The skyrocketing price of ship missiles has prompted India to explore ways for strengthening strategic ties with Israel with a special focus on R&D for hi-tech arms.

Sources close to the Indian Defence Ministry hinted on Monday that New Delhi would bolster its ties with the West Asian country further, as it wanted to strike several arms deals with Jerusalem in the coming months. Currently, the South Asian nation faces problems in acquiring Israeli surface-to-air missile system due to the exorbitant costs involved in deploying such system on frontline Indian warships.

Sources said that senior defence officials of the two countries discussed the issue at the 12th meeting of the high-powered Joint Working Group (JWG) that was co-chaired by Indian Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar and Director General of Israeli Defence Ministry Major General (Retired) Udi Adam in New Delhi on July 13. Neither India nor Israel issued any official statement on the JWG meeting. But, ministry sources said that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is not ready to strike “high cost” deals with Israel for producing the medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) systems, popularly known as Barak-8.

The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the naval MR-SAM project way back in December 2005 at an initial cost of INR 26,060 million. However, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) failed to start the joint venture with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), as Jerusalem increased the cost of the project later. After considering the scenario, India decided to hold talks with Israel before placing new orders for drones, missiles, four guided-missile destroyers and seven stealth frigates. “Consequently, the orders are on hold as of now. A review to cut costs is in progress,” a Defence Ministry source told the press.

Recently, the Indian Army urged the Narendra Modi government to acquire the Israeli third-generation Spike anti-tank guided missile systems, with an initial 321 launchers and 8,356 missiles. Initially, the government rejected the request, telling the Army that New Delhi needs more time to negotiate with the Israelis.

As far as Indo-Israeli ties are concerned, the two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1992. India got emergency weapon supplies from Israel during 1999 Kargil War with neighbouring Pakistan. Since then, Israel has emerged as one of the top arms suppliers to India (next only to the US and Russia), with sales worth nearly USD 1 billion every year. The Defence Ministry sources have revealed that the combined value of Phalcon AWACS, UAVs (Searcher, Heron and Harop), Aerostat and Green Pine radars, and Barak anti-missile defence systems is more than USD 10 billion.

Despite supporting the Palestinian cause, India has managed to strengthen strategic ties with Israel in the last 24 years. New Delhi is well aware of the fact that it will be difficult to tackle two nuclear powerful neighbours (Pakistan and China) without Israel’s support.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]