Israel secretly provided India weapons and instructors in 1971 as it prepared for the war with Pakistan that led to the emergence of Bangladesh even though the two countries did not have diplomatic relations, according to a new book by an American journalist.
"The Blood Telegram" by Gary Bass, which focusses on the manner in which US President Richard Nixon turned a blind eye to the repression of then East Pakistan by military ruler Yahya Khan, offers a tantalising glimpse of what was probably the first instance of military cooperation between India and Israel.
Quoting from the papers of diplomat PN Haksar, principal secretary to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Bass describes the military supplies from Israel as a "surprising minor success" of India's efforts to mobilise the world community ahead of its intervention in East Pakistan.
"India did not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, and Haksar and many Indian leaders were frosty toward it," Bass writes.
"But in July (1971), Golda Meir, Israel's prime minister, secretly got an Israeli arms manufacturer to provide India with some mortars and ammunition, along with a few instructors. When Haksar pressed Israel for support, Meir promised to continue helping out."
Bass' account is based on Haksar's meticulously maintained records that are now held by the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi.
The arms maker who provided the mortars and ammunition is identified as Shlomo Zabludowicz. The book further states that Israel also "reportedly funneled aid to the Mukti Bahini through an Israeli government official" without giving further details.
The Mukti Bahini was the guerrilla force formed by Bengalis in erstwhile East Pakistan after Yahya Khan ordered a crackdown on supporters of the Awami League.
Meir reportedly sought diplomatic ties with India for the arms supplied in 1971. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi initiated work on diplomatic ties, which were finally established in 1992, when P V Narasimha Rao was the premier.