4 September 2019
A paradigm shift in India-Israel ties came in July 2017 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on a state visit to Israel, becoming the first Indian prime minister to do so. The two countries have since elevated their ties to a strategic partnership; a pillar of this relationship is defence. Such is a function of their respective national interests: India’s long-sought goals of military modernisation, and Israel’s comparative advantage in commercialising its arms industries. Although the ambit of India-Israel defence cooperation has widened more recently, Israeli arms sales to India continue to be the cornerstone. This brief surveys the arms trade between the two countries in the last decade (2009-2018) and underlines the applicability of imported defence technology from Israel. Attribution: Harsh V. Pant and Ambuj Sahu, “Israel’s Arms Sales to India: Bedrock of a Strategic Partnership”, ORF Issue Brief No. 311 , September 2019, Observer Research Foundation. Introduction Bilateral relations between India and Israel today stand at a unique juncture. The paradigm shift occurred two years ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2017 became the first Indian PM to embark on a state visit to Israel  and the two countries elevated their ties to a strategic partnership.  In January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reciprocated the signal with a visit to New Delhi.  It is clear that both New Delhi and Tel Aviv are according priority to strengthening bilateral ties, a pillar of which is defence. This is driven by their respective national interests—i.e., India’s long-sought goals of military modernisation, and Israel’s comparative advantage in commercialising its arms industries. India was the largest arms customer of Israel in 2017 with sales worth US$715 million.  To be sure, the ambit of India-Israel defence cooperation has widened to include other domains like space, counter-terrorism, and cyber security; however, the cornerstone remains Israeli arms sales to India.  This brief surveys the arms trade between the two countries over the last decade (2009-2018), explains the specifications of the imported defence technology from Israel, and examines their applicability to India.The first section summarises the origins of arms sales from Israel against the backdrop of wider crests and troughs in India-Israel relations. The brief then looks into the defence imports data of India over the last two decades (1999-2018) and scrutinises the trends vis-à-vis the country’s arms trade with Israel. The third part analyses the defence technologies imported by India from Israel in the past ten years (2009-18) and highlights their relevance. The penultimate section explores the reasons for Israel’s emergence as a key arms supplier to India. The brief concludes by making specific policy recommendations for taking the strategic partnership between the two countries beyond arms transfers.
Harsh V. Pant
Professor Harsh V Pant is Director, Studies and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He holds a joint appointment with the Department of Defence Studies and King's India Institute as Professor of International Relations at King’s College >>