global politics, relationally

In the Face of Diversifying Threats: Reorienting Indo-Israel Partnerhsip to Cyber and Maritime Security


This is a guest post by Karan Tripathy, Faculty of Law, Symbiosis International University 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three day visit to Israel not only marks 25 years of diplomatic relationship with the West Asian superpower but an explicit expression of strengthening security relationship. India started looking at Israel strategically during the early 90s after the economic policy of the country acquired a liberalized and globalised approach. After almost a decade of nascent diplomatic relationship, the Israeli support during the Kargil War strengthened the perception of Tel Aviv as a reliable security partner.

The beginning of the 21st century marked a significant development in the bilateral relationship with the visit of Ariel Sharon to India in 2003, first ever by an Israeli Prime Minister. Post 2003 and with the change of regime in New Delhi, India did not express much vigour in developing the relationship, restricting Tel Aviv to few weapon deals and creating a regional balance by recognizing Security Council’s stand on Palestine and warming up to Iran. Though Iran still remains an elephant in the room in Indo-Israel talks, Modi’s landmark visit and MEA’s statement on the same suggest that India is willing to and is not hesitant to openly declare its relationship with Israel and develop the same to sectors beyond conventional defence.

Indo-Israel relationship in the past 25 years has been mostly restricted to buying of weapons from Tel Aviv. After Prime Minister Modi acquired office in 2014, the focus was centered on incorporating updated technology with the cut edge security equipments. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation entered into joint ventures with Israel’s M/s Elisra to develop integrated systems with laser technology, data processing and recording systems. Under the same drive of security modernization, Israel helped India in replacing legacy radar technology of the 80s with Medium Power radars. In addition to this, DRDO continued to have regular bilateral meetings as well as Joint Working Group Cooperation with Israel. The stronger relationship was ascertained by President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Israel in October 2015 which was followed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit in January 2016.

The frontiers of threats have diversified if not changed in these past 25 years of Indo-Israel relationship. Cross border terrorism and cyber attacks have featured in Modi’s priority list in almost all of his foreign visits. Cyber-attacks in our networked world; have not only become more sophisticated but are also increasingly easier to conduct and extensively target individuals. Currently, such a prevalent trend makes India one of the leading victims of cyber-crime. Moreover, increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative that India openly raised reservations with; the closer cooperation on maritime security becomes an imperative.

Indo-Israel naval partnership has been quite significant especially on the front of direct resource modernization. It started with the supply of 2 Super Dvora Mk-2 fast patrol boats from Israel Aerospace industries. Since then, Israel has helped Indian Navy acquire state of the art weapon system such as Barak-I Anti Missile Defence System, avionics systems, surveillance radars and much talked about Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM). However, New Delhi has not involved Israel in a more engaging role in the Indian Ocean Region; perhaps due to Tel Aviv’s larger interest in the Mediterranean. It is time that Modi asks Netanyahu to have a longer look on the region and its strategic significance. Asia-Pacific littoral and SLOCs therein, is not only a route for booming trade in gas but also a catalyst for a rising global terror and piracy network. The attack on Chabad House in Mumbai during the 26/11 terror attack was a strong enough moment to ring some bells in Tel Aviv.  India, should therefore, ask for greater Israeli cooperation on Anti-Piracy and Humanitarian Operations in the Indian Ocean Region. In addition to this, signing of White Paper agreement would be a step in the right direction and a strong signal to the ambitious Chinese Indian Ocean diplomacy.

Apart from maritime engagement in Indian Ocean, other significant area of partnership should be Cybersecurity. In 2012, India and Israel agreed to a program to promote joint research with regards to cybersecurity. However, in addition to research, more meaningful steps need to be initiated by India’s major and minor players, to establish cooperation with Israel in the crucial field of cybersecurity.

Microsoft and other leading IT companies have tagged Israel as a Cybersecurity powerhouse; attracting massive foreign investment in the sector. Moreover, Israel’s cyber regulation for Critical Infrastructure Protection is an achievement in itself. Prime Minister Modi’s drive for a Digital India has led to a rapid growth in cyber infrastructure in almost all the public sectors, especially banks. The rise of payment banks, digital locker and digital banking has revolutionized the finance sector but has also exposed delicate data to numerous vulnerabilities. The cost of Cyberattacks in India currently stands in excess of Rs25,000 crore ($4billion); the recent Cyberattack at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai by ransomware Petya is a glaring example of such vulnerabilities. Therefore, New Delhi should look for expanding its engagement with Tel Aviv to the sector of Cybersecurity as well.

As the frontiers of threats have diversified, Indo-Israeli relationship should also chart into new territories to reflect the dynamic nature of this bilateral engagement. Modi’s historic visit and Netanyahu’s big promises should go beyond establishing general defence relationship and should venture into areas of technology and intelligence in order to develop a more meaningful strategic partnership.