As the Indian-Israeli relationship continues to grow and mature to something akin to long-lost cousins rediscovering each other, something strange appears to have happened. The Indian MoD has decided to cancel a $500 million deal for anti-tank missiles signed with Rafael in 2014.
The Indian Express reported the following on Monday:
“Ministry sources told The Indian Express that the decision to cancel the deal was based on the consideration that importing a foreign ATGM at this stage would adversely impact the programme for indigenous development of the weapon system by DRDO. Earlier, India had also rejected an offer from US-based Raytheon-Lockheed Martin for Javelin ATGM in favour of the Israeli weapon system.”
While this may seem like a serious dent in future relations between Israel and India, it isn’t and nor should it be. The misnomer outsiders have involving the relationship between Israel and India revolves around the misunderstanding that the special relationship between the two countries is one tactical and two based on defense sales from Israel to India.
These two notions should be disposed of immediately. The relationship between India and Israel has been growing from the ground up for over two decades. While India recognized Israel in 1950, the two did not begin formal relations until 1990. It was initially Israelis post the army that began to travel to India in a way which created a real grassroots relationship.
These Israelis brought back stories and connections. These inspired more Israelis to travel to India. When the tech boom happened Israeli companies sought out inexpensive yet quality programming in India. The economic relationship continued to be built in a decentralized manner.
Both Indians and Israelis recognize that their cultures are ancient and with that recognition a special bond has been built over the years. Afterall, while Jews lived in exile, they appeared to have found the best treatment in India.
The reasons for the cancellation of the Rafael deal may not seem business like by Western standards, but Israelis should be supportive of India’s strategic goal of self-reliance even if it hits us in the pocket in the short-term. It is important that alliances and strategic partnerships are based on mutual benefits where neither side holds an upper hand. An India, which is truly independent is an India that is far better for Israel in the long term.
With all of this being said, the Indian Express reported in the same article that “the Indian military, which currently uses an inferior anti-tank missile that does not work well at night, reportedly expressed concerns that the decision to scrap the Spike deal would negatively affect its preparedness, and that there was ‘operational urgency’ for the Israeli missile.”
India, like Israel appears in need of balancing its short-term military necessities while constantly building home-grown defense equipment. With the geopolitical circumstances around India entering a far more manic and uncertain stage, both Israel and India would do well to help each other build short-term and long-term approaches to defense partnerships.