Following Sharon Visit, Israel, India Prepare for Special Forces Exercise

Seeking to strengthen defense ties following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit here earlier this month, India and Israel are planning to hold joint military exercises for their elite special forces.

To prepare for the exercises — which would be a first between the two countries if the plans come to fruition — a team of Indian special-forces officers would visit Israel for training in the next few weeks.

Based on their assessment, a schedule for joint training and exercises in India then would be drawn up, government sources said.

Neither Israel nor India has confirmed the joint exercises. However, government sources said the decision for the exercise was taken shortly before Sharon paid a state visit to New Delhi earlier this month.

The visit, which was considered an important symbol of growing Israel-India ties against the backdrop of the shared threat of Islamic terrorism, was cut short by two suicide bombings in Israel on Sept. 9.

The government sources said India would stand to gain from the proposed exercise, as its commandos would be able to learn the latest techniques and use of sophisticated equipment for surgical strikes with minimum causalities to the Indian teams.

Indian troops earlier have carried out joint military exercises with U.S. and German forces.

In addition, media reports suggest that Israel reportedly is willing to sell specialized weapons and equipment — including satellite-guided communications systems and surveillance sets — to the Indian special forces.

Over the past decade, Israel has started to fill the gap left by the collapse of the former Soviet Union as a key supplier of military equipment to India.

Israel and India reestablished diplomatic ties in 1992, but they have grown much closer since 1998, when most world powers — including the United States, Britain, France and Germany — imposed an arms embargo on India when it became a nuclear power. The United States and other countries later lifted the sanctions.

With both Israel and India regular targets of Islamic terrorists, the exchange of information on various security-related concerns also has strengthened ties between the two democracies.

According to one Indian analyst, the joint special-forces exercise is the next logical step in the growing defense collaboration, and it will prove to be mutually beneficial.

“As the war against terrorism extends itself to new theaters across the world, the unique skills that each of these forces have acquired within their own local conflicts will complement each other and help strengthen the force capabilities of both countries,” Indian security expert Ajai Sahni told JTA.

“Such cooperation would include the possibility of setting up or expanding sophisticated defense and dual-use production facilities in India, with Israeli know-how, which could provide Israel with an additional assured source of weapons and munitions in times of crisis,” he said.

“It now is increasingly clear that India is veering away from its past and uncritical support for the Arab cause, and is now moderating its position by qualifying its support for a Palestinian state with demands for the cessation of terrorism directed against Israel,” Sahni added.

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