One of the world's biggest powers and one of its smallest countries have discovered enough in common to forge a thriving friendly relationship based largely on mutual defense interests.
This week, Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, spent three days in Delhi, less than a month after his opposite number, the Indian chief of staff Gen. Deepak Kapoor visited Israel.
It was the first time any Israeli chief of staff had ever visited New Delhi.
The frequency of these visits denotes the burgeoning relationship between the two armies on several levels.
First, Israel has become India's No. 1 supplier of arms and ammunition, overtaking Russia. India accounts for roughly half of Israel's exports of defense items and about one-third of India's import list.
Second, after purchasing the Israeli Arrow anti-missile missile's Green Pine radar, Gen. Kapoor has said his government also wants to buy the missile itself, though not the Arrow 2 which is in service with Israel's Defense Forces, but Arrow 3 and Arrow 4, the Super Arrow which is still in development.
The Indian army chief's purpose in visiting Israel in November was for a rundown on the joint US-Israeli Juniper Cobra 10 exercise for testing defenses against ballistic missiles. This war game was watched avidly by the world's generals and strategists as the most comprehensive and advanced maneuver ever conducted by any army on this subject.
Gen. Kapoor was tireless in his requests for briefings on the lessons drawn from the unique two-week exercise.
US components in an Israeli military item limit its sale
Some of India's most pressing requests pose Israel with dilemmas, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources note. On the one hand, New Delhi appears to be winding down its military procurements from Russia and turning increasingly to Israel. On the other, Israel is bound by overriding commitments to its senior ally, the United States.
When Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow on Dec. 7, he ended a spat over India's purchase of a retired Soviet aircraft carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov – undelivered because of delays and cost overruns for its refurbishment. Even if Singh agreed to hand over the extra $1.2 billion demanded by Moscow to cover the costs, it was clear to both sides that this was India's last arms purchase from Moscow for the time being.
But although Israel's defense industry stands to gain from this cutoff, the more sophisticated the arms on India's shopping list, the more American components and technologies they contain. This means that their transfer to a third country is subject to Washington's veto and both Jerusalem and New Delhi will become increasingly dependent on US permission in the pursuit of their arms transactions.
The case of the Super Arrow is a good example. The United Sates has invested advanced technology in the development of the system as well as covering 60 percent of the costs of research, construction and operational testing of this advanced missile interceptor.
Israel has strong strategic ties with Singapore
Rather than approving an Israeli sale, Washington might decide to supply India with the Super Arrow itself, although thus far, the United States defense industry has never shown interest in entering the Indian arms market. So Israel might be given the go-ahead for Arrow 4 on certain conditions. The US and Israel too might ask India to carry part of the cost of development on behalf of one of the two parties or as an extra.
Furthermore, at some point, Israel and India will have to decide whether their expanding arms trade makes them strategic allies or merely trading partners.
In the past, Israel supplied highly sophisticated hardware in the Super Arrow class only to strategic partners. In recently years, a strategic partnership has been established between Israel and Singapore whereby Israel's military industries supply most of the island's electronic defense systems and are now developing a fleet of unmanned warships.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that a similar strategic alliance is evolving between Israel and South Korea. Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi has dropped in on Seoul in the course of his current Asian tour.
Washington may object to a specific transaction, but has no real trouble with Israel's military ties with Singapore and South Korea.
India's case is in a different category; its standing in Washington is still undecided. A decision on this by the Obama administration will determine the extent to which Israel-Indian defense ties can develop.