Ya’alon visits India in high-level bid to boost ties, arms sales

Defense minister meets Indian counterpart at Bengaluru airshow, where Israeli firms are hoping to ink arms deals worth billions

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Moshe Ya'alon at a defense expo in Bangaluru, India, on February 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Moshe Ya'alon at a defense expo in Bangaluru, India, on February 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon arrived in India Wednesday for an air defense expo, marking the highest-ever level visit by an Israeli official to the subcontinent and underscoring growing security ties between Jerusalem and Delhi.

In a historic first since establishing diplomatic ties in 1992, the Israeli Defense Minister met his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, as he attended the biennial Aero India airshow in Bengaluru, amid a report that the two countries are close to finalizing several major defense deals, worth well over $1.5 billion.

Ya’alon also spoke with Indian Premier Narendra Modi while at the expo.

Speaking to Parrikar, Ya’alon stressed the importance of his current visit, calling it “historic.” The Israeli minister hailed relations between the nations, claiming cooperation between security industries and institutions has “huge potential” for growth.

He further stated that the “groundbreaking” security relations are likely to stimulate wider bilateral cooperation in the future.

Among various arms deals currently underway, the Indian government is in final stages of approval for the acquisition of two additional Phalcon AWACS, Israeli manufactured airborne warning and control systems, the Times of India reported Tuesday.

The country already purchased three such systems, as part of a $1.1 billion trilateral agreement among India, Israel and Russia in 2004.

Although formal ties were established just over two decades ago, the two countries have quickly developed close ties, and Israel considers the visit a major milestone in the security relationship between Jerusalem and New Delhi.

Representatives from Israeli defense firms Elbit and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, as well as others, are showcasing their products at the airshow.

“We are open to more or less (selling) anything. We believe that we have the better product,” Yalaon said at the Israel pavilion, according to Reuters.

In October, India agreed to a new $525 million deal to buy Israel’s guided Spike missiles, which were widely used by the IDF during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge.

This purchase comes after India already paid Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems $1 billion for Spike anti-tank missiles, peripheral equipment and training in the weapons system in March 2011.

Israeli arms manufacturers have reportedly sold approximately $8 billion worth of weapons systems to India, representing roughly 15 percent of total sales, as of 2012.

Ya’alon’s visit to India comes amid renewed free trade agreement talks between Jerusalem and Delhi, though at this point such an agreement is progressing slower than previously thought.

An Israeli government delegation headed by Economy Ministry director Amit Lang visited India before Ya’alon arrived on February 9 to discuss economic ties, the Times of India reported earlier this month.

“As I understand they are a little bit afraid of [the free trade deal] as a whole because of the industry and the impact on the local industry,” Lang told the Business Standard, an Indian finance newspaper. “But Israel is not a big market player globally, it is not Europe and it is not the US. [Free trade] with Israel can only do good. We should not look at each other as competitors but each others’ complementaries.”

In November, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel, the highest-level official trip ever for Delhi.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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