India, Israel to focus on defence deals, counter-terrorism

islaeli defence ministerShedding the veil of secrecy that has tended to envelop India-Israel relations, the Modi government is rolling out the red carpet for Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a landmark trip that is set to impart a renewed momentum to the burgeoning defence relations between the two countries.

The importance of the trip is clear from the fact that it is the first trip by an Israeli defence minister to India since the two countries established full diplomatic ties in 1992.

Mr Ya’alon will hold meetings with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar in New Delhi and also participate in Aero India 2015 in Bengaluru to inaugurate the Israeli Pavilion at Aero India.

Mr Ya’alon is accompanied by a high-profile delegation of Ministry of Defence officials, including Director General of the Ministry of Defence Dan Harel and CEOs of Israeli arms companies.

A slew of defence deals with Israel are in the final stage of negotiations, including the ones for two additional Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and four aerostat radars, together worth well over $1.5 billion.

According to defence experts, Israel could eventually bag the mega Indian project for large-scale indigenous manufacture of the tank-killers by defence PSU Bharat Dynamics because the Indian Army wants to equip all its 382 infantry battalions and 44 mechanized infantry units with the fire-and-forget ATGMs.

The India-Israel relations have acquired a new momentum under the new government in New Delhi, which looks at Tel Aviv as an important partner in a host of areas, including defence, counter-terrorism, and water conservation. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met in New York in September 2014 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. With a host of terror groups active in the region, India is looking to step up counter-terror cooperation with Israel.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to visit Israel later this year after Israeli legislative elections in March.

Aero India 2015, which is starting on February 18, is the 10th edition of international show on ‘Make in India’ in aerospace, defence civil aviation, airport infrastructure and defence engineering.

“This visit is very significant because it is the first time a defence minister from Israel is travelling to India and it has great importance for the further strengthening of relations with a rising power like India,” Mr Ya’alon said before flying to India.

“The Indian government is a true friend of Israel and shared interests will benefit both countries. For instance, our and their defence establishments enjoy excellent relations,” he added.

Mr Ya’alon’s visit to India is likely to boost bilateral cooperation between the two nations, especially in the defence sector. Israel is one of the top three defence suppliers to India since the 1999 Kargil conflict.

The visit underlines the Modi government’s strategic intent to shed ambivalence and upscale relations with Israel.

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