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8 ex-India navy officers accused of spying on Qatar for Israel

Image of Indian navy ship [Indian Navy/Wikipedia]
Image of Indian navy ship [Indian Navy/Wikipedia]

Eight former Indian naval personnel are currently facing trial in Qatar on charges of espionage. They are accused of gathering intelligence on Qatar's secret project to acquire high-tech submarines manufactured in Italy, which are designed to be difficult to detect by adversaries.

According to the Print, legal proceedings against the officers began on 29 March, with the next hearing scheduled for May.

The eight were working for a company called Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, which was described as a "local business partner" of Qatar's defence and other agencies. They were arrested back in August 2022, although no official charges were brought at the time, it was widely suspected that they were spying on behalf of Israel.

An intelligence source was quoted by the Print as saying: "We've tried hard to convince our counterparts in Doha that India and its nationals were not involved in hostile intelligence operations against the emirate."

"But the Qataris are insisting that intelligence on their submarine programme was passed on to Israel."

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The source added that Qatar State Security, the state intelligence agency, allegedly intercepted electronic communications implicating the naval officers in leaking sensitive information on the submarine programme. The purported evidence, he insisted, has not been shared with India.

In December, India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed that it had secured consular access to the defendants and last month stated that it "attaches high priority to the matter and remains engaged with the Qatari authorities regarding the case".

In 2020, the Trieste-based shipbuilding firm, Fincantieri SpA signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar for the production of submarines. The contract included the construction of four corvettes, one amphibious vessel and two patrol vessels, in addition to support services in Qatar.

Significantly, it included the "supply of cutting-edge naval vessels and submarines." In doing so, Qatar will become the first Arab Gulf state to operate submarines, which has been described as a potential game-changer in the region. Currently, Iran is the only submarine operator in the Gulf, however two of Qatar's neighbours – Saudi Arabia and UAE have expressed interest in acquiring submarines.

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