal to protect the state and contribute immeasurably towards sustaining the positive economic environment in the country. The Israeli political establishment must encourage the IDF and other defense-related entities within the country, like defense firms, whether state-owned, privately-owned, and private-public jointly-owned defense firms. They must also engage with their counterparts in friendly states. This would including raising defense diplomacy with India far beyond present arms selling-buying relationship, to a level of shared strategic interests, codependency and joint pursuit of shared foreign policy and defense strategies at the regional and global levels.

India, for its part, has been witnessing a drop in excessive violence perpetuated by local terrorist (secessionist) organizations.[78] Total deaths in terrorism-related violence-among civilians, security personnel and terrorists-have fallen to 885 in 2013 from a high of 5839 in 2001.[79] However the menace of home-grown Maoism has been rising rapidly. In certain political quarters, this is now openly acknowledged to be the biggest threat to India’s stability.[80] In 2013, estimates suggested that Maoist insurgency has spread to over 40 percent of India’s territory and has thereupon continued to rise.[81] India’s paramilitary force, with capacity-building aid from its army,[82] has been spearheading anti-insurgency operations against Maoists with modest success. UPA II desisted from involving the army directly in the fight against the Maoists. However, the new BJP-led government will most likely pursue a high-handed approach against this extreme movement for if it is allowed to grow, it will soon pose a major practical threat to India’s territorial integrity.[83]

Elected in May 2014, India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, a pragmatic politician, is unlikely to challenge China for many reasons. First, Modi has shared a personal relationship with China in past, over the course of four successful trips to China during his tenure as Gujarat’s Chief Minister; China helped Modi burnish his foreign policy credentials even before he was elected prime minister.[84] Second, he has appointed Ajit Doval, a former RAW head, as new National Security Advisor.[85] Also, the Modi government is attempting to repair a beleaguered national economy that it has inherited from its predecessor government, a process in which India greatly needs China’s help. The absence of any prospect of head-on collision with an enemy state puts India, both its national government and its military, in a position of engaging with external challenges to its territorial security as well as to important national assets located outside the country, like Embassy offices, overseas energy infrastructures, etc. Here, the clearest factor may be the rapidly-proliferating Islamic terrorist groups across the Middle East, which belong to the same radical Islamist category despite the fact that organizational goals differ from organization to organization, and despite constant fighting among these groups. So India will continue to attempt to secure Israel’s help in different ways while it selectively fights non-state Islamic terrorist organizations that directly target its own interests.

Sharing his views on the future growth of the relationship between Israel and India at an INSS forum discussion in May 2014, Raviv Byron, president of the India-Israel Chamber of Commerce, said:

“India and Israel will continue to share their existing relationship for the foreseeable future. India will be open to acknowledging the existing relationship on official matters, for Modi has an affinity for Israel. There is likely to be more exchange of state-level visits of senior officers and ministers. Despite this, India will not go out of its way to embrace Israel at the cost of provoking other countries, including Iran, and any section of its own population. Under the BJP, Israel now has even greater opportunities to expand its economic engagement with India in different sectors, like agriculture, homeland security, information technologies etc. India needs exactly what we have to offer to them.”[86]

More recently, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a close associate of Modi, at a public Israel solidarity meeting in Mumbai on August 6, 2020 organized by the Indo-Israel Friendship Association, announced Modi’s intention to undertake an official state visit to Israel in 2015. Modi’s visit will send a global message that India embraces Israel as an intimate ally in the Middle East.[87]

These developments clearly demonstrate that India and Israel-two current strategic partners-now have an added incentive to work towards shared common interests. India under strongman Modi and his reinvigorated cabinet have already started redressing bureaucratic hassles,[88] opening the domestic market to foreign investment in important sectors, including defense.[89] This technically clears the path for Israel’s deeper and more meaningful engagement with India. However, whether this potential will be fulfilled depends on the extent to which Israel’s political and military establishment is able to claim its own piece of the “pie” of India’s estimated $180 billion allocated towards foreign vendors in India’s defense market.[90]


While the contemporary India-Israel relationship is still evolving, it is clear that relations between the two countries don’t precisely fit any existing paradigm. However, by comparing and contrasting domestic politics at the highest level and the relationship in each country between military leadership and its civilian political counterpart, we can view the emergent broader picture of this relationship. It is clear that India and Israel, two “civilization-states” with an ancient and intimate bond, are now well-placed on a trajectory to become strategic allies in the international arena in the near future.

* Hriday Ch. Sarma is founder and president of the India-based Green Cosmos NGO. A special correspondent for Global South Development Magazine (published by Silicon Creation-Finland), he was a visiting research fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies and an Israel-Asia Leaders fellow at the Israel-Asia Center for the academic year 2013-2014.


[1] Raia Prokhovnik, “Internal/external: The state of sovereignty,” Contemporary Politics, 2, no. 3, 1996.

[2] Shirley Berry Isenberg , India’s India’s Bene Israel: A Comprehensive Inquiry and Sourcebook (Bombay : Popular Prakashan.1988).

Also, Vineet Prakash, “Free Sample essay on Indo-Israel Relations,” About,

[3] In 1949, when Nehru met Israel’s ambassador in Washington he remarked on a candid note that India (inferring his government) “must treat the thirty million Muslims (within India) most carefully”. Furthermore, over the years the question of Palestine had a deep impact upon the Indian Muslims and had been “a constant source of agitation.

P. R. Kumaraswamy, India’s Israel Policy (Columbia University Press: New York 2010), pp. 126 .

[4]“Far East”. American Jewish Committee Archives,

[5] See what Ben Gurion remarked about Nehru.

Michael Curtis, “Israel and China : A Historic “Missed Opportunity”, In Michael Curtis, Susan Aurelia Gitelson (ed.), Israel in the Third World, (Somerset, NJ, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 1976), pp. 222-223.

[6] Arnold P. Kaminsky and Roger D. Long, eds., India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011), pp. 348.  For the reasons why India formally recognized Israel see:

Vijay Prashad (07 April 2021), ‘India’s Israel Policy,’ AlJazeera Center for Studies Reports,

[7] The current year of 2014 is witnessing utter turmoil and unprecedented events at the international level, like Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Egyptian military counter coup, etc. With the U.S.’s complete/ major pull-out of its military forces from Afghanistan by the year end, there will be a power-vacuum left in the broad region whereby state and non-state actors will fiercely compete against each other for perpetuating their respective dominance. This will most likely bring about a new regional and global order.

[8] Stephen Philip Cohen, The Indian Army, (Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 15.

[9] Humphery Evan, Thimayya of India : a Soldiers Life. (Natraj Publishers. Dehradun. 1988), pp. 124.

[10] For a glimpse into Nehru’s own personal and political beliefs, see, The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995).

[11] Military-to-military ties, particularly with the United States, were viewed with great suspicion for fear that officers would grow empowered and absorb subversive political ideas.

Shashank Joshi, “The Indian Mutiny That Wasn’t: What’s behind the strange coup rumors in Delhi?” Foreign Policy, April 5, 2012,

[12] “The Evolution of India’s Higher Defense Organization,” in Ayesha Ray, The Soldier and the State in India: Nuclear Weapons, Counterinsurgency, and the transformation of Indian Civil-Military Relations. (New Delhi: SAGE Publication, 2013), pp. 43.

[13] Harsh V. Pant, “Indian Strategic Culture : The debate and its consequences,” in David Scott (Ed), Handbook of India’s International Relations (London: Routledge, 2011).

[14] The paragraph draws reference from Indian Archives on Defense.


[15] Id.

[16] Anit Mukherjee, “Facing future challenges Defence reform in India,” RUSI Journal, Vol. 156 (5), Oct 2011.

[17] D. K. Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi to shed UPA baggage: Goms, EGoMs to be junked, The Indian Express, May 31, 2014.


[18] “Civil Military Relations: Opportunities and Challenges.” National Security Lecture 2013 by the Hon’ble Shri N.N. Vohra- Governor J&K, (New Delhi: United Services Institution. December 6, 2020). Id.

[19] Ibid at 15.

[20] Id.

[21] Sudha Ramachandran, “Plot seen in Indian army chief’s age row,” Asia Times, January 14, 2012,

Also see, Ibid 16, Hakeem Irfan.

[22] Barbara Sofer, Keeping Israel SafeServing in the Israel Defense Forces. (Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 2008).

[23] The IDF is a central force in the Israeli economy in terms of the quantity of personnel it employs and the professional training it provides, as well as in terms of its support for the security industries (as early as 1983, these industries’ exports accounted for 16 percent of all Israeli exports). The IDF also promotes sales to the defense industries (Israel Aircraft Industries, Rafael, Military Industries and Elbit). Those who purchase from these industrial concerns are primarily interested in whether the IDF also purchases products from them.

Baruch Nevo, Yael Shur-Shmueli, The Israel Defense Forces and the national economy of Israel, (Jerusalem : Israel Defense Forces : Israel Democracy Institute, 2005).

[24] From the time of independence, Israel has upheld a strategic doctrine of offensive-defence, which included self-defence and self-reliance as the two major components.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 79.

[25] Samuel Clement Leslie, The Rift in Israel: Religious Authority and Secular Democracy (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), pp. 101.

[26] Kobi Michael, “The Israel Defence Forces as an Epistemic Authority: An Intellectual Challenge in the reality of the Israeli -Palestinian Conflict,” Journal of Strategic Studies 30, no. 3 (2007).

[27] A. Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Modern Times. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 251-252.

[28] Nathan W. Toronto, “Israel” in G. Kurt Piehler (Ed.), Encyclopedia of military science. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013), pp. 721.

[29] Amir Oren, “L’etat, c’est moi,” Haaretz,

[30] Yoram Peri, Generals in the Cabinet Room: How the Military Shapes Israeli Policy. (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), pp. 81.

[31] “The Military Politics of the Israeli Defense Forces” In Uri Ben-Eliezer, Old Conflict, New War: Israel’s Politics Toward the Palestinians, (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[32] Ibid at 31.

[33] Myron Joel Aronoff, “Fission and Fusion: The Politics of Factionalism” in Power and Ritual in the Israel Labor Party: A Study in Political Anthropology (Armonk, N.Y. : M.E. Sharpe, 1993).

[34] David Wurmser, “Israel’s Collapsing Labor Party,” Middle East Quarterly, September 1995, pp. 37-45.

[35] Edmund Sanders, “Israel’s Labor Party splits; Ehud Barak forms new faction,” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2011,

[36] Alan Weinraub, The evolution of Israeli civil-military relations: domestic enablers and the quest for security, (Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate College, December 2009).

[37] Id.

[38] Setalvad, T. “When Guardians Betray: The Role of Police.’ S. Varadarajan (ed) Gujarat: The Making of Tragedy, (New Delhi: Penguin India, 2002), pp. 177-211.

[39] Babulal Fadia, State politics in India Volume 1, (New Delhi : Radiant publishers, 1984), pp. 92-122.

[40] Gideon Sa’ar, present Israeli education minister, said, “This also increased the maneuvering room for Israel, which half a year after Sept. 11 embarked on Operation Defensive Shield in Judea and Samaria with the Americans’ support. Bush declared, you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists. Israel found itself on the right side. Terror was no longer seen as legitimate. Yasser Arafat’s cachet was greatly reduced. He continued to incite terror and encourage attacks, and his downfall began with the capture of the weapons ship Karine A.”

Yossi Verter, “How 9/11 changed U.S. policy toward Israel,” Haaretz, September 9, 2011,

[41] “Delhi Statement on Friendship and Cooperation between India and Israel.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept 10- 2003,

[42] Id.

[43] Subrata Ghoshroy, “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal: Triumph of the Business Lobby,” MIT Center for International Studies, Sept 2006,

[44] Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace working in the Nuclear Policy Program, has talked about Israel’s subtle attempts at securing a India-US like civilian nuclear deal.

Mark Hibbs, “US rebuffed Israeli request for exemption from NSG trade rule,” Nuclear Fuel, January 1, 2007.

[45] Id.

[46] Mira Kamdar, “Forget the Israel Lobby. The Hill’s Next Big Player Is Made in India,” Washington Post, September 30, 2020

Also see “Who speaks for indian americans? religion, ethnicity, and political formation.” American Quarterly, 59, no. 3, 759-783.

[47] “Hindus also joined the Protest Rally on 9/11 over Mosque on Ground Zero,” Struggle for Hindu Existence, April 28, 2010,

Also see Indian American Lobby: Hindus support Israel, the free world, against jihadi terrorism, Youtube video,

[48] Biman Mukherji and Debiprasad Nayak “Tehran Sets Trade Deals With India Amid Curbs,” Economic Times, May 9, 2012,

[49] Monika Chansoria, “India-Iran Defense Cooperation,” India Defense Review (25), January 1, 2010, Available at :

[50] “A Brief Introduction on Sino-Israeli Economic and Trade Relations,” Embassy of Republic of China in the Israel,

[51]K.M. Seethi, “China, Israel and India: Flexible Coalitions,” The Diplomat, November 24, 2013,

[52] Andrew Tarantola, “China’s First Aircraft Carrier Is Finally Shipshape,” GIZMODO. December 6, 2013,

[53] Anton du Plessis, “Defense Diplomacy: Conceptual and Practical Dimensions with Specific Reference to South Africa”, Strategic Review for Southern Africa, November 2008, available at;col1

[54] Former head of counter-terrorism branch of India’s intelligence Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) B. Raman documents in his book the crucial part played by India-Israel intelligence agencies in the dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh in the Eastern part of Pakistan in 1971. He further says that Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, did not make a single decision concerning military action in East Pakistan without the advice of RAW’s Chief R.N. Kao who was secretly liaising with Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

B. Raman, The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane, (New Delhi : Lancer, 2007).

[55] Id.

[56] Dayan’s 1979 visit became more open as Israel Radio talked about it. However, Prof. Kumaraswamy in his book India’s Israel Policy gives factual support for Dayan’s multiple visits to India during Janata party rule.

Ibid at 3, pp219-221.

[57] Richard A. Bitzinger, “Policy Brief: Israeli Arms Transfers to India: Ad Hoc Defense Cooperation or the Beginnings of a Strategic Partnership ?” S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,

[58] Id.

[59] Ze’ev Schiff, “The Spy Plane Isn’t the Only Problem,” Ha’aretz, June 21, 2000.

[60] Haytham Mouzahem,”Israel faces pressure from US and China re arms deal,” World Security Network, December 28, 2004,

[61] Conal Urquhart, “US acts over Israeli arms sales to China,” The Guardian, June 13, 2005,

[62] Yitzhak Shichor, “The U.S. Factor in Israel’s Military Relations with China,” China Brief 5, no.12, May 24, 2005.

[63] “India & Israel’s Barak-8 SAM Development Project(s),” Defense Industry Daily, Dec 18, 2013,

[64] India and Israel have jointly developed the Swordfish Long-range tracking radar. India has also acquired two GreenPine Early Warning and Fire Control radars from Israel. Elta-designed esigned and developed EL/M 2052 multi-mode radars are set to be fitted onto India’s indigenous Tejas aircraft to improve operational effectiveness.

“India - Israel Bilateral Defense Ties Thought Leadership Series” Aviotech. July, 2011.

[65] “ELTA Outsourced $150 Million Electronics Manufacturing Deals to India.” TechTime. December 21, 2012,

[66] “Israel, India agree on missile defense system against China, Pakistan nuclear strikes,” The Nation, April 05, 2014,

[67] Rahul Singh, “Six defense firms blacklisted over ordnance scam,” Hindustan Times, March 05, 2012,

[68] “Israel Military Industries loses Indian blacklist challenge,” StratPost, June 5, 2013,

[69] “Israel’s IMI banned from Indian contracts.” RP Defense, August 10, 2012,

[70] Arie Egozi, “IAI forced to withdraw support for Gripen’s Indian bid Flight”, FlightGlobal, July 6, 2009,

[71] Neeta Lal, “India’s Latest Defense Scandal,” Asia Sentinel, January 15, 2014,

[72] Ed Morrissey, “White House narrative on Libya all but collapsed,” Hotair, September 21, 2012.

[73] Ahmed Rasheed, Raheem Salman, “ISIS’s Reign of Terror Continues to Spread,” The Muslim Observer,

[74] “Seven killed in Egypt as clashes break out over Rabaa commemorations,” Middle East Eye,

[75] Hayden Cooper, “Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah form unity government to rule West Bank and Gaza,” ABC News, June 3, 2014,

[76] Richard Silverstein, Israel-Palestine peace talks hit the wall, Asia Times, April 28, 2014,

[77] Avi Issacharoff, “Palestinian sources: Teens’ killing planned, funded by Hamas,” The Times of Israel, August 10, 2014,!

Pinpoint Strikes: Targeting Terrorists, Avoiding Civilians, Israel Defense Forces, July 11, 2014,

[78] Shivananda H., “Ethnic conflict and Security Apprehension in Northeast India,” Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking, 2, no. 1, January-June 2011, pp. 13-21.

[79] The figures are stipulated by Institute for Conflict Management , a Delhi based think-tank.

David Keohane, “The better angels of India’s nature,” FT Alphaville, March 4, 2014,

[80] Speaking at the same forum in 2012, Singh categorized Naxalism within the ambit of terrorism Naxalism and said : “this is a struggle in which we cannot relax.”

“Full text: PM’s speech at the Conference of chief ministers on internal security,” NDTV, April 16, 2012,

[81] Asad Ismi, “Maoist Insurgency Spreads to Over 40% of India. Mass Poverty and Delhi’s Embrace of Corporate Neoliberalism Fuels Social Uprising,” Global Research, December 20, 2013,

[82] “CRPF gets Army help to counter Maoists,” The Economic Times, April 4, 2006,

[83] BJP alone won 282 seats out of 543 Lok Sabha seats, which is ahead of 272 majority mark, and together with allies the NDA coalition holds 336 seats. This puts it at a commanding position to self- define and execute both foreign and domestic policies without being under pressure from the opposition and even its coalition partners. This means BJP can pursue a (modestly) totalitarian way to tackle issues it deems to securitize, de-securitize or change the order of importance while securitizing.

[84] Debasish Roy Chowdhury, “Modi and China: Old friends, new challenges,” South China Morning Post, May 17, 2014,

[85] For years Doval has advocated the improvement of internal security capacities and defense in a practical manner. Unlike the past NSAs who preferred to look at external issues, Doval is likely to concentrate on building India’s internal capacities.

Saikat Datta, “Ajit Doval, giant among spies, is the new National Security Adviser,” Hindustan Times, May 28, 2014,

[86] On 19 May 2014, a Forum Discussion on the topic “Prospective Changes in India’s Foreign Policies towards the Middle East and Israel, post-2014 Lok Sabha Election” was held at INSS. This was a intimate, mostly internal event at the institute with few selected external participants.

[87] “Dr Subramanian Swamy addressing a Public Meeting to express Solidarity with Israel in Mumbai on Sunday (August 6, 2020),” Janata Party,

[88] “Reforming babus, building infra, transparency: Modi unveils 10 point priority list,” Firstbiz, May 29, 2014,

[89] Asit Ranjan Mishra & Shauvik Ghosh, “Govt clears 100% FDI in defense, telecom,” Live Mint, July 16 2013,

[90] Prakash Nanda, “What is Modi’s military vision?,” Indian Defense Review,