A Cold Wind from India Threatens Indo-Israeli Defense Ties

The optimism that blossomed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel might soon be replaced by concerns among the Israeli defense industries. Also, what will be the future of the Israeli space program and what lessons must be learned from the Hebron shooting incident? Amir Rapaport's weekly column

Indian PM Narendra Modi and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu during Modi's visit to Israel (Photo: AP)

Much has been said lately about the flourishing defense relationship between Israel and India, which was strengthened by the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel in July.

However, while cooperation agreements between the two countries keep piling up, Israeli defense industries are facing some bad news, given the increasing trend of Indian companies to manufacture locally, in line with the "Make in India" policy. India recently decided to cancel two massive tenders for the supply of active defense systems for armored vehicles and air defense systems. In both cases, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems was a front-runner in the race to win the tender.

These decisions are a source of great disappointment in Israel, and there are growing concerns that more tenders will be canceled as well.

A Successful Launch

Good news came this week from French Guinea: The successful launch of the two satellites manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries is a major milestone for the Israeli space industry, especially after the massive blow it suffered with the loss of the Amos-6 communications satellite that exploded on US soil.

"After the loss of the satellite, we made it clear to the decision makers that it will be impossible to maintain proper communication capabilities without a long-term plan, and I am happy that the government ministries have risen to challenge and prepared such a plan," says Yossi Weiss, IAI's CEO. "The entities involved include, among others, the Ministry of Science, the Defense Ministry, and the National Security Council. According to the multi-year plan, satellites will be launched into space every three or four years."

The plan that Weiss mentioned has not yet been budgeted, but Weiss took advantage of the successful launch to spur the government onward. "We hope that the government will know how to preserve activity in the field of communications satellites. It’s time to make an immediate decision on this issue," he said at the launch site.

Both of the newly-launched satellites involve European countries. Venus (Vegetation and Environment Monitoring New Micro-Satellite), Israel's first environmental research satellite, is a joint project of the Israel Space Agency and the French space agency CNES. The second, OPTSAT-3000, is an advanced observation satellite designed for use by the Italian Defense Ministry. It resembles a satellite used by the IDF.

Israeli-European cooperation in space is expected to continue in the years to come.

A Collapse of Values

Now that the media storm that surrounded the trial of the Hebron shooter Elor Azaria has died down, no simple truth emerges from the clouds; certainly not one that can attest to the image of the IDF and its core values. Instead, there is a mountain of lies and half-truths concocted by media consultants and influenced by foreign interests (mostly political).

The affair that ended in Azaria's imprisonment (or maybe not, should he choose to appeal) probably wouldn't have made headlines if the shooting wasn't documented on camera and released to the media. It is reasonable to assume that in the history of the IDF there have been quite a few more severe cases of unjustified shooting, which have never been investigated.

As was revealed in this column in the past, the prevailing opinion in the IDF Central Command was that the incident must be handled promptly, using a "command" procedure whereby Azaria would be subjected to a disciplinary hearing. However, the Defense Minister at that time Moshe Ya'alon and the IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot were adamant that the incident be investigated by the Military Police (for reasons of moral ethics and "purity of arms," as well as to undermine any future claims that the IDF legal system is unreliable).

From this point forward, Azaria has become a pawn in a game played by powerful forces. The first to jump on the opportunity was Avigdor Lieberman, who desired the position of defense minister. According to sources close to Azaria, Lieberman was involved in a fundraising campaign to support Elor. He appointed Sharon Gal, a former member of his political party, to lead a media campaign for Azaria and against Ya'alon and the IDF leadership. The defense minister's office said in response that "the minister was never involved in any fundraising activity for Elor Azaria." It is safe to assume that not even Lieberman himself imagined that he would quickly find himself in the defense minister's seat, required to back the IDF.

In any case, the media campaign to support Azaria was swift and aggressive. Social media was flooded with sponsored posts and petitions in support of Azaria. There were also professionals who were quick to "dig dirt" on high-ranking IDF officers, on former defense minister Ya'alon, and later on some of the judges in the case. So-called authentic, pro-Azaria news items that flooded the Internet were actually initiated by the "Azaria media team." Throughout the trial, the media discourse regarding the affair was riddled with spins.

The reality is simple: When examining the facts, it is clear that Elor Azaria broke the rules of engagement and his actions defied IDF's values. While there are some mitigating circumstances in his case, the sentence seems proportionate.

Azaria is no hero. And as the sun sets on this sad affair, no new norms have been set in the IDF. Lessons must be learned by both the media and the political system.


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