It's something that was just waiting to happen, and the thing is, for once it's not a shrill cry from the Indian press! A liberal Israeli daily like Ha'aretz
has a column
by the paper's well-known intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman
which suggests that the $1.1 billion deal for three Ilyushin-76 based Phalcon AWACS was won through the payment of "millions of dollars" to an intermediate arms agent.
of the report by Times of India
includes a quote from the IAF/MoD which goes, "The security needs of the country should not be hit by such allegations, which could be completely baseless." If that's a genuine thought, very interesting. It's probably the first time that the "MoD official" hasn't said, "We haven't heard anything yet, but there defence procurement procedure has integrated mechanisms to check commission or ommission of all kinds."
The bizarre secrecy with which the Israelis conduct military business in India (and presumably, everywhere else as well!) is maybe not such a mystery after all! The default reputation that Israel enjoys in MoD/defence circles is of being circumspect, focused, immensely professional and capable of producing the highest technology that costs every last dollar you can offer. Again, maybe it's finally not such a mystery at all. If you've been looking at, say, the last two years, the mythic sand-castle has begun to go soggy.
Starting late 2006, the CBI is still investigating possible bribes paid by Israel for the initial Barak deal. The Rs 1,800 crore SpyDer QR missile is under investigation for possible foul-play. And now, this, about the Phalcon deal -- the biggest between the two countries so far, and certainly their most prestigious. I mean, seriously, the Phalcon deal had serious birth pangs -- what with the scuttled China deal the just preceded it, and the massive effort it took to convince the Russians to allow the Israelis to slap their radar onto Ilyushins. Maybe the institutionalised silence isn't such a mystery after all! And, though I hate to say this, maybe the Communists are justifiably vindicated too.
At the same time, Israel has bailed India out in seriously critical situations -- the drones of Kargil, the ammunition and artillery shells during Kargil and back to the 1971 war (Lt Gen JFR Jacob will tell you all about it) -- there are scores of other stories similar to these. So do we continue paying them incredibly huge premiums for undoubtedly top quality stuff, but suffer the possible existence of illegal Israeli arms agents masquerading as businessmen in Lutyens Delhi, along with their colleagues from just about every other country that's sold a lethal bolt to the nation? Investigations will hopefully help toward an answer.
In late August, I did a special report on Headlines Today
based on an External Affairs Ministry document detailing the concluded and on-going military equipment deals with Israel. Everyone knows about the stuff already signed. But just to round off this piece, here's a nice little list of the stuff which the list announces is "Under JWG/Evaluation". This list was made for some MEA babu who was sojourning in Tel Aviv on the way to France, so don't let the lack of detail bother you. Read away:
MEDIUM-RANGE SURFACE TO AIR MISSILE (DRDO/ARMY/NAVY/IAF)
155MM 52-CALIBRE AUTONOMOUS & TOWED ARTY (ARMY)
SKYLITE-B MICRO-UAV / I-VIEW UAV (ARMY/SF)
LITENING POD FOR MIRAGE-2000/JAGUAR (IAF)
SPIKE MPATGM (ARMY)
DELILAH-II AR-MISSILE W/ LOITER CAPABILITY (IAF)
PYTHON AAM / DERBY AAM (IAF)
SPYDER LLQRM (ARMY)
GABRIEL MK-III ASHM (IAF/NAVY)
DESERT EAGLE/JERICHO HANDGUN (ARMY/SF)
NEGEV MACHINEGUN (ARMY)
MICRO-UZI/UZI M-PISTOL (SF)
UPGRADE PKGS MIRAGE 2000H, MIG-29, TU-142, MI-17 HELO
ANTI-BALLISTIC MISSILE SYSTEM
SUBMERGED LAUNCH VEHICLE
PGMS / BOMB GUIDANCE KITS
UAV/AUV TECHNICAL ADVISORY