Planes, Drones, Missiles: How Kargil changed Indo–Israeli Relations

18 January 2015
An Israeli Heron surveillance drone. Despite pressure from the US and the international community, Israel sped up shipment of arm orders submitted by India before the Kargil conflict.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / Stringer
An Israeli Heron surveillance drone. Despite pressure from the US and the international community, Israel sped up shipment of arm orders submitted by India before the Kargil conflict.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / Stringer

This excerpt from Nicolas Blarel’s The Evolution of India’s Israel Policy (OUP) describes how India turned to Israel after finding itself short of crucial surveillance and military equipment during the Kargil conflict.

In May 1999, large-scale military intrusions from Pakistan were detected by the Indian military and intelligence agencies in the Kargil–Dras sector of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, a Pakistani provocation that escalated into the Kargil war. It took more than a week for the Indian army to understand and estimate the scale of the infiltration, and subsequently to develop a course of action to drive the invaders out. Three weeks after the initial detection of incursion, the Indian army eventually started a counter-offensive, code-named Operation Vijay, which eventually drove the invaders behind the Line of Control by July 1999. The conflict was unique as it was one of the rare oppositions between two nuclear-weapon states. The Indian army had to promptly adapt to this new style of low-intensity warfare with all the doctrinal and technological changes it implied. In June–July 1999, the Indian forces restricted their military operations to the Indian side of the LoC to limit the potential of escalation of the conflict.

In spite of the final diplomatic and military victory, the Kargil crisis led to an important debate over India’s defence and intelligence failures. Pakistan’s phased infiltration in forward outposts in inhospitable and elevated terrains revealed the Indian’s military unpreparedness in both spotting and preventing the incursions across the LoC, as well the lack of training and experience in mountain warfare. It was in this enabling context of reforms that the BJP and especially India’s security establishment chose to expand its cooperation with Israel. The Israeli army had an important experience (and the consequent technology) in coping with border-control, counter-terrorism, and limited wars. There is not enough evidence to claim that Israeli assistance helped India ‘turn around’ the situation during the Kargil war against Pakistan. While Israel was one of the rare countries to directly help India during the short conflict, the short duration of the conflict did not result in an immediate increase in military supplies from Israel. The qualitative changed happened after the crisis: the Kargil conflict revealed some important deficiencies in India’s intelligence and military forces. In its efforts to remediate these problems, the Indian security establishment turned towards Israeli assistance and technologies.

Nicolas Blarel Nicolas Blarel teaches at the Institute of Political Science, Leiden University, Netherlands.

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