Arabs Suspicious of Military Ties Between India, Israel

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - The Arab world has mounted a concerted effort to persuade India not cooperate on military or nuclear matters with Israel, and India may find itself forced to choose between its newly-formed ties with Israel and those with the Arabs.

The United States, which maintains warm relations with Israel as well as with most Arab states, is supportive of cordial ties between New Delhi and Jerusalem.

A spokesman at the American Embassy in New Delhi said this week the U.S. had "always advocated friendly Indo-Israel relations.

"The global scenario is changing rapidly and Israel is no longer a pariah. When Egypt can do it and [the Palestinian Authority] is following suit, why should there be any problem with India?" he asked.

India's ambassador to Egypt was called into the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo and asked about reported military and nuclear cooperation between Israel and India.

The League's officials raised statements made by Indian Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, during a visit to Israel last month, in which he called on Israel to support India in checking cross-border terrorism and launching counter-insurgency measures.

"The biggest threat to India's internal security has been Pakistan's proxy war in which the principle ingredients have been infiltration, subversion and terrorism," Advani said at the time.

"While the Indian government must exert pressure to see that these threats are contained, there is a need to build a strong world opinion against international terrorism."

The proposed briefing of the ambassadors by a senior external affairs ministry official, is aimed at clearing up the Arab unhappiness caused by those remarks and other suspicions.

"The nuance of the meeting will be less to 'reassure' [the envoys] than to 'inform' them about the visit, which is part of protocol when ministerial visits are undertaken", a ministry official said.

The Indian government was unhappy with the term "reassurance" because of the implication that India had been engaging in actions incompatible with its international obligations, the official added.

Nuclear suspicions

In 1992, forty years after both countries were established, India and Israel established diplomatic ties, but it took another eight years before India sent an external affairs minister on an official visit.

In 1998, arch-foes India and Pakistan became the newest declared nuclear-capable nations, carrying our tit-for-tat nuclear tests. Israel has long been considered an undeclared nuclear power, but it maintains a policy of ambiguity to keep the deterrent effective.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa raised suspicions about Indo-Israeli nuclear cooperation during Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh's visit to the United Nations last year. Singh rejected the allegations.

Pakistan says Muslim-Arab world must choose

Pakistan in particular has voiced concern about relations between India and Israel, and fears that Israel may now help India counter "cross-border terrorism," including separatist violence in disputed Kashmir, allegedly supported by the Pakistanis.

Islamabad has been urging Muslim nations to impress upon India that its closeness with Israel could affect its relations with them.

"There has also been a systematic campaign by Pakistan in the Arab world about nuclear weapons cooperation between India and Israel," said C. Raja Mohan, an Indian strategic analyst.

"It may be recalled that Pakistan had raised the bogey of a joint attack by India and Israel against its nuclear installations," he added.

India is understood to be worried about reports of Arab disquiet regarding India's possible shift in policy focus, and does not welcome the implication that it needs to make a choice between ties with Israel or with the Arab-Muslim world.

Other major countries attempt to engage both Arabs and Israelis diplomatically, although in most cases they are seen to take sides - the U.S. favoring Israel, China and Russia more supportive of the Arabs.

In the meeting with Arab envoys, Indian officials will convey that Advani was referring to cooperation between India and Israel on proxy wars launched by terrorist groups, and assure them that New Delhi was not suggesting that Arab states were promoting cross-border terrorism.

"[Cross-border terrorism] is a terrible phenomenon," said Dov Segev-Steinberg, Israel's consul general in Mumbai, western India. "The whole world should unite to fight it.

"During the last 20, 30 years we had to fight terrorism in different ways. We now want to share our experiences as it will help fight terrorism," he added.

Michael Sheehan, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, on July 12 briefed the House international relations committee on international terrorism.

He stressed what he called the "geographical shift of the locus of terror from the Middle East to South Asia" and focused on the role played by Pakistan and Afghanistan.