Delhi shows interest in buying pilotless aircraft [drones]
Indian delegations are set to visit Israel to discuss trade
by Linday Shanson, New Delhi
in Jewish Chronicle (London), 18 September 1992
After years of estrangement, India and Israel have embarked on a series of moves to expand trade relations.
The private sector, which has always been willing to trade with Israel, saw the establishment of full diplomatic ties in January as a green light, and willingness has become enthusiasm. Consequently, influential trade delegations are due to visit Israel this month and in November.
The establishment of full diplomatic relations was seen by diplomatic analysts here as part of India’s adjusment to a post-Cold War international order. The move was also facilitated by the start of US-mediated peace talks between Israel and its Arab foes.
The process was helped by discreet consultations held during a sudden visit to Delhi and Kashmir by senior Israeli diplomats in June, 1991, when Israelis on holiday had been kidnapped by Kashmiri Muslim separatists.
Although it shares with Israel an anxiety about Pakistan’s nuclear capability and about rising regional fundamentalism, India has always aligned itself with Arab states in the Middle East conflict. The June 1991 encounter marked the first time Israeli diplomats had been allowed to visit the capital, Delhi, in an official capacity.
The collapse of the USSR has provided Israel with an ideal opening for military sales. Israeli experts have already made several visits to India, and Delhi is mulling over the procurement of pilotless aircraft.
The inclusion of Israeli defence sector representatives from Rafael, the weapons development authority, Israel Aircraft Industries and Tadiran at so early a stage in the mutual relationship drew fire from several quarters.
However, Sami Ofri, Israel’s commercial counsellor at the country’s Delhi embassy, dismisses this. "Israel is better known for its weapons than its shoes," he told the Jewish Chronicle.
There are also opportunities in civila avionics. Executives from IAI have been discussing a programe under which Israel hopes to secure long-term contracts to upgrade India’s airports and civilian aircraft.
Mr Ofri, who was previously stationed in Singapore, has been itching for the Indian posting for some time. "India is a great challenge. It is a closed economic society with huge emphasis on the public sector. Under Prime Minister Narashima Rao, it is undergoing a great openness towards private business and foreign trade. For 40 years it was a closed Socialist society – now there has been a 180-degree turn, they welcome foreign investment and trade," he said.
A delegation of prominent Israeli businessmen toured India last April together with David Litvak, director-general of the Israel Export Institute. They were received in New Delhi by the Confederation of Indian Industries, and in Bombay by the chambers of commerce. "We were swamped with requests for meetings," Mr Ofri said.
There are great opportunities for Israel’s agricultural industry. India is the world’s largest importer of fertiliser, and Israel’s single major resource is fertiliser. Until recently, this has been the domain of India’s public sector, which was not allowed to trade with Israel.
Sceptics may argue that India, despite its huge population, has limited market potential because disposable incomes are small. But Mr Ofri believes that, unlike in other Third World countries, 10-15 percent of the population belongs to a moneyed middle class, offering a potential consumer market of 100 million people which continues to grow. "India also has electrical, aerospace, and other sizeable industries," Mr Ofri noted.