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Israel Phalcon deal sealed

New Delhi, Oct. 10 (Agencies): India and Israel signed their biggest weapons deal ever today, with New Delhi agreeing to buy strategic airborne radar systems which it hopes will boost its military edge over Pakistan.

The Israeli-made Phalcon radars will be mounted on Russian IL-76 aircraft in a deal estimated to be more than $1 billion.

“A tripartite agreement was signed this morning at the defence ministry involving Israeli and Russian representatives for the acquisition of Awacs (airborne warning and control systems) and mounting of these,” a defence ministry spokesperson said.

The trilateral deal was signed here by defence secretary Ajay Prasad with Major General Yasi Ben Hanan, head of Sibat, the Israeli defence ministry’s licensing agency for Phalcon, it was officially announced.

Mikhail Denisov, the first deputy chairman of the Russian State Committee for Military-Technical Cooperation, signed the deal from Moscow’s side.

An Israeli defence ministry spokesperson said the three-way agreement had laid the ground for the sale of the Phalcon systems to India. But no details about the value of the deal were given.

Pakistan has repeatedly expressed concern at growing India-Israel defence ties and said the introduction of advanced systems such as the Awacs would lead to an arms race between the nuclear powers which came close to war last year over Kashmir. They have since restored full diplomatic relations, but further peace moves have bogged down.

“It gives you a great reach, Pakistan will certainly feel threatened,” said Air Commodore A.G. Katre of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi-based think tank.

India will become the first country in the world after Israel to go in for Ilyushin-mounted Phalcon Awacs system, with the US using the Boeing platform to mount its own Hawkeye airborne system.

According to a defence source in Delhi, Russia would procure an old IL-76 from Uzbekistan and re-engineer it before sending it to Israel where the Phalcon radars would be mounted.

New Delhi plans to buy three Phalcon systems which officials and experts say will put large parts of Pakistan under its surveillance, including the volatile border in Kashmir. “You are looking into their territory, you can monitor what kind of flying they are doing,” Katre said, adding that Islamabad was now likely to look for matching systems.

The Phalcon can pick up aircraft, even at a low altitude, hundreds of kilometres away in any weather, day or night. It can also intercept and decode radio transmissions, anticipating in many cases the weaponry an enemy might deploy.

Last month, India and Israel vowed to boost defence ties during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. India also wants to buy anti-ballistic Arrow missiles from Israel but this is yet to be cleared by the US, which funded the research and development.

Washington had persuaded Israel last year to delay the transfer of the Phalcon because of India’s stand-off with Pakistan.

Indian officials heaved a sigh of relief because the trilateral deal was delayed for more than an year as Russians tried to negotiate better terms and New Delhi sought assurances that Moscow would not raise last-minute objections once the deal was signed.

Official sources said New Delhi was cautious as Washington had earlier torpedoed a similar sale of Phalcons to China in 2000.

Tel Aviv and Beijing had agreed to sale of a single Phalcon with China retaining the option to buy seven more, before Washington put pressure to cancel the deal.

Though officials declined to give any time frame for delivery of these aircraft, air chief S. Krishnaswamy had estimated that the first of these aircraft could be delivered within 36 months after the signing of the agreement. They said final price negotiations were still in progress.

Israel has rapidly emerged as India’s largest arms supplier behind Russia, selling unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-missile defence systems for warships, assault rifles and electronic fencing for Indian military bases in Kashmir.

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