NEW DELHI - India's traditionally friendly
relations with Iran have come under unprecedented
strain because of the launching of an Israeli spy
satellite by an Indian Space Research Organization
This comes in addition to
recent tensions caused by India's refusal to
attend talks to complete a commercial deal on a
proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline.
The satellite, launched a fortnight ago,
is equipped with a synthetic aperture radar, which
captures images of small as well as large objects
day and night while penetrating cloud cover. It is
widely believed to be designed to enable Israel to
its neighborhood, in particular, activities
pertaining to Iran's nuclear program.
Tuesday, Seyed Mahdi Nabizadeh, Iran's ambassador
in New Delhi, publicly regretted India's
assistance in lifting off the TECSAR satellite in
a hush-hush manner from a launching pad in
southern Andhra Pradesh state on January 21.
The Indian government justified the launch
on technical and commercial grounds. But Nabizadeh
said, "We hope the issue could be considered from
the political point of view also. Our relationship
with India is very strong and good. Many are
trying to destroy [that] relationship. We hope
that wise and independent countries such as India
would not give their space technology to other
countries to launch instruments for spying against
friendly countries like Iran."
added, "The United States continues to be hostile
[to Iran], and even today is trying to create
problems between Iran and its friendly countries.
We expect friendly countries to realize this ..."
Although Iran has not conveyed its view to
New Delhi at the official level, the ambassador
said, "Informally, yes, we have had a discussion."
"The fact that the Iranian ambassador
chose to go public on this issue shows that Tehran
takes it seriously and is deeply uncomfortable
with India's close collaboration with Israel in
the military and space fields," Qamar Agha, an
expert based at the Center for West Asian Studies
at Jamia Millia Islamia University in the capital,
told Inter Press Service.
authorities could not have been unaware of Iran's
sensitivity on the spy satellite issue. The
Israeli media have reported, quoting military
sources in Jerusalem, that the TECSAR satellite,
developed by Israel Aerospace Industries, is meant
to keep a watch on Iran's nuclear activities.
The development of the satellite and its
preparation for being lifted into a space orbit
were shrouded in secrecy. Its launch, originally
scheduled for September last year, was postponed,
apparently for political reasons.
Describing the TECSAR launch as
"spectacular", ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair said
on January 21 that it was a "red letter day" for
Antrix Corporation, ISRO's marketing and
commercial arm. He added that the lift-off had
been a difficult mission: "We had to almost go
along the equatorial path, and then do a difficult
maneuver to achieve [it]."
reports that TECSAR was a "spy" satellite, Nair
feigned ignorance of the content of its payload.
But he said there is no such category as "spy
satellites" because all imaging satellites have a
multitude of purposes. India too is developing a
radar imaging satellite, likely to be launched
"The Indian government is
clearly divided between its formal position that
Iran's current nuclear activities are legitimate
and its keenness to develop a close partnership
with Israel," says Achin Vanaik, professor of
international relations and global politics at
"New Delhi is
schizophrenic," said Vanaik. "It maintains that
Iran has the right to develop peaceful nuclear
technology subject to inspections by the
International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]. But
India also wants an alliance with the US and
Israel which both oppose any nuclear activity on
Iran's part, including uranium enrichment for
power generation. India has recently allowed its
new strategic relationship with the US and Israel
to prevail over its traditional friendship with
India twice voted against Iran at
the IAEA - in contravention of New Delhi's own
position that Iran is not in breach of any of its
obligations under the IAEA or the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. Stephen Rademaker, a
former US assistant secretary of state for
international security and non-proliferation and a
senior arms control negotiator, said a year ago in
Delhi that India's votes were secured through
"coercion", presumably by Washington.
US strongly opposes the Iran-India-Pakistan gas
pipeline project, and has publicly warned India
that it could face sanctions if it goes ahead with
the deal, which is considered highly attractive
for its energy economics.
much-touted "strategic partnership" with the US,
India has developed a close political and military
relationship with Israel, with which it
established full diplomatic relations only in
1992. This has entailed a huge shift away from
India's traditional support for the cause of
Vanaik, "India has not uttered a word against
Israel's recent blockade and collective punishment
of the people of Gaza. At this rate, India will
fail to play an independent role in the most
important and volatile region of the world."
Over the past few years, India has become
Israel's biggest client in the global arms market.
Between 2000 and 2006, India bought military
hardware and software worth US$7 billion from
Israel. This included a $1 billion deal for the
Falcon early warning system and smaller contracts
for unmanned surveillance aircraft.
2006, India signed a $480 million contract with
Israel to develop a "next generation" Barak
missile for its navy. This was followed last year
by a $2.5 billion deal to develop anti-aircraft
and anti-missile systems based on the Green Pine
radar. This is the biggest military contract in
the history of Israel.
collaboration is not limited to arms deals. It
extends to military and space research and
development across a broad range, including
surveillance satellite technology and electronic
warfare, and upgrading of Soviet-era equipment
including fighter jets, field guns and
The two states are also
widely believed to share military intelligence,
especially pertaining to Pakistan and Islamic
militants. Israel's Mossad secret service is
thought to have trained India's external
intelligence agencies and a special protection
group that guards important people.
proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is
likely to be a major casualty of India's
increasingly close relations with the US and
Israel. India has turned down several invitations
since July last year to participate in talks to
clinch the pipeline deal, which has run into a
dispute over periodic price revision.
Delhi is making a big mistake," holds Agha. "The
price revision issue can be easily sorted out by
give-and-take. If the deal is further delayed,
India could lose the pipeline and natural gas,
probably to China. The Turkmenistan to Afghanistan
to Pakistan to India pipeline for which Washington
is rooting is no substitute for it."
India's Petroleum Minister Murli Deora announced
this week that he will not attend the trilateral
talks in Islamabad, planned for February 12 or 13,
to discuss the price issue. "India's collaboration
with the US and Israel is likely to extract a much
higher political and economic price than imagined
earlier," warns Agha.