SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
India and Israel signed a massive arms deal worth about $2 billion last week. Although, India and Israel only established diplomatic relations in 1992, relations have never been better than in recent years, especially after the election of right-wing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi announced in 2015 that he will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel and the arms deal is presented as a gesture towards that visit. The arms deal will mean that India will purchase surface to air missiles called Barak 8, the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, and security for Indian seaports. While most of the production will take place on Indian soil, and by Indian workers, the technology is mainly Israeli.
India has been stockpiling arms in an alarming rate in the last few years, buying more arms than it needs, more than any other country in the last decade. It has become the largest customer for Israeli arms. Israel is about the 10th largest weapons exporter in the world, but it is the largest exporter of arms per capita terms, as well. Let us watch a promotional video aired by Rafael, the state-owned Israeli arms company who is running ads promoting Israeli arms in India.
PROMO VIDEO: (music, man singing)
We’ve been together for so long.
Trusting friends and partners.
What more can I pledge to make our future strong?
I need to feel safe and sheltered.
Security and protection.
Come meet my imperfection, defense and …
SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about this and the arms deal with me is Shir Hever. Shir is The Real News correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany. Shir, good to have you with us.
SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Shir you wanted to show this particular video. What is its relevance?
SHIR HEVER: This video is somewhat funny but it’s still reeking with sexism and colonialism. And I think it really shows the difference of opinion between the Israeli security industry, and arms industry, and the Indian one. Israelis consider this sort of partnership with India as if a western-developed Israelis are coming to share their technology with the under-developed Indians who need Israeli technology for their protection. Of course, this is very insulting to Indians and it’s quite amazing that this video was even made. And that the people in Rafael thought that it would increase their sales.
And Rissa Mikode(?) wrote a speech about this and it was read by a lot of Israeli arms dealers. And they kept complaining, saying that whenever they try to sell their arms to Indian companies the Indians say, “Well, we do want your technology but we don’t want the training. We don’t want the whole package that comes with it because we don’t need the Israelis to tell us how to do security. We just want the technology itself.”
SHARMINI PERIES: Now the deal is celebrated in Israel as the largest arms deal in the history of Israel. Is that so? I mean, this is two basically less developed countries than some of the bigger arms traders.
SHIR HEVER: It’s true that India became the biggest customer for Israeli weapons in the last years. And I think it’s something that tells a lot about the kind of weapons… the kind of technology that Israel specializes in. Not in weapons that are designed to win wars, and to defeat armies, but in weaponry that is designed to control populations. Therefore, the biggest customers of Israeli arms are countries that are suffering from extreme social inequality and are in the process of repressing various minority groups fighting for freedom or for independence.
In the case of India there’s … but specifically, the size of this deal makes headlines in Israel. And that’s something that’s covered very intensively by the Israeli press because the Israeli government needs this win. There is a lot of concern in Israel about the decline in exports of goods and this might be a kind of lifeline for the Israeli industries. The IMI is one of the Israeli’s ten biggest Israeli industrial companies.
But it’s not really the biggest sale in the history of Israel because $2 billion nominally is a lot of money. But if you compare it to the deal that the Israeli arms companies made with South Africa under Apartheid in the ’70s — that was a deal that was about $900 million at the time, which is worth much more than $2 billion today. So, that is just to give us a little bit of perspective.
In fact, IMI is a company in crisis and their sales are actually diminishing over time. The insistence of Modi from India that the majority of the production will actually take place in India rather than in Israel means that it’s not perfectly clear how lucrative the deal is really going to be for the Israeli economy.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And going back to that point you were making about the types of military equipment that is manufactured between Israel and now manufactured in India — is mainly to control its own population. This is a very important point because it’s not like India is in a great war at the moment. Of course, it has a dispute going on in the north but this is not the kind of thing that where they’re using high-grade military equipment. Maybe one or two missiles here and there, but the significance of this equipment being used to control its own population, where political resistance against Modi, for example, is great.
And I might also point out that this is not something that the Indian government was engaged in just with the… in the Modi era; and Modi’s just been in power for about two years. It was also with the Congress in power under Prime Minister Singh as well. So, tell us more about how this equipment is being used, both in India and as well as in other places where the Israelis might be selling these arms to.
SHIR HEVER: Right. I think this is really the heart of the story. It’s very interesting that out of these two billion dollars, $1.6 billion is for the Barak 8 missiles. And the Barak 8 missiles are surface to air missiles designed to take down helicopters, aircraft or cruise missiles. Cruise missiles such as the ones that were just fired on Syria by the United States.
India is certainly not threatened by that kind of ballistic systems and the whole point of these Barak 8 systems is to protect the newly-commissioned aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy. So, this has nothing to do with Pakistan or with Kashmir in the north. There’s no way these missiles are even relevant to that front.
So, that’s a big question and in fact, what I’m saying now that these missiles have no relevance of Indian security needs was actually said by Indian generals back in 2000. And back in 2000 Israeli arms companies tried to sell these Barak missiles to the Indian Army. And when Indian generals protested and said we don’t really need those missiles, they were very expensive, India has other urgent needs for use of that money.
Then it was exposed that the Israeli company, Rafael, the one that produces this video that we just saw, has actually bribed a lot of Indian officials, Indian generals, in order to make them write opinions that they do want these missiles, they do need them. And when that was discovered, Rafael was banned from India for 10 years, and they were not allowed to participate in any tenders. These 10 years have passed and now the Israelis are coming back with the same missile again to sell it to India. I’m very surprised that there seems to be very short memory, or maybe this is just a political decision by Modi to improve relations with Israel, even by buying this completely useless system.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Shir this seems to be an issue we should keep our eye on. And next time let’s have Prabeer, one of our reporters from News Click India, and yourself on to further this discussion. So good to have you with us today.
SHIR HEVER: I’d love that. Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.