Israel tightens defense links with India

Nov. 10, 2009 at 12:44 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- India's military chief of staff, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, has been visiting Israel to cement his country's defense ties with the Jewish state amid reports that New Delhi plans to proceed with a controversial $1.1 billion deal for the Barak-8 tactical air-defense system.

That's one of several major defense contracts Israel has concluded with India in recent years, consolidating a strategic alliance with the Hindu-dominated state, which, like Israel, is locked in conflict with Islamic extremists.

The Barak missiles are manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, flagship of the country's defense industry, and will be installed on Indian naval vessels to shoot down missiles and aircraft.

The Barak deal was signed in April, but it has been dogged by controversy surrounding alleged kickbacks by a London-based Indian businessman who Indian newspapers say brokered the deal.

The use of middlemen to facilitate arms deals is prohibited under Indian law. The businessman, Sudir Choudhrie, was named by Israeli daily Haaretz as a key broker in the Barak deal.

He denies any wrongdoing, but the deal has been held up by India's Central Bureau of Investigations.

According to defense sources, Kapoor's three-day visit that began Saturday was intended to allay fear that the Indian investigation would disrupt the defense links between the two countries that have become important to both sides.

Israel has overtaken Russia to become India's top arms supplier; Israeli military shipments to India constitute about half the defense industry's export total, and about 30 percent of Indian imports.

In August 2008 India signed a $1 billion contract with Israel's state-owned arm-maker Rafael in August for Spyder air-defense missiles. The 18 mobile units, produced by Rafael and IAI subsidiary Elta Industries, are scheduled for delivery by 2012.

According to the Times of India, that deal too was held up for several months over allegations that IAI and Rafael had bribed Indian Defense Ministry officials.

The Jerusalem Post said the Indian government decided not to blacklist the Israeli firms because the deals were too important for India's military.

Over the last decade or so, Israeli has sold India weapons systems and military technology worth an estimated $10 billion.

In April, India launched its Risat-2 satellite, built by IAI. The craft is equipped with the same multispectral aperture radar as the TechSar 1 satellite developed for Israel's military and launched amid considerable secrecy in January 2008 by India.

New Delhi's acquisition of Risat-2 was fast-tracked after the coordinated attacks on Mumbai by Islamist gunmen in November 2008 in which 165 people were killed.

The seaborne attack had not been detected by the Indians, and the slaughter exposed a major gap in their intelligence and military networks despite massive defense spending.

The 650-pound Risat-2 gave New Delhi vital surveillance capabilities to guard against further attacks by jihadist raiders.

The launch also gave Israel an important breakthrough: a satellite that will provide additional surveillance of Iran and its missile-launching zones with sensors that can reportedly take photos with a maximum ground resolution of 1 meter day and night and through cloud cover.

That kind of spy capability, provided by Israel, gives India a major intelligence and early warning edge over Pakistan, and indeed every other Asian state except China and Japan.

Israel has been hampered in its efforts to keep tabs on Iran because, due to the Jewish state's geographical location, it is only able to launch its own intelligence-gathering satellites westward, against the Earth's rotation.

That limits the range of orbits over Iran. Launching from India's Satish Dhawan Space Center on the Gulf of Bengal in southeastern India means Israel can launch eastward, adding another dimension to its surveillance of the Islamic Republic.

In January India took delivery of the first of three Phalcon-2 all-weather, early warning command-and-control systems manufactured by IAI and mounted on Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft under a $1.1 billion deal signed in 2004.

Delivery had been advanced by two months following the Mumbai attacks. The radar systems, built by Israel's Elta, can track 60 targets simultaneously at a range of 250 miles.

Negotiations for another three Phalcons are under way. If that deal goes through it would be Israel's largest defense contract ever.

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