Israeli defense minister lands at India airshow to boost arms sales

BENGALURU (Reuters) - Israel’s defense minister arrived in India on Wednesday to help sell his country’s arms industry to the world’s largest defense importer and promote deepening military ties between the two nations.

India and Israel, which only established full diplomatic ties in 1992, are developing an increasingly close commercial and political relationship, particularly since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected last May.

New Delhi is now the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, while Israel is India’s largest customer after Russia.

In the first public visit to India by an Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon landed at the biennial Aero India airshow in Bengaluru.

He told journalists India was vital to his country’s defense industry.

“We are open to more or less (selling) anything. We believe that we have the better product,” he said at the Israeli pavillion, where executives from the country’s largest defense firms including Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are showcasing their latest weaponry.

Israel wants to boost its trade in Asia to diversify export markets in response to potential trade sanctions in Europe, while India is keen to buy cutting-edge Israeli arms and access new technology to help upgrade its ill-equipped armed forces.

India is among Israel’s biggest customers for unarmed drones, and analysts say Tel Aviv is keen to use its head start over rival makers such as the United States to increase sales to Delhi.

Under Modi, Israel and India have pushed ahead with the joint development of an aerial defense system, which passed its first trial simulating combat conditions in November.

In October, India opted to buy Rafael’s Spike anti-tank guided missile in a deal worth $525 million, choosing the Israeli product over a U.S. offer of its Javelin missiles.

Editing by Mark Potter