The $500 million sale to India of 8,000 Israeli-made Spike anti-tank
missiles is “back on the table.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement today [Wednesday] after talks with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, during his tour of India.

The sale was derailed a few weeks ago when those in India’s defense
establishment pressed political leaders to invest instead in India’s own
anti-tank missile system. But the Indian military argued that the
country needed to acquire Israel’s state of the art missiles. There were
also reports that the Indian army wanted to buy the Israeli missiles for
resale to dozens of armies throughout the world. Netanyahu said details
of the deal are still to be worked out.

The Israeli missiles, widely considered the best in the world, are
manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The company put the original sale price of the deal at $850 million, saying it included
hundreds of adapted launchers and accompanying systems.

Prior to the announcement, Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish
Committee’s associate executive director, told The Jewish Week by phone from New Delhi that the Israeli delegation was hopeful the anti-missile sale would be revived. The two countries hold joint air force and naval exercises, and Isaacson noted that there had already been a “substantial amount of defense contracts between both countries. … There is an enormous potential for the Israeli defense ministry.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara pose for a photograph at the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra on January 16, 2018. Benjamin Netanyahu hailed a “new era” in ties with India January 15 as he signed a series of deals during the first visit by an Israeli Prime Minister in 15 years. Getty Images

In 2016, the Indian government signed two major deals with Israel
Aerospace Industries, one worth almost $2 billion that included the
land-based version of the Barak 8 air defense system, as well as a naval
version slated for the Indian navy’s aircraft carrier.

Isaacson accompanied Netanyahu on the first leg of his six-day visit to
India, along with 140 high-level Israeli businessmen (the largest
Israeli delegation ever accompanying an Israeli prime minister on a
foreign trip). He said he was struck by the personal warmth and
chemistry Netanyahu and Modi expressed towards one another.

“It came through when he [Modi] got off the plane last summer [during
his visit to Israel in July],” Isaacson said. “And when Netanyahu
arrived in New Delhi, they greeted and clung to each other.”

Modi also broke Indian protocol and unexpectedly greeted Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the airport last Sunday as they stepped from the
plane. Usually the minister of state for external affairs greets
visiting dignitaries.

The trip marks the 25th anniversary of Israeli-Indian diplomatic
relations. It was Netanyahu’s first to India (Ariel Sharon visited in
2003) and Modi tweeted a greeting in Hebrew and English that read:
“Welcome to India, my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu. Your visit to
India is historic and special. The visit will strengthen the close ties
between our countries.”

Modi hosted the Netanyahus for dinner at his residence Sunday night.

Isaacson said there has been “wall-to-wall news coverage” of the visit,
and that the welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace Monday
morning “was remarkable – the grandeur of it in a country that is hungry
for engagement with the world.”

The ceremony included an honor guard of more than 100 soldiers and a
mounted escort for Netanyahu’s vehicle.

When the two men rode in a motorcade together, large crowds standing
along the route shouted greetings and waved the flags of India and
Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), his wife, Sara Netanyahu (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talk during a visit to the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on January 17, 2018. Getty Images

“This is the dawn of a new era in the great friendship between India and
Israel that began with Prime Minister Modi’s historic visit to Israel,
which created tremendous enthusiasm,” Netanyahu said at the welcoming ceremony. “It continues with my visit here, which I must say is deeply moving for my wife and me, and for the entire people of Israel. And I think it heralds a flourishing of our partnership to bring prosperity
and peace and progress for both our people.”

“My friend last night you again showed us your tremendous hospitality,”
he continued. “When you hosted Sara and me at your home so graciously, it was brilliantly lit, illuminated by the national colors of India and Israel, and I thought at that moment about your honesty, your passion, you vision, your commitment. It fills me with hope, hope that this new era of India-Israel relations will bring unprecedented benefits to
India, to Israel, to all humanity.”

Isaacson said he believes there has been “clearly new energy injected
into the discussions” for a free trade pact between the two nations,
which he said would be “an enormous benefit to both countries.”

“Both sides want to achieve it,” he said.

Talks on a free trade agreement began in 2011. Although both nations
want it believing it will double their annual trade volume, Isaacson
said “it is complicated with their different kinds of economics.”

On the first day of the visit, the two men signed nine cooperation
agreements, including one in which Israel gives Indian energy companies
the approval to explore for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

India has a population of 1.3 billion people and Isaacson said “both
countries want investment and manufacturing job; India needs jobs.”

Isaacson noted that he has been coming to India for the AJC for the last
25 years and meeting with members of its Jewish community, which he said numbers around 5,000. He said the “trajectory” of relations between
India and Israel picked up in the last 10 years and has increased since
Modi was elected in 2014.

“The complaint for a long time had been that the relationship needed to
be taken out of the closet, that it was something to be proud of and not
ambivalent about,” he said, adding that after Netanyahu arrived in New
Delhi one Indian newspaper headline read, “Enough of Shyness with
Israel.”

During the talks with Modi, Netanyahu reportedly discussed his
disappointment with India’s decision to cast a vote at the United
Nations last month that was critical of the United States for
recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Isaacson said that although the two countries may “disagree on political
issues, they remain friends in a way that is unambivalent and
unconditional on other issues. They see themselves as partners in a way
that has not been so openly acknowledged in the past and that is
gratifying for both countries and the United States; democracies should
stick together.”

But despite that vote, Isaacson said it “has not thrown the visit
off-stride in the least,” and that India is no longer on “autopilot”
when it comes to being critical of Israel in international forums.

“There is now a case-by-case study of the issues and it comes against
the backdrop of a substantial upgrading of the India-Israel relationship
to one of a partnership,” he said. “The relationship with Israel is deep
and broad. Yes, India has support for Palestinian statehood, but Israel
too supports two states. There is no disconnect to supporting
Palestinian statehood and having strong ties with Israel.”