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Phalcon out of the closet

New Delhi, Sept. 10: So long cagey of admitting it in public because of the heartburn it can cause in the Arab world, India and Israel have shaken off the cloak that has shrouded their military relations.

Israeli deputy Prime Minister Yosef Lapid formally declared that Tel Aviv would sell three Phalcon airborne early warning systems to Delhi. Alongside the announcement, an Israeli defence-industry delegation intensified talks with counterparts and defence minister George Fernandes also met Ariel Sharon separately.

The deputy Prime Minister said talks on negotiating the Arrow anti-missile missile would continue. In June, the US had stated that it would not object to the sale of the Phalcons. The size of the Phalcon deal has not been stated, but past accounts have put the cost of both at around $2 billion. The Arrow anti-missile missile has American components. Israel is obliged to seek US permission before selling military hardware to a third nation.

The Arrow, it is perceived in the security establishment in Delhi, is capable of strengthening India’s nuclear deterrence. In conjunction with the Phalcon — that will be an Indian eye over Pakistani skies — the Arrow can be configured to launch against nuclear-capable missiles and give India the ability to strike at launch. This kind of edge has the possibility of provoking a missile race and seek security in larger and dispersed nuclear arsenal.

Sharon’s visit to Delhi with a sizeable delegation from the Israeli military industrial complex is the most demonstrative that India and Israel have been on military relations. Even if there has been little progress in terms of signing contracts, the willingness to put the relations on the record has added a dimension. India-Israel military links go back a long time but have never been in the limelight. The relations increased with India’s effort to reduce its dependence on military hardware from the former USSR.

The Israeli delegation accompanying their Prime Minister met Fernandes. Major General Amos Yaron, director-general in the Israeli defence ministry, Colonel Yoash Rubin, regional director of Sibat, and Colonel Moshe Kravitz, defence attaché, also met defence secretary Ajay Prasad, chief of army staff General .C. Vij and chief of naval staff Admiral Madhavendra Singh.

Among others present were chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics .R. Mohanty, C.R. Mahapatra, joint secretary, acquisition and procurement board, Tapan Ray, joint secretary, defence exports, Sudhir Nath, joint secretary, HAL, and Gautam Mukhopadhyay, joint secretary, planning and international cooperation.

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