During his visit last week to Japan, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told his hosts that "just as you are dealing with the North Korean threat, we must deal with the Iranian threat." Shalom spoke about the cooperation between the two "threats" - North Korea and Iran - two of the three members of the United States' "axis of evil." Several weeks before, the very same Silvan Shalom announced that "Pakistan is a very important country, with whom Israel is highly keen to establish diplomatic relations." His comment came in the wake of a declaration by Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, who said that his country should consider formal ties with Israel.
Since then, Indian officialdom has displayed indifference. New Delhi has no interest in getting involved in Israel's relations with a third country, especially not in the week before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's historic visit to the subcontinent - the first such visit by an Israeli leader. In private conversations, however, the concern is palpable.
Is North Korea really cooperating with Iran on nuclear know-how? A senior Indian official says that Pakistan is also in on the act. "All of Pakistan's nuclear program and its missiles are based on secret agreements, some of which put Israel at risk." The official added that, following last week's terror attacks in Mumbai (Bombay), Shalom called his Indian counterpart to express his grief. A week earlier, India did the same after the Jerusalem bus bombing. But within that feeling of a common destiny between the two peoples, the senior official is at pains to remind Israel that "Pakistan supports organizations linked to al-Qaida. The Taliban was created by Pakistan, which remains the headquarters of international and anti-Indian terrorism."
Even though the Pakistani issue is not officially on the Indo-Israeli agenda, New Delhi is likely to hint to Sharon that any form of relations between Israel and Pakistan which include military cooperation would inevitably lead to a crisis in their bilateral relations.
Sharon could legitimately tell his hosts that Israel has not overlooked India's extensive ties with the Arab world, or its traditionally pro-Palestinian stance. We also have independent considerations, Sharon could argue. He could point out that, since its establishment, Israel has tried to smash the international diplomatic boycott and has aspicred to establish relations with the Islamic world.
Another claim Sharon could make is that, under Musharraf, Pakistan has become much closer to the U.S., and that India itself has relations with Pakistan, the goal of which is full normalization. Sharon could simply say that Israel wants to become closer to Pakistan precisely because of the fear that technological and nuclear know-how could be exported and that an "Islamic bomb" could fall into fundamentalist hands. Israel also hopes that closer ties with Pakistan could lead to relations with other Muslim countries in Asia.
Despite all of this, it would appear that India does not have too much reason for concern: the prevalent opinion in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem is that Musharraf's comments were intended for Western ears, and were aimed at improving his image. Israeli intelligence officials point out that for Musharraf to enter into formal diplomatic relations with Israel, he would have to confront the strong Islamic opposition, as well as the heads of his own military and secret services. It is hard to see him taking such a risk.
Either way, the large delegation that will accompany Sharon on his trip to India is designed to show the host nation that Israel has no intention of letting the growing ties between the countries slip. Bilateral trade between Israel and India is currently close to $2 billion, and, according to some reports, Israel has become the second-largest supplier of hi-tech arms to India.
Sharon will take 30 leading businessmen and directors of military industries with him to India, in the hope that this will help push that figure even higher. They will all talk about the values and challenges that Israel and India share - the only two democracies between the Mediterranean and Chinese Sea, both having to confront dictatorships that sponsor terrorism. Musharraf will listen, and deliberate.
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