The Partnership Graduates
The defense ties of India with Jews could be traced back to the time when they helped the kingdom of Travancore in the fight with Tipu Sultan. The defense history of India would never be complete without mentioning the contribution of Major General JFR Jacob, who served as the chief of staff of the Indian Army's Eastern Command, based at Kolkata, during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. During his 36-year long career in the army, Jacob fought in World War II and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. He later served as the governor of the Indian states of Goa and Punjab.The Blood Telegram by Gary J Bass, on the 1971 war, records that Jacob had been preparing for war for months. Jacob was born in Calcutta to a deeply religious Baghdadi Jewish family originally from Iraq which had settled in Calcutta in the mid-19th century. His father, Elias Emanuel, was an affluent businessman. After his father became sick, Jacob was sent at the age of nine to Victoria Boys' School, a boarding school in Kurseong near Darjeeling.
Jacob, motivated by reports of the Holocaust of European Jews during World War II, enlisted in the British Indian Army in 1942 as "Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob." His father objected to his enlisting. But Jacob decided there was an enemy to be defeated. The Jacob family had sheltered refugees who had fled as far as Calcutta, when Nazi Germany stepped up its persecution of European Jews. His regiment got cut to pieces fighting off German troops in Libya, and Jacob was wounded in swamps in Burma, but he survived to enlist in the independent Indian Army. After serving in the 1965 war against Pakistan, he rocketed up through the senior ranks.
During 1971, the Indian generals including Sam Manekshaw, Jagjit Singh Arora and Jacob knew they had an overwhelming military advantage in East Pakistan. Archer Blood, the former U S consul general in Dhaka, said: "They (Pakistan) could never defend it against India because it is surrounded virtually by India and separated by over a thousand miles."
In the east, India chose a daring strategy, which Jacob said he proposed: "You go straight for Dacca. Ignore the subsidiary towns." According to Jacob, when they discussed the plan initially, the other generals wanted to take the other two cities, Chittagong and Khulna. Jacob insisted that they have no bearing on the war. On the evening of December 3, 1971, Pakistan attacked India. Sydney Schanberg of the New York Times recalled: "Jacob was delighted that night. Now we'll show you what an army is."
India won and Jacob said in 2010, "I am proud to be a Jew, but am Indian through and through."
The relationship endured and the creation of the I2U2 group, comprising India, Israel, the US and UAE in 2022 indicates the partnership is graduating to mini-lateral levels.
There had been two visits by Israeli cabinet ministers to India in 2023, to strengthen defence cooperation. In March, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Major General Yoav Gallant and in May, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ministers S Jaishankar, Rajnath Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
|Pakistan surrenders in 1971. Jacob, extreme right (standing)|
Prior to these visits, in January, Israel handed over the strategic port of Haifa to the Adani Group.
MoU for MRSAM and LORA
In February, Israeli Aerospace Industries(IAI) and India's Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to form a joint venture firm, with HQ in Delhi, to provide life-cycle support for the Indo-Israeli Medium-Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM), jointly developed by IAI and India's Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO).
In March, Rajnath Singh requested Israeli Industries to fund Joint Ventures and niche technologies.
Israel annually exports defence exports to India between $1.5 billion and $2 billion worth of defence equipment. It has provided the Indian Armed Forces with radars, satellites, unnamed aerial systems, training platforms, and missile defence systems.
During Aero India 2023, in February, BEL signed an MoU with IAI for the domestic manufacture and supply of Israel’s LORA (Long Range Artillery) weapon system for the Indian tri-services. LORA, a system consisting of a 90 km to 430 km range ballistic missile, a launcher, a command and a ground/marine support system, was developed by IAI’s MALAM division.
In this show, Israel Aerospace Industries showcased several drones, a mini communications satellite, a supersonic long-range air-ground assault rocket, and an electronic warfare system designed to detect and disrupt airborne and ground-based threats.
India and Israel elevated their bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership during Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July 2017.
Since then, though India has collaborated with Israel in developing a Long-Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM) named Barak-8, India doesn’t have much access to target seeker and propulsion tech on MRSAM and LRSAM.
At the same time, multiple companies on both sides are collaborating to manufacture defence platforms. Mahindra Defence and Israel’s Aeronautics are involved in the production of Naval Shipborne UAV systems to be launched from Indian warships. This offers the maritime version of Aeronautics’ Orbiter 4 to the Indian Navy by manufacturing in India.
Hyderabad-based Cyient Solutions and Israel-based BlueBird Aero Systems jointly offer UAV systems.
It was in October 2018, that India awarded IAI an additional $770 million contract to supply Barak 8 LRSAM, to seven surface combatants of the Indian Navy. IAI’s local partner BEL, in turn, was given a $1.28 billion contract from Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilder Limited (MDL) and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) to deliver the seven missile systems to the Indian Navy.
It was preceded by the conclusion of a $630 million deal in May 2017 between IAI and BEL, for the supply of four Barak 8 LR-SAM systems to the Navy. In April 2017, IAI and BEL signed a $2 billion deal for the MRSAM, the land-based variant of the Barak 8, to the Army.
The installation of Barak 8 LR-SAM happened aboard Visakhapatnam-class guided missile destroyers, Kolkata-class destroyers, Kamorta-class anti-submarine warfare corvettes, and Project 17A class stealth frigates, and on the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier.
The Indian defence forces are inducting the next-generation Barak-8 surface-to-air missile systems under three joint DRDO-Isreal Aerospace Industries projects worth over Rs 30000 crore.
India has earlier bought Israeli Phalcon AWACS and Heron, Searcher-II and Harop drones to Barak anti-missile defence systems and Spyder quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile systems.
Israel has emerged as India’s largest source of supply for arms and ammunition. Up to 41% of Israel’s total arms exports are to India. It is USD 1 billion a year in sales to India.
India has restricted the import of multiple defence systems and subsystems since December 2021. They apply to a range of weapon systems such as corvettes, airborne early warning systems, tank engines, radars, towed artillery guns, short-range surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles, and offshore patrol vessels.
IAI subsidiary Golan Industries and Taneja Aerospace & Aviation Ltd. (TAAL), India, produce civil and military aircraft crashworthy seats.
Israel’s Shachaf Engineering and India’s Mahindra Telephonics design, develop & manufacture strategic electronic aerospace, marine and automotive applications. Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL), IAI, and Elcom Systems cooperate in the production of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems.
Indian Navy’s contract with Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division for Portable Diver Detection Sonar (PDDS), involves technology transfer from Israel’s DSIT. A joint venture plant between Indian Punj Lloyd and Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) develops weapons.
Alpha Design Technologies of Bengaluru got a USD 30 million contract with Israel’s Elbit Systems for the Indian Air Force Mi-17 chopper upgrade. India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited signed a deal with IAI subsidiary Elta Systems for 83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and Electronic Warfare (EW) systems to be fitted onto the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
Ashok Leyland collaborates with Elbit Systems to provide High Mobility Vehicles to global OEMs, mounted with artillery guns and systems supplied by Elbit. The Adani group’s military facility in Hyderabad with Elbit Systems, manufactures the Hermes 900 medium-altitude long-endurance UAV, followed by the Hermes 480.
In space, both countries collaborate in Electric Propulsion Systems (EPS) areas for small satellites, atomic clocks and GEO-LEO (Geosynchronous Earth Orbit-Low Earth Orbit) Optical Link. In 2008, India launched an Israeli reconnaissance satellite TecSAR-1 in exchange for an X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) installed on India’s RISAT-2.
(Rama Chandran is the former Chief Editor of Indian Daily Janmabhumi, News Editor, of The Week and Columnist for China-India Dialogue. He has been trained by the Indian Defence as a War Correspondent.)